Thursday, May 21, 2009

O'Shea vs Henry: A nightmare in prospect?

If like me you've been keeping an eye on Barcelona this season you will have no doubt have raised at least one eyebrow when Fergie announced that John O'Shea will definitely play in next Wednesday's show-piece Champions League Final, because the Irishman will be up against Thierry Henry who has been back to his best this season.

At home in the Camp Nou Barcelona have been destroying their opponents, often in the first twenty minutes, the Catalans movement, link up play and quick passing to feet is a joy to watch and the thought of O'Shea trying to shackle Henry is enough to send pre-match shivers down the spine.

To put it politely, O'Shea lacks pace, he is also slow on the turn and so he is not an ideal choice for the position of full-back. So is it a wise choice by Ferguson? The answer to that question is the United manager probably believes selecting O'Shea is his safest bet. Since his return to fitness Gary Neville has not been able to re-establish himself as a regular starter and he's lost at least a yard of pace, so he was never going to be a serious contender to start the final, not when the manager had other options. Rafael da Silva could have been selected, but clearly Fergie has gone for experience over youth.

But for some unusually poor decision making by the manager when allowing a talented youngster to leave the club, Fergie could have called upon one of Barcelona's player's of the year, because Gerard Pique has been in outstanding form this season. Fergie doesn't often get it wrong when selling young players, but allowing Pique to leave looks to be a major mistake on the part of the manager. You do wonder if Pique will make United live to regret that decision in the final.

It's also interesting to note that Fergie has been trying to make his life a little easier with the advance announcement that the likes of Park and O'Shea will start the final, though it's true to say the loss of Darren Fletcher has eased the manager's selection dilemmas somewhat. Still, you wonder how Fergie will approach this game, does the manager try to match Barcelona's free-flowing style by deploying a 4:3:3 formation or will he try to nullify the Catalans probing attacks by flooding midfield with a 4:5:1 with Ronaldo used as the lone striker?

The big problem with the latter formation is it will lead to Barcelona having the lion's share of possession because United would have just one forward and he won't be able to deny Barcelona's defenders time and space on the ball. Nonetheless, subject to injuries, I expect Fergie to start with the team that faced Arsenal at the Emirates in the semi-final with Giggs and Ferdinand coming in to replace the very unlucky Fletcher and Evans.

While United have the attacking players to worry any defence, this season's success has largely been built on the solid defensive partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand who have for the most part been immaculate. Ferdinand remains a major injury concern having been out of action for three weeks, but he says he is fit to play and that is precisely what I expect will happen, providing all goes well against Hull City this weekend when I expect him to start alongside Gary Neville.

While John O'Shea will have his work cut out stopping Henry, you do wonder how Patrice Evra will go about the unenviable task of snuffing out the threat of the quite brilliant Messi. One thing is nailed on, I expect Rooney to be detailed to help his full-back - personally I believe it should be Giggs who is given that job. I don't really like to see Rooney being wasted on defensive duties, but in fairness it has worked for Fergie, I just feel that United should be making more of Rooney's football talents in our opponents half, but his final ball is more often than not more accurate than the Welshman's, so here again there is some sense to Fergie's logic. Rooney is more likely to score from a central position too.

My preferred formation:

++++++++++++++++++++ Van der Sar

Rafael +++++++++++ Vidic +++++ Ferdinand+++++++ Evra

++++++++++++++++++++++ Carrick

++++++++++ +Park +++++ Anderson +++++ Giggs

++++++++++++++++++++++ Rooney

++++++++++++++++++++++ Ronaldo

The above formation would be flexible, in that I'd give Rooney a free role; When United are counter-attacking he would be the fulcrum supporting Ronaldo; When Barca have the ball Rooney would be expected to fill in right across midfield. I would almost always start with Carlos Tevez, but this game is an exception because Barcelona have dominated every opponent possession wise this season.

Barcelona are a tactical nightmare proposition for any opposing manager because the best made plans can quickly unravel if they score an early goal or two as has often been the case this season. However, Pep Guardiola has his own problems with the loss of his two first choice full-backs due to suspension and you do wonder if perhaps Fergie should therefore be concentrating more on giving the Catalan club more to think about from an attacking point of view rather than concentrating on containment as is likely to be the case. United could well win this final from set-pieces alone, because they should provide the greater aerial threat. All in all it promises to be an intriguing final. Let us hope United get the right result and it turns out to be a game to remember for the right reasons.

Fergie's probable team:
++++++++++++++++++++ Van der Sar

John O'Shea +++++++++++ Vidic +++++ Ferdinand+++++++ Evra

++++++++++++++++++++++ Carrick

++++++++++ +Park +++++ Anderson +++++ Giggs +++++ Rooney

++++++++++++++++++++++ Ronaldo


  1. I suspect that you're right about the probable team, though I expect Anderson to drop deeper with Carrick. I think he is likely to move to Fletcher's semi-final spot, with Giggs then replacing him.

  2. I share your concern about O'Shea lining up against Henry but I think I prefer that option to Raphael. Yes Ralphael has got much more pace & is a very exciting prospect but his defensive inexperience has been exposed quite a few times this season. Henry could rip him to pieces & the CBs will be dragged out wider than they would like. Such a shame that Brown is not fit but Fergie has got to go with O'Shea.

    Evra is going to have his work cut out as well so Fergie is likely to use Rooney & Park to help out the FBs.

    I think Fergie had a problem with Evans & Pique in that he could only keep one of them in order to develop their game to the next level. He's made the decision that Evans is the better of them & he has had more gametime this season than expected. He has really improved this season which is great news for all concerned.

    Tacticly this is going to be a very interesting final. I had a dream last night that Scholes scored the only goal of the game - haven't we seen that before!!! However this time it was not a piledriver but a beautiful dummy in the box to create the space for him to beat the keeper.

    For me the team will be:

    MC OA

  3. Vaud,

    Hope your dream comes true. I've been thinking that Anderson is due a goal....


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