With Manchester United preparing to take on the might of Barcelona in the Champions League Final at Wembley this coming Saturday, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be looking to implement a method to not only to contain the mesmeric attacking style of Pep Guardiola’s Catalan giants, but to build a sustained attacking threat themselves. As United plot their opponents’ downfall, looking to their array of midfield talent may well prove crucial.
United’s midfield tends to combine the energy of their young attacking players with the poise and craft of their wily midfield veterans. To compete with the well drilled midfield of Barcelona, United will be relying on the full effectiveness of their midfield options. Inevitably, United will find themselves without the ball for periods of the game, as Barcelona’s midfield trio seek to impose their own trademark style on the game. However, Sir Alex’s men will seek to disrupt Barcelona’s fluidity. The Scotsman’s chosen combination from Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher will combat the skill and creativity of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The midfield duo, likely to be supported by fellow Spaniard Sergio Busquets in a holding role, have become one of world football’s most renowned central partnerships in recent years, with their performances earning honours for both club and country. A seasoned duo themselves, the battle in the centre of the field will undoubtedly be crucial to which side dominates the Wembley showpiece.
Width in midfield could also prove crucial. Should Ferguson choose to pair in-form forwards, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, United would almost inevitably line up with a midfield four, with the forwards served from wide areas by the United boss’ preferred two from Ji-Sung Park, Nani and Antonio Valencia. All three men have drawn their plaudits in recent weeks, with the strong late-season form of Park and Valencia culminating in dominant performances against Chelsea both in the semi-final and in the recent Premier League encounter, while Nani was voted United’s Players’ Player of the Season.
The Red Devils’ current strength in wide areas has the potential to not only create chances – both for the wingers themselves and the rest of the United attack – but to further stifle the creativity of the opposition. With Barcelona deploying a narrow, three-man midfield, and Lionel Messi and Pedro moving inside from wide areas, attacking full-backs Daniel Alves and Guardiola’s choice of Eric Abidal, Maxwell or Adriano provide the width to their attack. On the flanks in a midfield four, United’s wide men will have the task of restricting their forward ventures, a key strength of United’s wingers, particularly in Valencia, whose recent dominant performance against Chelsea’s Ashley Cole saw the Blues’ left-back look uncharacteristically uncomfortable in their 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
As Manchester United plot their revenge for their Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2009, two years on, with both sides still equally dominant both domestically and on the continent, United’s bid to pip their fellow European superpower could centre, quite literally, around the battle in midfield.