From the second the whistle went weeks ago and saw Barcelona through to play Manchester United in the Champions League final, the build-up to the match has been almost ceaseless. Countless articles and thousands of words have been written on whether Javier Hernandez should start ahead of Dimitar Berbatov, of how best to combat Lionel Messi and a dozen other questions that Sir Alex Ferguson will have to answer. The comparisons to 2009 have been made, countered and restated by every football analyst around. The core question should be how much has been learned by the United manager since Rome two years ago, yet with a media storm surrounding Ryan Giggs, the actual question has become how much have these revelations thrown Ferguson’s preparations into chaos?
There is almost no question that Barcelona are currently the best team on the planet and possibly the best team ever seen since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan. One major benefit of being as good as Barcelona are is that Pep Guardiola almost never has to change the tactical basis of his game plan while opponents either adapt or get crushed. So while the Barcelona line up is 99% predictable before the game, the ball is firmly in Ferguson’s court with regards to responding. Fundamentally the United boss can either take a proactive approach and take the game to Guardiola’s side, in which case the 4-4-1-1 which he has favoured in recent games such as Schalke or Chelsea will probably be the starting line-up or a reactive approach based on containing the Spanish champions and breaking quickly, yet retaining defensive discipline, in which case 4-5-1 is most likely.
The issue is further complicated given the personal troubles Giggs has been having recently. Giggs has been in superlative form so far this season and the Welshman losing focus right before the Champions League final will be causing Ferguson no end of frustration. The obvious comparison is Wayne Rooney, whose form was so drastically affected by revelations concerning his personal life prior to the World Cup in South Africa. However after 20 years of dealing with the pressure of professional football, if there is anyone in the United squad capable of setting these issues aside to concentrate on the game it should be Giggs.
Much of Ferguson’s plans for the countering Barcelona will hinge on the mental readiness of Giggs after the huge role the veteran has played in getting United to the final. His calming presence and creative passing was instrumental against Chelsea in the quarter-final and should he be ruled out due to off-pitch distractions it would be a bitter blow to United’s hopes. The final in Rome is remembered as the nadir of Michael Carrick. United fans will pray that the Wembley final will not prove the same for Giggs.