Much has been written about the forthcoming Wembley battle between the English and Spanish champions and how certain individuals could dictate the biggest occasion in club football. All the usual suspects have been cause for discussion: Wayne Rooney; Javier Hernandez; Lionel Messi; Xavi, Andres Iniesta;– but maybe one name is subject to omission.
Ask a majority of Manchester United supporters and they would herald Nemanja Vidic or Hernandez as their player of the season, but statistically at least, Luis Nani should be receiving more acclaim. He topped the assist charts in the Premier League and was just four goals shy of being the highest goalscoring midfielder – at any other club the praise would be relentless. However, he has not registered domestically since February and his performance levels since early April failed to compliment his impressive start to the campaign. Essentially then, this final represents the perfect opportunity for him finish the season the way he started it – with a flurry, and nudge his side the way of their fourth European Cup.
He may instantly face a problem as he may not make Sir Alex Ferguson’s starting 11. With Antonia Valencia’s recent return from injury, Ferguson has already left the former out of big domestic games – the home clash with Chelsea is evidence enough – so pairing this with the aforementioned dip in form may point towards a place on the bench.
Whilst Ferguson may adopt a 4-4-1-1 formation with Rooney dropping deep – to allow Hernandez the central striking berth and for the former to help stifle Barcelona’s midfield – whoever starts out of Valencia and Nani will be the main creative outlet from wide. It is not only the central area where Barcelona flex their muscles, as their full-backs regularly push-on, so Utd’s own full-backs are going to need some protection – a predicament which will ultimately see the inclusion of the tireless Ji-Sung Park.
Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, Nani has emerged as the main flair player at Old Trafford. It is going to take a mammoth effort for Ferguson’s men to prevail in the capital, and they will need their big players to step up if they are to find a way of conquering Pep Guardiola’s irrepressible assembly. It is only natural that comparisons between Nani and Ronaldo have emerged, but there is some doubt as to whether the former merits such an observation. The United team in which Ronaldo graced was ultimately built around him, whereas Nani so far is yet to earn such a privilege.
If there is anything to be read into the exclusion of Valencia for the last domestic game against Blackpool, then maybe the Ecuadorian is pencilled in to start at Wembley. However, whatever part Nani does play, his side will urge him to rediscover the form he produced in the first two-thirds of this season, as Barcelona take some beating.