As the dust settles on another Premier League season, Manchester United’s campaign is still far from over, with the task of battling Barcelona at Wembley in the Champions League final. While United’s 4-2 victory at home to Blackpool simultaneously condemned the Seasiders to the Championship as well as kick-starting the celebration of The Red Devils’ historic 19th league triumph, the return of one player could not have been more timely.
United’s final league game of the season saw Darren Fletcher’s continued return to fitness, after missing 15 matches due to illness. While his side still managed to effectively seal the Premier League title without him, it will not have gone unnoticed that United showed signs of nerves in the midfielder’s absence. A series of minor stumbles, with FA Cup semi-final defeat to bitter local rivals Manchester City, as well as points dropped against Newcastle United and Arsenal and a nervous display against Blackburn Rovers, all seemed to lack the drive of Fletcher’s performances.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who describes Fletcher as a ‘big game player’, will be delighted to have his fellow Scotsman available for the Barcelona clash. Given a chance to prove his fitness against Blackpool, Fletcher looked comfortable on the ball, spraying passes when given the opportunity. United’s first goal epitomised this, with Fletcher’s long, cross-field pass, finding Dimitar Berbatov, who played in Ji-Sung Park to clip the ball over Matthew Gilks in the Blackpool goal.
In a game against a Barcelona side famed for their ability to move the ball, Fletcher’s presence could prove vital in midfield. As well as his range of passing, Fletcher’s combative style could well be key to disrupting the free-flowing passing of the Catalan giants. Against a side known to dominate possession for long periods of the game, United’s midfield will need to be patient at times, although a territorial battle for control of midfield looks likely.
As well as looking to stifle Barcelona’s attacking play, Fletcher’s range of passing, as displayed against Blackpool, will undoubtedly be an asset, as United look to feed their own array of attacking talent. As Sir Alex looks to pick his best combination out of Dimitar Berbatov, Ji-Sung Park, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Nani, he will be keen to ensure that his forward line do not become victims of the midfield battle, becoming isolated and starved of service. In Fletcher, United have the option of a midfield player who will not only look to break up play and regain possession, but will look to build from midfield and lead to creating goal-scoring opportunities.
As all eyes move towards Wembley for the Champions League final, the potential effectiveness of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi will be under massive scrutiny in the build up to the game, but United could well find themselves looking to a slightly less likely hero.