Barcelona vs. Manchester United: Don't Expect a Free-Flowing Game
I've read many predictions where people have said that it would be a thrilling Champions League final, with a huge scoreline due to both teams having great attacking talents.
I do recall reading the exact same things last year during the semi-final, when United met Barca. It ended with only one goal separating both teams after 180 minutes of football.
No, it won't be a free-flowing game. United will stifle Barca's attack and look to break, and I expect many fouls to be commited by United's midfield trio. I do think that it will be a United win after 90 minutes of football, though, and here's why.
I fancy United to line up with a 4-5-1 again, as they have done all season in the Champions League. It's a great counterattacking formation which tore Arsenal apart 3-1.
United: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Park, Carrick, Anderson, Giggs, Rooney, Ronaldo
Barcelona shouldn't change from their 4-3-3 formation, which is very similar to the 4-5-1 if you think about it; just that the two wingers push up further to become attackers.
Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Caceres, Keita, Toure, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Eto'o, Henry
Injuries and Suspensions
Darren Fletcher is suspended for United and Owen Hargreaves is still injured. Other than that, Alex Ferguson has a full squad to choose from.
For Barca, Alves and Abidal are both suspended. Milito and Marquez are also out injured, and the four could actually make an entire first team defence. Iniesta and Henry are doubts, but I think they will play in the end.
I feel that United's loss is greater than Barcelona's, as Fletcher and Hargreaves are the players that United need in matches like this. The energy they bring to the game is tremendous and they will be crucial in stifling Barcelona's attacking talents.
Barcelona's losses through injuries and suspensions won't impact the game much, as I see them defending from the front and keeping a lot of the ball. After all, Abidal and Alves aren't very good defenders anyway.
However, it will be where United look to profit as both centre-backs are inexperienced and rather slow.
I have predicted Pique and Caceres to start in the middle, and Puyol out on the right and Keita on the left.
On paper, it's an even weaker defence than the normal Barcelona defence. However, it won't matter much, as they won't be doing much defending.
Their weaknesses would be that Pique and Caceres are both slow and inexperienced. Also, Puyol isn't much of a right back, and Keita is more suited to being in midfield.
In a nutshell, the Barca defence aren't a compact unit and haven't had many games together, so United will look to put pressure on the defence by bypassing the midfield and getting the ball out quickly to the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Park, who can then take on the defenders 1-on-1.
For United, Vidic and Ferdinand will start in central defence, O'Shea out on the right, and Evra on the left.
Vidic and Ferdinand need no further praise. Vidic has been outstanding and Ferdinand is one of the best readers of the game.
O'Shea has put in many great performances in defence, whether left or right. He has hardly put a foot wrong this season and is a vastly underrated squad player.
Evra has shown that his weakest matchup is against a touchline hugging winger like Lennon. Messi isn't such a player as he likes to cut in and drift in.
Had Alves been available, I would fear for United's left side, as he serves the overlapping role very well. However, Puyol will play in his stead and can't offer much in terms of attack, so Evra should not have much trouble shadowing Messi towards the centre of the pitch.
Barcelona's main threat would be from Henry and Iniesta doubling up against O'Shea. O'Shea isn't a fast player and has trouble against tricky attackers—Iniesta and Henry fit the bill perfectly.
Toure, Xavi and Iniesta will complete the midfield for Barcelona.
Iniesta is definitely the main threat as he can dribble, pick a pass, and shoot from distance.
Xavi is one of the best central midfielders in today's game and is a great passer of the ball. He doesn't get forward often, but sits behind as an outlet for the attacking players to pass to when they are pressured.
Toure is the ballwinner for the midfield trio, and he adds a very physical presence to the midfield. He can tackle well and break up attacks, and will be crucial in stopping the few counter-attacks from United.
Have I mentioned their work rate? Barcelona's work rate is fantastic and will close down United's midfield in the blink of an eye, which means Carrick, Anderson, and Giggs will have to be at their best.
For purposes of comparison, I shall only look at the central midfield of United.
Giggs will play like Iniesta, beating the man and linking up play from midfield. He has played this role to perfection before, single-handedly beating Chelsea in the Premier League.
Carrick will play the Xavi role, sitting slightly deeper and offering options to the wingers and strikers when they are pressured. His passing is also excellent, but what United will see more of is his reading of the game and making interceptions as Barcelona look to get the ball to their front trio.
Anderson will play like Toure, winning the ball and engaging the midfield in a physical battle. His energy is invaluable and his ball winning will be crucial in stifling Barcelona's attack.
The midfield battle will be very exciting and I expect both sets of midfielders to be fouled a lot when both sets of midfielders close each other down very quickly.
I would give Barcelona the edge because they have players in their peak playing there, but United's midfield isn't too bad. Unfortunately, for the most part, they will be playing it long and we will only be able to see their defensive qualities on show.
Messi, Henry, and Eto'o; they have scored 71 goals between them in the La Liga. Which means they have outscored the entire United team in the EPL, who have only managed 68 goals.
However, stats don't tell the entire story, as teams in the EPL tend to shut up shop more. Teams in the La Liga prefer to attack and go down valiantly with a fight.
Don't take away anything from Messi, Henry and Eto'o though. When on form, they are pretty much unstoppable. However, I think United have the defensive capabilities to stop them, as they will make it a 6v3.
For the most part of the game, it will be Ferdinand and Vidic against Eto'o, O'Shea and Park against Henry, and Evra and Rooney against Messi.
I foresee Barcelona not getting much joy down the flanks and resort to passing the ball into the centre of the park, and Eto'o not touching the ball much at all.
United's defence and midfield will be very close together, which means the space in between for Barcelona to exploit will be lessened. This will nullify Henry and Messi's darting runs into the field.
Should they lose the ball, United will launch into counter-attacking mode, and will make up the ground in the classic EPL style - fast paced football.
That will be where Ronaldo, Rooney and Park have the most joy.
Three passes from this trio resulted in a goal against Arsenal, right from their own penalty box.
United will look to counter-attack with devastating effect, especially against the slow defenders that Barcelona have.
However, don't expect too much counter-attacking football, as Barcelona are very adept at keeping possession.
How the match will go
I expect a Barcelona vs Chelsea part two, where Barcelona had 70 percent of the possession and Chelsea broke forward in numbers when they had possession.
We all know how Barcelona will play, they will pass it short and get it to their front trio, who will try to work the opening or to lay off to their attacking midfielders/overlapping wing backs.
However, United look well equipped to stifle the Barcelona attack, and I doubt they will get many shots on target, if any at all.
Remember, Chelsea still had the best chances of the match when it was Drogba against Marquez and Pique. This time, it's Caceres and Pique against Ronaldo, who is definitely excelling in the lone forward position.
United will look to play it long to both wings and isolate the Barcelona full backs. Rooney has done very well in the left wing position, and Park is a vastly underrated player.
If anything, Barcelona's full backs will be joining the attack more often than not, giving space for Rooney and Park to run into when United counter-attack.
And with the 4-3-3 formation, Barcelona's midfield will be rather compact in the middle of the field, and they won't be able to track back to help their full-backs.
I fancy Barcelona to have around 60-65 percent of the possession, and United to have a few brief spells of dominance. However, they won't be too adventurous and will always have the numbers back.
Instead, United's chances will come from the break, and it will be from one of those breaks where United score the winning goal in the Champions League final. After that, it will be a defensive masterclass where United totally stifle Barcelona's attack.
There you go, I'm predicting a 1-0 victory for United.
I just hope I'm right like the last time.
This article can also be found on the tipsters, where Eddy and I write about football.
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