Manchester United: How Will the Red Devils Line Up Against Barcelona?
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The biggest club match of each season takes place this Saturday when English champions Manchester United host La Liga winners Barcelona in the Champions League final.
The two clubs face off against each-other for the first time since 2009 when the Catalan outfit beat the Englishmen 2-0 at the final stage of the competition.
The rematch offers an opportunity for modern football's most successful manager—United's Sir Alex Ferguson—to get revenge for the consummate loss suffered in Rome two years ago.
However, beating Barcelona at Wembley on Saturday will certainly test and stretch the Scottish gaffer's tactical acumen. Ferguson's successes are based more in player motivation and talent breeding than his ability to outfox manager's come game day.
Though much of the Red Devil's lineup is predictable, there are a few positions where Ferguson's selection will play an important role to deciding the European Champions on Saturday.
What formation will Ferguson use?
In all likelihood, Man United will line up as they have in the last couple months during their title-winning run in England.
There are many ways to label it: 4-5-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1—but they all involve essentially a five-man midfield including Wayne Rooney, with Javier Hernandez up top.
Should Carrick start?
With the two strikers on the teamsheet it could seem a 4-4-2, but Rooney should drop deep to harry the midfield less United get completely blown away in the fixture.
Hernandez's pace alone will stretch Barcelona on the counter-attack, giving room for Rooney to drop deep and orchestrate play, which in itself enables Ferguson to field more defensive-minded players in the center of midfield with him.
Will Fletcher start?
Darren Fletcher was United's best player last season, despite Wayne Rooney scoring a glut of goals and Antonio Valencia improving from each game.
The Scotsman harried opponents with boundless energy and a propensity to tackle with abandon, providing an offensive and defensive balance few other players in Europe could offer individually—and he did so consistently throughout the whole season.
However, battling a virus this season, the 27-year-old never achieved the form of last term. In fact, he missed two months from March to May in suffering from the ailment.
He has only made two appearances since his return from the sidelines, coming on as a sub against Schalke on May 4 before starting United's last game of the season against Blackpool.
So is it unreasonable for him to start against Barcelona? There's no doubt, on the evidence of two season's ago, that United need him there.
Michael Carrick's performance that night in Munich left him in the doghouse for the whole following season, and rightly so: he let Iniesta and Xavi run circles around him as he vacantly pranced around the pitch in the losing effort.
Messi and the two Spainards certainly intend to do the same thing again. It's hard to envision a midfield with Carrick, Giggs, and Anderson shackling the trio, because neither has the passion for a tackle like the aforementioned Scotsman.
Ferguson would be remiss not to start Fletcher. If the midfielder isn't healthy enough, then you can take him off later, as opposed to not starting him, losing, and putting him in when the game's already ahead of you.
Ji-Sung Park must play—so who will sit?
If nothing else, Park Ji-Sung proved over the last three months—after a poor first half to the season and a hiatus for the Asian Cup—that he is integral to United's success.
This holds true particularly in European matches when Ferguson needs to stack the midfield with players willing to track back and get stuck in.
Park would be likely to flourish in the center of the park, however United's manager tends to put him on the left wing.
This begs the question: Who will he replace, Antonio Valencia or Nani?
There's no doubt who had the better season. The Ecuadorian spent much of it injured with a nasty leg-break while Nani spent his term clearly evolving into a world-class winger, weighing in with nine goals and 14 assists in the EPL this season.
However, Valencia tracks back better and more willingly, and his play on the wing is much more direct. Nani is more prone to making mistakes and letting an occasion get to him. The safer bet here would be to start Valencia, but it'll be hard for Ferguson to leave the Portuguese star on his bench.
If Park were to play in Rooney's free-ranging role, behind the Englishman, thereby leaving Hernandez on the bench, it'd be one way to get both wingers into the game—but at what cost?
Damned if you do or don't
Regardless of what side Ferguson deploys, he'll be second-guessed if United lose again to Barcelona in the Champions League final.
Personally I see Carrick, Anderson, and Rooney starting with Park and Nani behind Hernandez. In the back I expect Vidic and Ferdinand obviously, with Evra (if he's healthy) and O'Shea, though I'd prefer a da Silva twin on the right to add pace and energy.
I expect Scholes to come off the bench around the 70th minute and fire in the match winner. Then I will spontaneously combust.
The United manager has enough options in midfield and attack, including the formation he decides to use, that serious hindsight bias is sure to come from all of United's pining fans were they again to suffer a soul-crushing loss in this final game of the 2010-11 season.
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