Manchester United: The Benefit of Hindsight After Barcelona

Damian CooperContributor IMay 29, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Ryan Giggs of Manchester United shouts during the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Is it just a case this morning of the better team won, or is there scope for asking what Manchester United could have done differently?

The UK press in particular have a need to bestow platitudes on foreign opposition with a woe is us, self-depricating ease. But if English teams (even with their swelled ranks of foreign stars) aren't equipped to play total football, then why do they try?

Last night Javier Mascherano started in the unaccustomed position of centre-back. So there were obviously weaknesses there to be exploited. However, passing the ball on the ground around him was not something the defensive midfield terrier was going to struggle with.

Lifting the ball in to the box in his general direction however, just might have been a challenge, with Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez there to pick up any loose balls around the area.

The Barcelona passing game is second to none, and even though United showed they could put the pressure on early doors, the Catalans soon found their rhythm.

Take Gerard Pique and Mascherano out of the equation and when Barcelona come forward it is eight outfield players against 10 outfield players. So would it not have been possible to man-to-man mark every time they had the ball?

Who do you pass it to when every player has a man breathing down his neck and the passer has a man nipping at his ankles? Man-to-man is not the done thing as a defensive strategy these days, players always stand-off. But last night was clearly a time for one on one match-ups all over the park.

Ryan Giggs brought experience and flair, both of which were fairly redundant against Barca last night. 

Darren Fletcher's ability to hassle midfielders into submission could have been a more effective way to combat the Spanish side's game. Onlookers talk about stopping Barcelona from playing their game, and there is no shame in that.

Opponents sometimes feel that they don't want to give them the respect and they are good enough to impose their own game on Barcelona. It's misguided to think this way, they are not good enough.

As ugly as José Mourinho's Real Madrid team can be to watch, they have been able to beat their fierce rivals this season. Even with the galacticos they have, their approach is to stop Barcelona, not to try and impose their own attacking game on them.

You can't criticise Alex Ferguson—which is why this is all in the benefit of hindsight—but there was certainly a feeling at the final whistle that his side had been naive in their approach. A feeling compounded by the fact that they had been turned over in this way by Europe's best only two years ago.

So the benefit of hindsight this time can be shared throughout European football. If you come up against Barcelona, don't try and play your own game, try and stop theirs.

That way, you might just give yourself a chance.