Champions League Final 2009: a tactical retrospective

Barcelona vs Manchester United, Stadio Olimpico, Rome. 27 May 2009.

The 2009 Champions League final, which will be repeated at Wembley in 22 days time, resulted in a hugely disappointing loss to Barcelona in the final. Rant looks back on that final and wonders whether Manchester United will make the same tactical mistakes again?

Both teams lined up as expected; United missed out on Darren Fletcher after Scotland captain’s unfortunate booking in the semi-final with Arsenal. Meanwhile, an injury crisis forced Barcelona into fielding a makeshift back-four including Yaya Touré in central defence.

For United, Cristiano Ronaldo led the line, with Sir Alex Ferguson deploying Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-Sung in wide positions, aiming to contain Barça’s fullbacks. Barça used Lionel Messi in the now familiar “false 9” role, forcing Samuel Eto’o wide.

Surprisingly, United initially lined up in 4-4-2 with Ryan Giggs playing as a supporting striker – it was perhaps an attempt to press and take the game to Barça, although Giggs floated too much to get a sense of how United lined up at any given time.

United started the game brightly though with Victor Valdes saving an excellent Ronaldo free kick early in the game. After all, the Reds had been pre-match favourites.

Eto’o and Messi kept changing position as game settled into a pattern, which caused United considerable problems. Ultimately when Messi dropped deep in the ninth minute, not a single United midfielder picked him up. The Argentinean pulled Andreas Iniesta’s marker out of position, which afforded the Spanish international a free dribble, eventually allowing Eto’o to score past Edwin van der Sar at the near post.

The goal could have easily prevented had United maintained a more disciplined shape.

United persisted with a 4-4-2, (see figure 1, below) which Barça negated by simply passing around the oncoming Red midfielders. The shape also meant that Park and Rooney had to form a second line of defence with United on the back foot. It took the pair away from Barcelona’s full-backs, enabling Puyol and Sylvinho’s influence on the game to grow.

Figure 1

United was unable to cope with Barça’s relentless pressing. United chances were then limited to long balls down the flanks, while Messi was also left without a marker for most of the game (see figure 2, below).

Lack of organised pressing, resulting from United’s rather limiting formation, allowed Barça to get hold of the game. United players could not abandon a post without leaving a an opponent free, while Barcelona stroked the ball around freely. United sorely missed a dedicated ball-winner.

By the end of first half, United swapped Giggs and Rooney’s positions to little effect. In another change, the half-time interval saw Carlos Tevez’s introduction at Anderson’s expense. Giggs was pushed deeper to maintain a 4-4-2ish shape and again Messi was to left roam free by United.

Figure 2

Sir Alex soon substituted Park for Dimitar Berbatov allowing Ronaldo to occupy a more familiar left-wing role. With United enjoying some success on the wings, it was a move that made sense, also introducing some height to the penalty box.

The changes were soon negated though, with Messi scoring a free header in the 69th minute; he had been left without a marker for much of the game. The player’s excellent movement and Xavi Hernandez’ exquisite cross should be commended but Ferguson must also take some of the blame for picking a shape that left the most dangerous opposition player free to do as he wished.

After the second goal, Barça comfortably saw the game out.

While it is true that almost the whole United side had an “off day”, Ferguson’s team was also hampered by frankly baffling tactics. United lost the midfield battle – a failure to be placed on the Scot’s head, who decided to play two central midfielders, including Anderson and Michael Carrick. Park’s headless running on the wing was also a factor of United’s shape.

United lost because for two reasons: the team shape and a complete lack of pressing. The question is – will United repeat the same mistake again on 28 May?

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Comments

  1. Devilton says

    Well written article. I honestly can’t see us beating Barca because on paper and on the basis of what we have seen from this team we are DEFINITELY not as strong as we were in 2009.

    That said, funny things happen in football when you count out the underdogs. We don’t have a Ronaldo or Tevez in our side (matchwinners) and Barca are definitely a more experienced and talented side. But we might just edge them out in a one off game.

    On paper though, they beat us all hands up in the midfield battle. That’s where we lost the game two years ago and that’s where the battle of Wembley will be decided.

    Advantage Barca.

  2. Steve says

    Truth be told I thought Ronaldo cost us a bit in that game. He tried to beat Barca single handed.
    We need to play a strong, hard working midfield and for me the 3 would be Fletcher, Carrick and Giggs. Park, Valencia and Rooney up front.

    Honestly, I have no real idea how we can beat them tactically, but the one thing I think is that they are vulnerable at the back so let’s try and get at them a bit.

    Going to be a massive few weeks and I actually can’t wait.

  3. bman says

    I think the importance of tactics can be overstated in that match; Barca’s midfielders were simply much better than ours and there were more of them. The good news is that we might have Fletcher, Giggs is playing better than he was two seasons ago, Rooney has gotten much better at that midfield defensive side of his job, and Raf/Fab are better than O’Shea in right back. Plus, unlike two seasons ago when we had Ronaldo and Tevez each with a foot out the door and disturbing the camp, the likes of Valencia and Chico never give up and will run themselves into the ground for us. The lads lost the psychological battle the last time around, but I think our underdog status and sense of having something to prove might help out.

    In contrast, I think Barca have gotten a bit worse, but it’s been hidden by Messi’s increasing awesomeness — a bit like the way Ronaldo hid our decline.

    Our goal should be to win this thing 1-0, as if we were going to Stanford Bridge.

  4. Bill says

    Hernandez and Fletcher’s form in the next 3 games will be interesting to follow. If JH doesn’t set the world alight we could go to a 4-5-1 with 3 cm and Rooney up top. Giggs and Carrick will make up two of the midfield. If Fletcher shows he is fully fit by the final then he could take Hernandez place and dictate a change in tactics.

  5. ltel says

    han said:
    have you seen the price of the tickets?
    ffs – £1500 as a minimum for 1 seat

    where did ya get this info from?

  6. ltel says

    nani being really overlooked in he starting line up..he has that bit of magic we need to turn the game our way, surely fergie can sit him down and explain that he needs to follow instructions and not fuck about for 1 game, and he will do it
    his goals and assists this season have been crucial, i think he has earned it

  7. sheesh says

    Blog Commenter said:
    Thick cunt… they sold out ages back.

    No they didn’t.

    There is still an allocation available for season ticket holders but there will be a ballot (although you have to satisfy the criteria to be eligible to enter the ballot, i.e – attend 10 home cup games or something).

  8. andrew says

    I think we’re well balanced now and in form – Rooney is comfortable in the no.10 role and the little fuckin pea will worry the fuck out of the barca defence. Think we’ll go 4411 with Roo dropping deep when not in possession….
    Vds
    JoS, rf, nv, pe
    Tony v, mc, df, giggs
    Roo
    Pea.
    United 1-0

  9. Just1n says

    The team that played against Chelsea this weekend is most probably the CL final team – bar JOS who will swap out for Evra.

    So then it’s:

    VDS
    Fabio Rio Vidic Evra
    Tony V Carrick Giggs Park
    Roo
    Pea

    7 Subs – PIG, Smalling, JOS, Anderson, Nani, Fletcher, Baerbatov

    Does Scholes deserve a place in the squad?

  10. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Just1n said:
    The team that played against Chelsea this weekend is most probably the CL final team – bar JOS who will swap out for Evra.

    So then it’s:

    VDS
    Fabio Rio Vidic Evra
    Tony V Carrick Giggs Park
    Roo
    Pea

    7 Subs – PIG, Smalling, JOS, Anderson, Nani, Fletcher, Baerbatov

    Does Scholes deserve a place in the squad?

    Absolutely.

    If we’re a goal up after 70 minutes and in need of some composed possession… or if we’re a goal down and need a clever idea from midfield.

    Definitely wouldn’t start him… but he’s a great option to have if needed.

  11. sheesh says

    I watched the Chelsea match today and never saw that performance coming. Not with these players. It was as if we had rolled back the years in 90 mins.

    Quick tempo football, pressing the Chelsea players at every opportunity and taking the game to the opposition.

    It’s revised my opinion somewhat of what we can do to Barcelona.

  12. Just1n says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    Absolutely.

    If we’re a goal up after 70 minutes and in need of some composed possession… or if we’re a goal down and need a clever idea from midfield.

    Definitely wouldn’t start him… but he’s a great option to have if needed.

    I’m not so sure. He was a sub in 2009 final and came on for Giggs in 75th minute and was yellow carded in 81st. Barca will be pressing us like made and we need to match them for intensity. Not sure if Scholes an provide that anymore.

    Besides who do we drop?

  13. Violent Banana says

    Great article Ed. You just can’t play two up front against Barcelona – you give their midfield too much time to pick their passes. Yes we’ve got to press, yes we’ve got to close down space, and that can best be achieved playing 4-5-1. Did the Arsenal game not teach us the dangers of playing with two up front? We weren’t in the game for large periods. It was too easy for them to keep the ball, and too hard for us to use it when we had it.

    So while he’s been amazing this season, I think Fergie has to leave Chico on the bench, and go for a formation which has worked against Arsenal so many times before – packing the midfield with pace, and playing Rooney up front alone.

  14. Dinkinflicker says

    I think the display against Arsenal was more to do with invidual performances and a couple of key personnel changes, rather than simply looking at the formation.

    I can see us playing a very similar side and tactics as the Chelsea game, with the only exception being Evra coming in for O’Shea. Rooney can drop deeper if needed, but will probably be given the job of getting close to Busquets and disrupting their rhythym as early as possible. Carrick, Giggs and Park will have the job of stoping Xavi, Iniesta and Messi when he drops deep. Evra will give us width on the left, Valencia will be outlet on the right and Chico will try and occupy their centre halves. There’s no magic formula and I still think Barca will win, but i expect us to give them a game.

  15. Sidsidney says

    I heard Fergie say after the Chelsea game that all the work done in training will be with Barca in mind
    So the players will have had well over 2 weeks preparation for this game. And we’ve got pretty much a fully fit squad.
    And being one of the savviest teams in Europe who haven’t conceded a goal away from home… surely we’re going to turn up this time

  16. sheesh says

    Uefa have opened a disciplinary case against Barcelona star Sergio Busquets over alleged racist abuse in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.
    The capital club published a video on their website ahead of the second leg, with a subtitle alleging Busquets had made a racist remark towards defender Marcelo during Barca’s 2-0 win at the Bernabeu.
    Following Barca’s 2-0 victory in the first European meeting between the two sides last month, Real reported the Catalan outfit for unsporting behaviour.
    During a game which saw Pepe dismissed and coach Jose Mourinho sent to the stands, Real alleged that Barca indulged in play-acting throughout and that Busquets had aimed a racist insult at Brazilian full-back Marcelo.
    Barca had earlier reported Real to Uefa over comments made by Mourinho suggesting they were the beneficiaries of continental favours.
    Busquets’ case will be dealt with on Sunday, with the European governing body’s decision communicated to the clubs on Monday.

  17. Sidsidney says

    The racist cunt is found not guilty “due to a lack of strong and convincing evidence”, because a video of the player mouthing the word “mono, mono” is not strong and convicting enough
    Mourinho has a pont… when you attack Barca, you attack Unicef. Massive companies hate bad press, especially when it involves blatant racism, so it’s hard to nail these cunts.
    We should get sponsored by Save the Polar Bears campaign or something. If you attack us, you attack the polar bears, and that makes you a total bastard

  18. sheesh says

    sidney said:
    The racist cunt is found not guilty “due to a lack of strong and convincing evidence”, because a video of the player mouthing the word “mono, mono” is not strong and convicting enough

    Mourinho has a pont… when you attack Barca, you attack Unicef. Massive companies hate bad press, especially when it involves blatant racism, so it’s hard to nail these cunts.

    We should get sponsored by Save the Polar Bears campaign or something. If you attack us, you attack the polar bears, and that makes you a total bastard

    I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. These UEFA pricks are corrupt to the core. I’m glad Jose said what he said.

  19. sheesh says

    Talk about siege mentality. Pin this up to the dressing room wall, Fergie:

    Barcelona will easily beat Manchester United to win the Champions League – Hristo Stoichkov

    The Premier League winners are in for a difficult task against Pep Guardiola’s side, who will stroll to victory, according to the club’s former Bulgarian striker.

    By Salvatore Landolina
    20 May 2011 19:04:00

    Barcelona will have no problem in claiming the Champions League trophy in next week’s Wembley final against Manchester United, according to former striker Hristo Stoichkov.

    The giants of European football go head-to-head in a repeat of the 2009 final, which saw the Catalans sweep the English team aside in a 2-0 victory in Rome.

    And Stoichkov, who won the 1992 European Cup with the Blaugrana at Wembley, feels Pep Guardiola’s men will repeat history – and with relative ease too.

    He told reporters: “I see an easy game for Barcelona. They are used to playing these battles and they have players like [Lionel] Messi, Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta and company.

    “Also, it does not matter who the rival is as Barcelona always play in the same way.

    “The truth is the motivation to win from the players is something that Guardiola has instilled.”

    Stoichkov believes the Barca coach will learn from lessons provided during his playing career.

    “The coach had the experience of playing in the Dream Team and he knows not to make the mistakes of the past.

    “This team are breaking all the moulds thanks to the players they have. They have everything to make history.”

  20. sheesh says

    Sir Alex’s men meet Barcelona at Wembley on Saturday week and Owen says all the players are relishing the challenge.

    “These are exciting times,” he told MUTV at the Player of the Year awards.

    “We obviously have a duty to the league to perform against Blackpool and we want to win that game, but I’d be lying if I said one eye wasn’t on the Barcelona match.

    “A lot of what we’re doing in training is focused on stopping them. I was playing as David Villa on the left wing today in training!

    Pop that on an e-mail to Guardiola himself. FFS….

  21. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Let Stoichkov talk… like you said Sheeshy… that’s exactly the type of thing that motivates opposing players… and not only that… it’s the kind of unneccessary bluster that breeds overconfidence, which can sometimes lead to complacency.

    I’m in no doubt who the favourites are… but in a one off game, anything can happen, and we’ve got a few special players of our own… and this kind of talk from Stoichkov will do United more good than Barcelona.

  22. sheesh says

    From Arsenal.com

    ‘They won’t get better chance to beat Barca’

    By Chris Harris

    Arsène Wenger believes Manchester United will never get a better chance to beat Barcelona than next weekend’s Champions League Final.

    The Catalan giants ran out 2-0 winners when the same sides contested the 2009 showpiece in Rome and Barcelona have only got better since then. Pep Guardiola’s side have dominated La Liga this season and brushed aside all-comers in Europe – including Arsenal in the last 16.

    However Wenger believes that a long, arduous season might be catching up with Barcelona and he thinks Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad has it in them to bring the Champions League trophy back to England.

    “I believe against Barcelona, from what I have seen in the last three weeks, there is never a better moment to win it against them,” said Wenger.

    “They look quite exhausted and Manchester United look sharp physically. In the last three or four games [Barcelona have looked tired], for me, and it takes three weeks to recover physically.

    “I am not sure whether Barcelona have enough time to recover. They look on their knees so I give Manchester United a good chance.

    “You know Barcelona will have the ball for 70 per cent of the time and Manchester United will have to be very efficient for the 30 per cent of the time they have the ball. No matter what kind of tactics they decide.

    “I have an instinctive feeling that Manchester United will change completely their style against them, this time. I think they will go for a rougher midfield, a more direct display than they did in Rome [in 2009].”

    Ferguson has fielded a front two in recent games with Wayne Rooney playing just off Javier Hernandez. So will the Man United manager have to sacrifice the in-form Mexican if he floods his midfield to deny space to Xavi, Andres Iniesta and company?

    “It could mean playing Hernandez but playing him as a runner, to go direct,” replied Wenger. “I don’t know what they will decide, that is the uncertainty they have but you know how Barcelona will play. We don’t know yet how Manchester will play.”

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