Champions League final 2011: tactical preview



With the Champions League final approaching, Sir Alex Ferguson must find answers to several key tactical questions ahead of the game at Wembley next weekend – from Manchester United’s formation, to dealing with Barcelona’s plethora of attacking options. In the first of a week-long series of build up articles, Rant’s Jay Shon looks at the key tactical decisions facing United ahead of the final…

With United generally being more defensive in Europe than in domestic games – Ferguson’s side is yet to concede away from home in the Champions League – one might be tempted into thinking that United might go for a 4-3-3.  Indeed, the Reds have used the formation featuring two ball winners and a deep-lying midfielder as the midfield trio in recent years.

However, with Darren Fletcher likely to miss the game after missing much of United’s run-in, Ferguson’s squad lacks a genuine ball winner in midfield to attempt the system. In addition, the second ball winner – Anderson or Darron Gibson – is known to squander possession. It is a sin that cannot be tolerated against Barcelona where possession comes at a premium.

In fact United is more likely to line up in a shape similar to the side’s that faced Chelsea and Shalke in previous rounds, although not in a 4-4-1-1 system.  It is a formation that requires wide players to work alongside central midfielders, as opposed to playing as pure attacking midfielders. Such placement will allow Barcelona’s full-backs too much time and space. Indeed, one of the reasons United lost the recent Arsenal game is because Nani and Ji-Sung Park couldn’t get at the Arsenal full-backs. The mistake cannot be replicated against Barça whose full-backs are even more dangerous than Arsenal’s. To counter, United must deploy a 4-2-3-1 system, pushing both Valencia and Park further forward.

With Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs expected to play, ball winning is a concern for Ferguson. However, Park, Valencia and Wayne Rooney all do plenty enough running and tracking back to cover for lack of a dedicated ball winner in the central midfield.  Ultimately, United’s formation will be key – the Reds lost the 2009 final against Barcelona thanks, frankly, to the baffling 4-4-2 shape. Ferguson must not repeat the same mistake.

Meanwhile, United must also counter key Barcelona threats. Lionel Messi is acknowledged to be the most dangerous man in football and stopping the Argentinean is essential to a United victory. In the previous meeting, Messi was a deployed as a “false 9,” a centre forward who drops deep, to great effect. United could not cope with his movement and Messi was left free for majority of the game. There are no excuses this time as Messi has been used solely in the role this season. Ferguson and his players should be well prepared.

Perhaps the most obvious solution, since Barça plays with a lone forward, is to have one of United’s centre-backs to push into midfielder to meet Messi. However, with David Villa playing on the shoulder of last defender, leaving a gap in defence might not be the best response. Should United choose to take this route, full-backs Patrice Evra and Fabio da Silva must either play extremely defensively to keep numbers at the back, or offensively, pinning back Barça’s wingers.

Alternatively, Ferguson may opt to play a high line and deny Messi the space to turn. United will be susceptible to quick balls over the top or exquisite through balls, both of which Barça are very capable of, but it’s a tactic that will work if United can maintain a decent amount of possession.

This Messi conundrum is caused because United’s midfield trio is matched by Barcelona’s inverted triangle, leaving no free man in either side’s midfield. It might just be that Michael Carrick, the more defensively aware of United’s central midfield duo, will have to drop deep every now and then to pick up the little Argentinian.

Another principal tactical threat to United comes in the shape of Dani Alves, who is widely considered to be the best attacking right full-back in the game. Given Sir Alex’s usual tactics over the years, Park will almost certainly be deployed to do a defensive job on the Brazilian. However, the gap that Alves leaves behind by him also presents an attacking opportunity for United. Barça play a very high line, which is compounded by the gap left in the Catalans’ right channel. It leaves Barça defense vulnerable to pace of Javier Hernández and Rooney. In fact, it might be worth a gamble by deploying Nani on the left to aggressively take advantage of this opportunity.

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Comments

  1. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    tbf I didn’t read that, but I tell you what, we’re gonna win this

  2. Ken Oath we are

  3. Barcelona’s travel plans may be disrupted because of the volcanic ash cloud that is threatening to sweep across the UK.

  4. No need for endless tactical discussions

    So long as it remains 11 v 11 we can do ‘em

  5. Definitely, 4-4-1-1 has been our best formation in Europe this year. I’ll go with this but with a small tweak to the players used.

    Hernadez
    Rooney
    Park-Giggs-Carrick-Nani
    Evra-Vidic-Ferdinand-Valencia
    VDS

    Valencia played right wing against Chelsea but I’ll move him down to right back because 1) he has been absolutely magnificent ever since he came back 2) has more experience than the Da Silva brothers 3) Attack as good as the twins 4) defend as good, if not better than the twins. I’ll probably see Barcelona’s left defence as their weakness and having Nani who played great as right wing for the whole season will be best there to torment Puyol/Abidal. Plus with Valencia behind Nani, Nani will know he is safe to attack as much as he could with such a solid and experience player behind him.

    While defending, Park has definitely got to be man marking Messi. Park and Giggs can interchange positions depending where Messi goes. But we’ll need Park to mark Messi out of the game just like how Park marked Figo out of the game during the 2002 World Cup.

    It’ll be a tough game for Utd., and will probably be underdogs. But with Sir Alex in command, I’m confident he will find the best team and formation to beat Barcelona. C’mon United!

    • mongoletsi says:

      That’s actually not a ridiculous suggestion, you know? Logic says O’Pie if we’re playing Nani instead of Valencia. If it were Valencia, then you’d feel more comfortable with a Da Silva.

      Tough one.

      I don’t see it happening, but it’s not as ridiculous as it initially sounds!

  6. doctor strange says:

    This Herbie Simms chap must spend a lot of time roaming the Internet like some sports reporter looking for a story. Must be getting his inside information from the players agents or the players themselves. Very easy to do. You can go on Facebook or Twitter or just contact an administrator within the club through email and ask questions. I like this chap, a real die hard United fan who wants answers. If you roam around the Internet like I do, he is right when he says United have made offers for players but he cannot be sure who is reallyy coming until the club comes out and makes an official announcement.Maybe Herbie has a personal friend within the club. I believe he said he was from Bermuda. Very beautiful Island, people there are kind and friendly. Herbie must learn to stick to the topics, but keep up the good work Herbie.

    • Jay Shon says:

      Dude let it go. Moderators can see that you are stupidly using the same email address to post these “compliments.”

      Seriously, this is just plain pathetic

  7. glory glory Man Utd

  8. A couple of months ago I would have said we would have no chance but between our improvement, Barcelona’s preparation being less than perfect and the fact it is being played in England I think we do have a legitimate chance here.

    Barca have been resting players and there is chance then might not be as sharp as they could be. The ash cloud messing their travel schedule around isn’t going to benefit them either.

    Should be a good game, but I think Barca edge it 2-1.

  9. It’s time for Sir Alex to show that he is the Sung Tzu of football, and outthink Guardiola totally. I may have the wrong idea completely, but I think we should first work on devising an attacking strategy to exploit Barca’s weaknesses (few as they may well be, on first analysis) and then second, work on how to nullify their strengths in offense and in midfield, and not the other way round. In my view, we need to have them worry about us, about our `unpredicability’ (the very word Guardiola used about us). We cannot take the field with a team that is designed to nullify their strengths because that will give them the initiative, and that will be fatal. We need to find a way of hurting them because teams find it so difficult to hurt them, and they tend to have the lion’s share of possession in every match they play. We must get them worried that when they lose possession bad things are going to happen because we are full of all sorts of nasty surprises just waiting to happen. And if they do start to think this, then it will happen.

  10. uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    tbf I didn’t read that, but I tell you what, we’re gonna win this

    Totally agree with knbby here. The more I think about the more confident I get.

    I like the idea of Valencia as Rb with Nani in front of him. That will throw Barca big time and then we can have Nani play were he loves to play and then still keep Park on the pitch. To be honest, any match in which we can have three of them on the pitch with Rooney and Hernandez still on gives us great advantage.

  11. The problem is that Park won’t be able to help out in the center of the pitch as much as he could against the Chavs, because Alves is a proper attacking threat who can’t just be ignored. Getting beaten at the Emirates a few weeks back is a worrying precedent, because Barca are more similar to Arsenal than to the Chavs, but substantially better.

    No way can you start with Nani on either the left or the right, Fergie may prove me wrong, but I just think we need our harder working and more disciplined players out there. Whatever formation Fergie opts for, we’ll get slaughtered if the lads don’t work really hard and cover a lot of ground, because whatever way you slice it we’ll be a man short in central midfield playing against the best central midfielders in the world.

  12. Our centre-backs HAVE to be brave in this match. We had a total disconnect between the defence and the midfield in Rome two years ago principally because Rio was not fit and they scored early.
    On saturday, we have to be ready to either hold a high line or drop deep together. There must not be that space in behind Carrick but in front of the centre-backs for Messi or Pedro to materialise into. If we are going to hold a high line then we must press from the front just as I think they were doing on sunday against Blackburn and which we did in Rome before Barca scored. The Barca midfield trio are very good but like ALL footballers, only when they have the ball and time on it. We must be ready to deny them that and MUST also be bold when we have the ball. We have to make Barca defend too.

    The Arsenal game was strange in that we just did not play and Anderson was totally wank. After the scored and we increased our tempo we should have equalised. Anyway, we have a chance on saturday.

  13. eddieTheRed says:

    The last time we played Barca they confounded SAF by spreading themselves out and using the width of the pitch to soak up our pressure and slow us down; with the pace gone out of our game we struggled to get in behind them and make any real penetration.

    This time we have got to make our pace count; a slower game suits Barca because it is easier to play posession football at a slower speed. I favour a 4-5-1 with the wingers and the central playmaker (in this case Rooney) given a license to break when we have good posession in their half.

    The point about Alves leaving a hole behind him is well made and I hope Park is clever enough to exploit this; Arsenal exploited this hole several times at the Nou Camp with Samir Nasri running into that channel but Busquets fouled him every time (ref didn’t want to know), although I imagine Barca will be targetting Evra’s side with the same intention!

  14. Rooney is vital to the result here. If we go 4-4-1-1 he could really win it for us if he displays Park like hunger to get around the pitch. He holds the key. If he is on song we can win it, considering everything that has happened this season I think it could be on the cards. He definitely has a point to prove.

  15. Gabagool says:

    Sorry Wil, but Valencia at right back is suicide. He can and has done a job there when necessity calls, but to purposely start that way against the best attacking team in football would be catastrophic.
    Dasilva or even oshea would have to be the starter with nani off the bench if we’re level with 20 to play.
    Feck I hope we win this.

  16. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    i was the only on on here who predicted the moscow team spot on with hargreaves at right wing in a 442

  17. Genius!

  18. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    that would make me another of herbies accounts then surely

    im herbie then

    get in

  19. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    no wait,

    fuck

  20. I know who you are..and where you live Tel, Wife, Girlfriend, Pub..the list is endless.

    Herbie..ffs

  21. what mee.. whats going on

  22. Blog Commenter said:
    This Herbie Simms chap must spend a lot of time roaming the Internet like some sports reporter looking for a story. Must be getting his inside information from the players agents or the players themselves. Very easy to do. You can go on Facebook or Twitter or just contact an administrator within the club through email and ask questions. I like this chap, a real die hard United fan who wants answers. If you roam around the Internet like I do, he is right when he says United have made offers for players but he cannot be sure who is reallyy coming until the club comes out and makes an official announcement.Maybe Herbie has a personal friend within the club. I believe he said he was from Bermuda. Very beautiful Island, people there are kind and friendly. Herbie must learn to stick to the topics, but keep up the good work Herbie.

    Nice one Herbs.

  23. This is the best thing I’ve ever seen on Rant. I call for a shout out for Doctor Strange on the RantCast.

    “…keep up the good work Herbie”

  24. herbie simms says:

    Who the hell is Doctor Strange? I spend most of my time on newsnow.com and BBC news. Other then that, I check whats coming out of the Manchester evening news.

  25. An irresistible force meeting an almost immovable object. Chelsea or Real Madrid would just park the bus and hope. bleah. Ferguson will come up with a high intensity midfield game, Two Lung Park will start, and Rooney will probably do some high and aggressive defending.

    Ryan Giggs head not being in the game, and those distractions, will severely hurt Man U. I thought Barcelona were crazy to get rid of E’to, but his style wasn’t really theirs, and Villa is perfect for them. Basically, they are the Spain team, swopping out Torres, for Messi.

    I would say Ferguson and Man U have the best chance of anyone to stop Barca, but they still won’t.

    2-0 Barca

  26. surely three lung, Aliza?

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