One week on: Reds take no pride from Euro final



It has been nearly a week since Sir Alex Ferguson’s team lost comprehensively to a Barcelona side hailed as ‘the best of a generation’. Although credit is due to Pep Guardiola’s truly magnificent Barça side, which illustrates just why total football is no longer a utopian concept, it can also be said that United rarely engaged the Catalan giants in battle at Wembley.

For all the confidence shown pre-match, United failed to deliver a performance in the season’s biggest match. Perhaps part of the problem was Ferguson’s selection? After all, the starting 11 – one that many supporters called for prior to kick-off – failed to disclose Ferguson’s true intentions; whether to match Barcelona tactically and defend, or change the system and go for broke.

Evidently United did neither of those. The selection of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, flanked by Park Ji-Sung and Antonio Valencia, suggests United wanted to take the game to Barcelona. Yet, as the statistics demonstrate, Ferguson’s side did little of this, with just one shot on target in 90 minutes.

Defensively United’s midfield did little to deter Barcelona’s attacking impetus, with Giggs struggling to break up the famous ‘carousel’ of Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta, largely due to the physical constraints of the role. Meanwhile, Valencia and Park failed to offer United an outlet on the wings and were unable to turn the tide of possession in United’s favour.

Despite this Ferguson’s team sheet is certainly defendable given the set of results against Chelsea and Shalke towards the end of the season, using Carrick and Giggs in the centre of midfield.

The Scot had only a few options at kick-off. However, after 45 minutes United was clearly struggling to negate Barcelona threat and change was needed.

Perhaps Wayne Rooney’s strike, giving the side a lifeline on 35 minutes, may have adversely suggested convinced the Scot that no substitutions were needed when it was abundantly clear to most Giggs and Carrick would never force Barcelona into submission. If Ferguson had both Darren Fletcher and Anderson on the bench why did he forget to deploy either of them when needed?

The decision not to call on either Fletcher or Anderson may have led to Barca’s goals. Disappointingly, each of Barcelona’s three strikes derived from lackluster defending. With the aforementioned pair Barcelona would surely not have been gifted so much time in front of goal.

Lionel Messi’s goal on 54 minutes is a perfect example of this point. United’s defence failed to close the Argentinean down leaving Edwin Van der Saar exposed and Messi with a choice of firing into either corner. With no defensive cover in midfield Messi had even more time and space.

Aside from United’s defensive display, the Reds rarely managed to spring into attack with Javier Hernandez cutting an isolated figure and at times seemingly out of his depth.

Here Ferguson could also have done something different too. Certainly a player of Nani’s abilities would have added more had he been introduced earlier in the game. Perhaps even United’s leading goal scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, would have been useful from the bench? It seems futile to even attempt to understand the Bulgarian’s snub in place of a man who has scored just five goals this season.

Many pundits claim that no side would have beaten Barcelona that night. That may be true but the manner of defeat inflicted upon Ferguson’s side was embarrassing. More to the point, those who witnessed Barcelona’s encounters with Shaktar Donetsk, although high scoring, will have observed far more evenly contested affairs with the Ukrainians.

There were also alternative approaches to United’s. Real Madrid infamously tried a more defensive tactic in one of five encounters this season. Despite mixed results, Jose Mourinho’s side certainly gave Barcelona far more of a game than United did.

Ferguson’s side seldom forced Barca’s newly formed defence back. Neither did the they pressurise Iniesta and Xavi. The evidence: how many times did Barcelona’s players feel the need to writhe around on the ground in agony? Certainly, it was merely a fraction of what Barça exposed the world to in the matches against Real Madrid.

In fact the only injustice of the occasion was the presence of Sergio Busquets on the pitch. Despite being clearly and conclusively depicted as racially abusing Real Madrid’s Marcelo in the semi-final UEFA deemed it fitting to dismiss the claims. Maybe Jose Mourinho wasn’t so mad after all.

Not that United can complain. Ferguson’s side got exactly what was coming.

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  • Godfrey

    Its not the defeat but the manner in which were beaten is the thing which rankles.Even chimp face case was cheeky enough to take a jibe at us.I think his pea sized brain couldn’t hold on to the 5-nothing thrashing..

    We grumbled,well at least some of us grumbled about not having Fletcher in 2009 ,I was fortunate enough to be in middle of the Pacific and missed the game in Rome in 2009.Well no such luck this time.Never seen us so bereft of ideas.Hernandez did look overwhelmed and Fletcher should have been risked.Anderson’s poor retention ability could have been why Fergie was loath to use him.Dint help that Valencia wasnt able to exert his influence..constantly getting drawn through the middle to try and get the ball making it all very narrow,

    But all said and done praying ,hoping…Just one half decent midfielder to shore up our ranks…

  • Edpayasugo

    I agree, we should have changed things at half time, it was never going to hurt us as we weren’t even in the game/ Hernandez off for Fletch/Anderson.
    I can only imagine that Fergie was hoping to hold on until Barca tired, but it didn’t work.
    Easy to say in hindsight, and the choice was credible at the time, but it seems now that we should have started an extra CM and dropped Hernandez to be used as an impact sub.

  • Jeff

    If it wasn’t obvious to make the change at half time it certainly should have been after the second goal. The softness of the second goal was really disappointing. At this point Barca were overrunning the midfield. As correctly stated Hernandez could not get into the game the longer it went on, with little fault to himself. Another midfield body was desperately needed to plug some of the gaps if nothing else.

    The Barcelona pressing game is truly immense. I don’t think Valencia ever received the ball without being faced down by two of their players. United’s flair players were simply not allowed or able to get into the game with the tactical set-up.

    Their is no doubt Barcelona are one of the best teams to have ever played the game. It would have taken a mammoth effort for United to have come away champions but I still reckon the game was winnable. Again, like the 2009 final, the most annoying aspect of the result is the fact that I don’t think United did themselves justice.

  • Ashish

    La Liga champions vs English champions.

    The gulf in quality was astonishing.

    Anybody who thinks Barca can be beat at their own game of tiki-taka attacking football is living in a fool’s paradise.

    Real Madrid tried to attack Barca,they lost 5-0.

    It was only when they modified their game to nullify Barca’s threat that they could beat them.

    It must be said that Barca brushed United and Arsenal(two teams who naturally play attacking football) with relative ease….in fact it was so easy that Barca didn’t even see the need to cheat.

    In the last 4 clasicos,Barca have only managed to score 4 goals against Real.

    In the last 2 games against Utd,Barca have scored 5 goals.

    Says it all really.

  • Jeff

    Of course if you try and take them on at their own game you’re in for a hiding. I still think with the right tactical changes and subs at half time United could have made a better stab at winning than what panned out.

    • Ashish

      Yes.

      This is true that had Fergie employed the right tactics,maybe…just maybe,Utd could have posed a better challenge.

      Clearly,this proves that Rene and Phelan aren’t quite competent enough when it comes to setting out the right tactics.

      Something which Queiroz was pretty efficient at.

  • Godfrey

    La Liga champions vs English champions.

    The gulf in quality was astonishing.

    Anybody who thinks Barca can be beat at their own game of tiki-taka attacking football is living in a fool’s paradise.

    Gulf in class….bloody tosh As much as I hate to say it Arse n hole stood strong against barca after the first half onslaught and they dint score till van pussy was shambolically shown red..
    We lacked the oft mentioned creative spark which we’ve been cribbing for since the last window..

    What dint help is the fact that all of put in a stellar performance while our set of players dint get a sniff which jeff’s pointed out

  • ottmike

    Yes, United were rubbish, very disappointing, couldn’t keep the ball, the full-backs didn’t want it, Ferdinand hoofing it, terrible! Chelsea’s good showings against them were with early balls to Drogba, very direct. Bottle job by Utd in my opinion, something unthinkable when Roy Keane was in the team.

  • sidney

    “Tiki-taka football”

    Way to undermine and patronize the incredible football Barca play

  • Perry

    Beaten by possibly the greatest club team, or football team, ever assembled. Their football was astonishing, completely out of this world. To suggest that this may have been bridged by some tactical nuances on Fergusons part is actually giving United more credit than they deserve. Barcelona are absolutely light years ahead of anybody.

    United have hugely overachieved this year, which is a credit to Ferguson and the squad. Outstanding stuff.

    I’m sorry we were on the end of it, but it was bloody spellbinding to watch. When writing the history of this match, let’s please not think of it as ‘opportunity missed’ and slate the team.