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Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Road To Wembley

Old Wembley’s Twin Towers hold a unique place in the history of Manchester United and FC Barcelona. They both won their first European accolade in Old Wembley stadium. They are due to face each other on 28th May, 2011 in the Champions League final at New Wembley stadium, London. The winner will join the elite group of Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern München with 4 Champions League titles, and will be behind only Liverpool FC (5 titles), A.C. Milan (7 titles) and Real Madrid (9 titles).
Matt Busby was the first Manchester United manager to conquer Europe in 1968. After 31 years, another Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson repeated the feat for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson once again steered United to European glory in 2008. This year, the most successful English Premier League manager is in the search of his 3rd and United’s 4th European achievement.
Johan Cruyff was the first FC Barcelona manager to conquer Europe in 1992. After 14 years, another Dutch, Frank Rijkaard, repeated the feat for Barcelona. Josep Guardiola, who was a player in the title winning squad under Cruyff, triumphed over Europe again in 2009; this time as a Manager. This year, the only manager in the planet to win the Sextuple is in the search of his 2nd and Barcelona’s 4th European achievement.
Group Stage:
Barcelona and United topped the respective groups with 14 points from the available 18 points. Both teams never lost a match in group stage. United scored 7 goals and conceded 1 goal while Barcelona scored double than United and conceded 3 goals.
First Knock-Out Round:
I would say Arsenal was little unlucky to pit against Barcelona yet another time in what turned out to be the repetition of last year’s quarter final. In spite of the victory at Emirates, Arsenal crashed out again to that little genius, Lionel Messi in a match marred by the dubious dismissal of Robin van Persie. Barcelona is a team difficult to play against when you have 11 players on the pitch. You could imagine what would have happened after Arsenal were reduced to 10 men in Camp Nou !
For Manchester United, a cagey encounter at Stade Vélodrome against Olympique Marseille was followed with a comfortable win during the return leg at Old Trafford. Thanks to Javier Hernández’s brace.
Quarter Finals:
Barcelona thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine with an aggregate score of 6-1. At Camp Nou, five goals were scored with Lionel Messi not amongst the scorers. But, the solitary goal scored at the Donbass Arena belonged to the Argentine.
For United, QF was a tough encounter and was the repetition of 2008 Champions league final. Again, the result was same. But, this time the tie wasn’t decided on penalties. Following a defeat at Stamford Bridge, for a lone Rooney goal, Chelsea traveled to Old Trafford knowing that they must score to progress. Instead, United scored through Javier Hernández and Chelsea never looked to stifle United until the second half introduction of Didier Drogba in place of disappointing Fernando Torres. 77th minute of the match decided the tie ! Drogba scored a powerful goal and equalized for Chelsea. The response from United took no time as Ji-Sung Park restored the lead following a breath taking counter attack. Champions league curse continues for Chelsea !
There was an outstanding player who controlled the game for Manchester united in both the legs. All the 3 goals scored by Manchester United had the signature of that indefatigable, ageless, and zealous player called Giggsy; Ryan Joseph Giggs.
Semi Finals:
Until the first leg of this Champions league semi final, José Mourinho cunningly and successfully administered his team formations against Barcelona. But in Santiago Bernabéu, with entire planet watching, he failed to defend his much celebrated tactical acumen and managerial repertoire. He neither cared for Real Madrid’s aristocratic brand of attacking football nor considered the offensive talents like Kaká, Benzema and Higuaín. The harsh dismissal of the chief destroyer, Pepe, proved to be the key moment in the match. Having reduced to 10 men and the influential coach sent to stands, Madrid fluttered after an hour mark to concede the defeat to two goals from Little Messiah. El Clásico at Bernabéu was a match to be remembered for the annihilation strategy by Madrid and resultant histrionics by Barcelona.
The second leg at Camp Nou was a formality. Score line was not humiliating compared to the 5-0 thrashing in La Liga; thanks to the attacking brand of football displayed by Real Madrid. It was an admirable score line, 1-1, in the Champions league ! Real Madrid had 36% of ball possession at Camp Nou compared to 28% at Bernabéu. Madrid managed that 28% having played for half an hour with 10 men. What would have been the outcome if Real Madrid played with more attacking intent at Bernabéu during first leg  ?
Toppling the defending champions can always lift the spirit of any team and ensures further progression in the competition. But, in case of Schalke 04 it proved to be wrong. In the semi final against United, Schalke failed to replicate the eye catching performances exhibited against Inter Milan in the quarter final. The semi final was decided in favor of Manchester United with a comfortable 0-2 win at Gelsenkirchen. At Old Trafford, a second string United side proved too strong for Schalke as implied by the aggregate score of 6-1.
In Champions League, Manchester United is having a dream run and is yet to lose a match in the ongoing season. The only loss suffered by Barcelona was against Arsenal at the Emirates. Barcelona scored more than any other team in this year’s competition; 27 times compared to United’s 18. Manchester United got the best defensive record in the competition as they conceded only 4 goals compared to Barcelona’s 8. Barcelona had 62% average ball possession in all matches compared to United’s 58%.
Lionel Messi is the top scorer in the Champions League this season with 11 goals. Other main scorers for Barcelona are Pedro Rodríguez; 4 goals, and David Villa; 3 goals.  For United, Javier Hernández has scored 4 goals while Wayne Rooney and Anderson, 3 each. In case of assists, Andrés Iniesta for Barcelona, and Ryan Giggs for United, turned provider for 4 goals; Mesut Özil leading the list with 6 assists. 
Both Barcelona and United goes to Wembley as newly crowned champions of football leagues in Spain and England respectively. That means the winner at New Wembley will achieve the European Double, which include European and domestic titles. In La Liga, Barcelona overcame Real Madrid to claim 21st title and tallied 96 points.  In Premier League, Manchester United managed only 5 away wins this season, and still won the League for a record 19th time collecting 80 points.
Again, Lionel Messi is the leading goal scorer for Barcelona in La Liga with 31 goals and falling behind only to the record breaker, Cristiano Ronaldo. The mesmeric dribbler from Portugal with an unprecedented 40-goal haul in La Liga, two more than the previous record jointly held by Hugo Sanchez (1989/90) and Telmo Zarra (1959/60). In the Premier League, Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United and former Red Devil, Carlos Tévez shared the top scorer spot with 21 goals each.
Again ! Lionel Messi turned provider for Barcelona’s 18 goals in La Liga and topped the assists list ! If you believe the statistics, the right wing back of Barcelona had more than double assists to Barcelona’s midfield maestro, Xavi ! The rampant Dani Alves with 15 assists.  Luís Nani led the chart in Premier League with 18 assists, while Wayne Rooney helped his teammates finding the net 11 times.
Past 10 meetings between Barcelona and United witnessed 3 wins each and 4 draws. They have met each other in 2 finals. Manchester United prevailed in the Cup Winners Cup (CWC was abolished in 1999 and made way to expansion of Champions League and introduction of Europa League) final at Feijenoord Stadion, Rotterdam in 1991. Barcelona took the center stage in the most recent meeting; Champions League final at Stadio Olimpico, Rome in 2009.
Team News:
By now, Sir Alex Ferguson would have watched the DVD of 2009 Champions League final defeat multiple times. In 2009, United’s technical team notified Ferguson that Barcelona’s frailties lie primarily in Valdés, their dodgy goalkeeper and aerial weakness, as Barcelona looked vulnerable in the air. Subsequently, United played with a strategy of frequently sending long balls to their forward line and paid the price to the aerial prowess of the shortest man on the pitch; Messi out jumping the United defense to head the ball past Edwin van der Sar to seal the title in favor of Barcelona.
Looking at both the sides, Barcelona seems well equipped compared to two seasons ago. Barcelona used a rigid 4-3-3 formation in 2009, with Messi on the right wing, Henry on the left, and Eto’o in the center. Current Barcelona side play free flowing football, with Messi operating in the center, Pedro on the right and the ‘supreme finisher’, David Villa on the left. Messi is no longer an inverted winger, and has given the freedom to drop deep, roam in to the areas where space is vacant, and also to form that short triangle of passes with Xavi and Iniesta.
The defense of Barcelona looks more rugged compared to 2009. In Rome, both Abidal and Alves missed the final due to suspension. That prompted Guardiola to go for a make shift arrangement; Puyol as right back, Sylvinho at left back position and had the central defensive pairing of Gerard Piqué and Yaya Touré. This time, Barcelona will have the first choice central defensive pairing and right wing back. If fully recovered and back to full fitness from the recent surgery to remove a tumor from his liver, Abidal will be the first choice left back.
Most notably for Manchester United, there won’t be Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tévez in the lineup from the team played in Rome. Antonio Valencia and Javier Hernández eagerly waits to play their part in a Champions League final. Another man to make the impact will be the best disruptive player in the United side; Darren Fletcher, who missed the final in Rome due to suspension. Although, the latest news is that Fletcher, who has been out for two months with a mystery virus, will not be fit to play in the final. In all possibility, United may field the same back four played in the final at Rome. The only suspicious position belong to John O'Shea, the right wing back.
If not presented with an element of surprise, Pep Guardiola will field his standard 4-3-3 formation, with Messi having the freedom to roam around. Sergio Busquets will anchor the midfield along with Xavi and Iniesta. You may also expect the surging runs from Dani Alves whenever Messi drops in to midfield areas and draws away his markers along with him to create spaces in the right flank. If Guardiola decides to add more steel to the midfield, then he got Seydou Keita and Javier Mascherano at his disposal. If Pedro is not able to haunt Patrice Evra regularly, Guardiola may turn to the pace and trickery of Ibrahim Afellay, the winger who crossed for Messi’s opening goal against Real Madrid in the semi final at Bernabéu.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be in a dilemma to decide his best formation. I assume, he may not go for a direct 4-4-2; instead he will use 4-4-1-1 formation that worked so well against Chelsea in the quarter finals. Rooney looked deadly dangerous in that formation, playing in a deep-lying role, with Chicharito in the more orthodox striker position. If Alex Ferguson decides to opt for a five man midfield to upset Barcelona’s dominance in the midfield, it’s going to have multiple effects on his own team. First of all, he has to sacrifice a player, most probably Chicharito. That will compel Rooney to play the role of an orthodox striker, not a comfortable position for Rooney nowadays, thus nullifying his contributions in the midfield. Most importantly, being a wonderful and booming counter attacking side, United will miss the pace and dashes of Chicharito, if he is dropped for Ferguson’s conservative nature in big games.
I would bet for Valencia on the right, Giggs and Carrick in the middle of the park, and Park Ji-Sung on the left, if Ferguson opts for 4-4-1-1. Presence of the ever reliant South Korean will be helpful in canceling out forward runs from Dani Alves too. Carrick needs to close down Barcelona midfield quickly to deny space and time for Xavi and Iniesta to operate on. Giggs need to become the linchpin, carefully distributing the ball, as you are expecting to have negligible share of possession. In case Alex Ferguson opts for a similar strategy deployed by José Mourinho in the Champions League semi final against Barcelona, United may use Anderson to do the job of an aggressive search-and-destroy ball winner. Expect Nani and Scholes to have impact off the bench.
Here is the details about grande finale.
FC Barcelona Vs. Manchester United
Date: 28/05/2011
Time: 20:45
Stadium: Wembley Stadium
Venue: London (ENG)
If short of motivation for the daunting task of defeating Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson only has to look at well known managers like José Mourinho and Arsène Wenger, as well as little known managers like Martin Lasarte and Esteban Vigo ! They all outmaneuvered Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona once this season. Only once each ! José Mourinho managed that in the final of Copa del Rey, Arsène Wenger in the first leg of Champions League quarter final, Martin Lasarte of Real Sociedad and Esteban Vigo (sacked later) of Hércules in La Liga.
Alex Ferguson would know the importance of interrupting the ‘carousel’ to prevent the recurrence of an awful Roman night happened two years ago. This time he wishes the ‘London dream’ to come true by collecting that glittering trophy. Mission Impossible or Mission Possible ?

26th May, 2011
2 days before Champions League final at Wembley


വാ‍സുക്കുട്ടന്‍ said...

Nice write-up .

TKS said...

As always.. Good one.. :)

I will say United’s formation would be a 4-2-3-1 rather than a flat 4-4-1-1 formation.. With Carrick and Fletcher in the sweeping role and Valencia, Giggs and Park in the midfield and Rooney upfront. Because if you are going upfront with Hernandez you will have to sacrifice one in midfield and that would be dangerous considering how well Barca can keep the ball. It should be noted that Valencia, Park and Rooney all three are "direct" during counter attacks. They usually don't take too many touches when on move during the break. As you said having Park in the left side will much important to nullify the Alves effect. Considering he's the second in the providers list for Barcelona that would be an important task as any other.

My prayer only to the Bangalore electricity board, that they don't cut the power during the match time, as they always do during important matches. :(

Wishing all the best for the La Pulga Atomica and Company...

True Blue,

Anonymous said...

What a great writing sony... Keep this up and who knows you might have a future as sports columnist in some leading journals. :-)

Trequartista said...

Thank you Mr. Vasukuttan.
Loved your profession...switch undakki kalikkal. ha ha ha :-)

Trequartista said...

Thank you, tRuE bLuE.

I am not sure if Fletcher will be fit for final. Leaving Chicharito in the bench means United is going to miss their leading goal scorer in this CL. Should they do that...I am not sure.

And, wish you an uninterrupted CL night :-)


Trequartista said...

Thank you devilsoldier...for that special wish.
Have a wonderful CL night :-)

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