The Real Footie Analyst

Five reasons why Man United lost against Barca

Now that the dust has settled, and Manchester United have completed their victory parade in the streets of Manchester for a 19th record EPL title, I think it’s safe to nit-pick and state my reasons why Sir Alex Ferguson’s troops came unstuck against a rampant Barcelona in the Champions League final on Saturday night.

1) Tactics

If you get this wrong, the opposition already have the better of you. Fergie is no great tactician, but can often set out his stall to minimise the effect other team’s have on his formation, high tempo play and counter-attacking instinct. But, he got this seriously wrong from the outset. For a few anxious minutes I think we all thought that he had taken advantage of Guardiola’s risk to play Mascherano as a centre-half when there were at least two half chances that came their way. However, his charges failed to take a foothold on the match and Barca soon started getting into their groove with a slick pass and move style we’ve seen so often this season. They dropped off and allowed them too much space.

Ji-Sung Park and Hernandez both seemed like their games were centered on putting the Barca back four under pressure when in possession. But, it all backfired as they soon ran out of steam. Hernandez must have been caught offside at least five times in the first half as the midfield dropped too deep and they allowed him to be left isolated, hence the long-ball approach when they took back possession from a marauding Barca attack.

The United formation was not the problem, just their intent on taking certain players out of the game and that only allowed other Barca players the space and freedom to exploit a usually water-tight defence in Vidic and Ferdinand. The stats for shots on target was 12 to 2 in favour of Barcelona.

2) Midfield

This is where the battle was won. Not sure why Fergie played Giggs and Carrick together when someone like Scholes would have revelled in that type of atmosphere. Fergie might have over accommodated Giggs in the middle of the park knowing that he no longer has the pace out wide. Carrick played like he did in the 2009 Rome final – ball watching. He sat too deep and it suited them perfectly. All Iniesta and Xavi did was to entice and pull him out, then play a pass out wide to a full-back, and then back in just behind the United defence to a waiting Messi who was more than happy to take them on. It was like watching the same move over and over.

Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta are arguably the world’s three best midfielders in their respective positions. That already was going to be where the game was going to be won. Perhaps a five-man midfield with Rooney alone up front would counter the space their midfield thrive on , but as we saw that didn’t seem to matter as they often used the back-four as an outlet when there was no room for a pass and move. Boss the midfield as they did and half-the game is won.

3) Lionel Messi

I watched Real Madrid try and stifle the world’s best player, and to no avail. They kicked him,body checked him, and all he did was get up, dust himself off, and then put the ball into the back of the net. It was heartening not to see United adapt this approach of roughing him up, as they are a much better team not to do that. But, perhaps that is what was needed on the night?

It’s hard enough watching him dribble his way through a resolute defence so it must be equally as hard to see him shoot from just outside the box and beat your keeper. I watched his goal a few times and that was brilliantly taken when he runs at the defence in one direction and shoots sending van Der Sar the other way. Absolutely majestic. Watch it again here if you have to.

4) World’s best team

You can’t argue with that. They have at team filled with Spanish players that recently won the World Cup. In terms of experience it’s fair to say United match the Catalans. But, in terms of flair, skill and  that match-winning ability from their players, they edged United on the night and nobody, not even the Special One, Jose Mourinho, would have had an answer to them. There was always only going to be one winner.

5) No lessons learnt from Rome heartache

The same happened two years ago when United’s game plan came undone against a more skillful and attack-minded team. I think if United played Barca again in ten more finals the result would be the same each time. Again players like Carrick and Giggs never rose to the occasion. In Rome it was Messi, the shortest man on the field, who embarrassed United when he went unchallenged to rise and meet Xavi’s cross to ultimately put the tie to bed with a 2-0 scoreline. He did the same at Wembley. The score could’ve easily have been four or five goals to one if Vidic, Evra and Fabio hadn’t bravely put their bodies on the line to keep them out.

Fergie had apparently watched endless videos of the Rome final and he was confident he had a game plan to record his third European Cup final. But, it wasn’t to be. His best wasn’t good enough. Maybe next time Sir Alex.

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