When Wenger’s Gunners beat Barca at the Emirates in last February, I was one of those who believed it had nothing to do with luck. Arsenal won; fair, square and tactically. Barca is a monster that gobbles up “willing” opponents ruthlessly. Other monsters of times past; such a the Brazilian national team of 1970, the Real Madrid side of 2000 – 2002, The Benfica European masters of 1962 – 1965; seem to pale in comparison to the present Barca side. But that February night in North London, Wenger’s boys forgot for a moment that they were up againt the Catalans and played their game i.e. pass, run, pass and shoot when you have the chance. The also kept a compact defence line, with the help of midfielders who could both clean up the area in front of the back four, as well as join the attack. If only Wenger had been brave enough to go to the Camp Nou and repeat the same antidote. Rather, just like other coaches before him, he went for the conservative and ended up getting bundled out of the tournament.
But at least that gives us an idea that Barca can be defeated in London again. This is how I will do it if I will be in Sir Alex’s seat on Saturday 28th May 2011:
In Edwin van der Sar, United has a stable pair of hands. With 28th May being his last game in a United shirt, I expect the old Dutchman to be on top of his game, so no problem with goalkeeping. But let’s talk about lateral defence. If Evra is fit, he will be the likely start at left-back. In his more youthful days, Evra was a surety for overlapping. But I am glad he can’t overlap much against Barca, past the centre line. That should be left to whoever plays left midfield on the night. This is because, key to Barca’s dominance of the 2009 finals was Carlos Puyol’s shift to an attacking right wing-back position to wreck havoc down that side. Evra needs to start tight and compact and overlap only with the tracking of a midfield team mate, in case he loses a ball and Barca launches a quick counter down United’s left flank. An alternative to Evra will be a more youthful and level-headed Fabio da Silva. Fabio has enough energy levels to defend and join the attack.
At right-back, Fergie would likely deploy John O’Shea. However, I will prefer one of the reserve centre-backs, preferably Smalling, as a lateral defender on the right. O’Shea may be good in joining the attack, but he can be pathetic against pacy lateral midfielders. Apart from Afellay, Barca may not have natural wingers. But their midfielders Xavi, Iniesta and Messi shift into lateral positions without warning. Not to even speak of Pedro, a forward who naturally attacks down the flanks. Vidic and Ferdinand will remain constant as centre-backs. The have to be quick on their feet and high in the air. Short-heighted Messi (who I have nicknamed: The Midget of Nou Camp), outjumped Ferdinand to score the second goal of the Rome 2009 final.