by Ifreke Inyang
The last time Manchester United and Barcelona met in the final of the Champions League was just two years ago in Rome. After 90 minutes, United were well-beaten, although the scoreboard showed 2-0. After the game, United’s coach Alex Ferguson coined the term ‘carousel’ to describe Barcelona’s passing, movement and mastery in possession. A lot of avid football followers expect the contest between these two powerhouses to be tougher than the final in 2009.
It is a sentiment the Red devils share. Ferguson has bullishly insisted ever since that balmy night in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico that he knows exactly what went wrong with a United side that walked out as favourites and walked back well beaten at the conclusion of a chilling exercise in ball chasing. Darren Fletcher is one tool Ferguson may use to try to dismantle the carousel. He was badly missed due to suspension in Rome and he is a character his manager trusts on the big occasion. Rooney and Chicharito have formed a fruitful partnership, but dare he risk playing both against Barcelona and risk the prospect of being outnumbered in midfield? United were run into the ground in Rome, a task always made more painful when it is done without the ball, and the general opinion is that Michael Carrick is only just completing his footballing rehabilitation from the trauma visited on him by the brilliant movement, invention and prescient passing of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Ferguson’s default option, the one that makes him a worthy member of the ranks of all-time great managers, is a natural instinct to attack but pragmatism will also play on his mind also as he formulates his plans. He may, in his ideal scenario, wish to fight fire with fire and take Barcelona on. This is a strategy with high risks attached as few sides have ever been as well-equipped to take on such a task as one with Lionel Messi at its heart and master finisher David Villa added since their victory in Rome. Patterns must be broken and flowing football snuffed out. It may go against the grain for Ferguson, but packing bodies around Barcelona in midfield and stifling them in heavy midfield traffic is an obvious option to deny Guardiola’s gifted ones the time and space to toy with United as they have done with so many others. This may mean a lone role for Rooney and a heavy reliance on his recent rejuvenation and the return of his inspiration.
He is also expected to pick the brains of Madrid’s mischief-maker-in-residence Jose Mourinho on how to halt Barcelona – although Ferguson is unlikely to take such a passive, negative approach as witnessed in Real’s semi-final first leg against Barcelona at the Bernabeu. Anyone who saw his combustible after-match reaction to defeat in Rome will know he will regard Wembley as a very public chance to set a record straight, to wipe a blot from his record. And prove conclusively that the carousel can be stopped.
Honestly, I don’t expect the Spaniards to make it easy for him. When teams file out against Barcelona, I usually wonder how they will win. Because for most of the game, they’ll never have the ball. And we all know that when Xavi and Iniesta work out those irresistible combinations and feed Pedro, Villa or Messi in particular, the chances of havoc are high. On Saturday, with a heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders, Messi will lead Barca into battle at Wembley. And this is a chance for the Blaugrana’s number 10 to take himself and his all-star team a little further down the road to immortality. There are a few big game players in modern football. The Argentinean phenomenon does impossible things as a matter of course. He carries out his acts of genius while wearing a look of guilt that suggests he’s not entirely sure he should even be there in the first place. And my smart money is on him to lead Barcelona to glory again like he did in 2009.