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Park peerless in United's decisive victory

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 00:05 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

It is almost impossible to pick out individuals in analysing why Manchester United recorded a deserved victory over Chelsea which all but seals a record 19th top-flight league title.

The overall team display at Old Trafford swept away any doubts that United warrant a 12th Premier League crown with their defence solid, the midfield of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs working in almost perfect tandem and the frontline of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez a force up front.

Park Ji-sung's display was chief among the highlights too, particularly the South Korean's work-rate and cleverness which helped to thwart Chelsea's three-man midfield.

The 30-year-old is often preferred on the left of midfield in United's big games and although his defensive qualities put him ahead of Nani in the pecking order, he also offers a different slant to their attack.

This was evident right from the beginning of the game when Giggs expertly found Park in an inside-left position, before he put Hernandez through for his 37-second opener which set the tone for a pulsating first half.

That key pass to Park is highlighted below, and the areas in which his team-mates found him was markedly different to Antonio Valencia on the right.


Passes to Park show that he took up many more positions infield comapred to Valencia

Floating around in a space between the defence and midfield where Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic did not want to go, Park proved a menace.

It also provided some interesting clues about a developing midfield with United's Champions League final against Barcelona looming on the horizon.

"Firstly, Park set the tempo of the United team right from the start" says former Arsenal full-back and Match of the Day 2 pundit Lee Dixon. "They obviously had been primed to start quickly but they took Chelsea by surprise and I thought he was the main catalyst for that.

"His work-rate is a given and what we come to expect from him, but I thought his intelligence of when to close down when Chelsea had the ball, and his selection of space at the right time was brilliant.

"In attack he also occupies narrower positions but that makes the full-back think because he can go wide as well. He picks the ball up in areas that full-backs don't necessarily like to go in and mark.

"We tend to like staying in our area not too far away from our centre-back, and we feel uncomfortable when we go into that inside-left area unless we have really good cover. It's something that puts you in two minds: do I go in and mark him or do I stay where I am?

"The safe thing to do is stay where you are but because Park is so good on the ball like we saw for the goal, he is a dangerous person to leave alone. I thought he did a brilliant job and he tore Ivanovic to pieces at times."

You could argue that United selected a five-man midfield again, with Rooney dropping in to help out Giggs, Carrick, Park and Antonio Valencia. But where the formationfailed last week against Arsenal, this time they were fluid in attack and solid in defence.

The key thing here is that although it might appear that Rooney was the only one playing in the space between Chelsea's defence and midfield the truth was that there were actually three of them: Rooney, Park and Giggs.

And for someone like Chelsea's defensive midfielder John Mikel Obi that proved a nightmare.

Giggs may tend to carry the ball into that area rather receiving it there, but he was sorely missing from United's midfield at the Emirates last Sunday and based on recent European performances he is proving a perfect foil alongside Carrick.

When Carrick plays with Anderson or Paul Scholes, the central midfield pair line up more side-by-side, whereas with Giggs in the side Carrick plays a lot deeper, allowing the Welshman to probe in front of him.

That gives Giggs the chance to collect the ball in midfield and run at defenders, which commits them to a challenge. When this happens it can also leave gaps for Rooney and Hernandez.

Although Park moving infield might leave United narrow on the left side in attack, usually they have Patrice Evra who can overlap from full-back and fill the space that Park vacates.

When they are defending, Park is smart enough and fit enough to track back and decide whether to remain wide to help John O'Shea, as he did on Sunday, or come infield to assist.

That also goes for Valencia who tends to hug the touchline more on the right but was willing to shadow Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole.

Without that outlet on the left Chelsea were very narrow, which suited Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

"This week United got the balance right in midfield and got help in the right areas," Dixon adds. "Both Valencia and Park went back which sometimes freed one of the defenders to actually step into midfield from a defensive position.

"Valencia will run all day, there were loads of times when he was at right-back, and the amount of times Cole got in behind United's defence were few and far between so it shows he was doing his job.

"Chelsea's wider players Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou tried to hunt for the ball, but they didn't stay that wide that often.

"Chelsea had lots of players who were very quiet and they just got hit by Manchester United who were in an attacking frame of mind. It surprised them and I think they thought that United would sit back and hit them on the break, therefore almost waiting for a draw. In fact, they did the opposite."

It may be stretching it to say that United will have learned useful lessons before they take on Barcelona at Wembley on 28 May, as the Catalans will offer a completely different conundrum to Chelsea.

Yet in the midfield where United's problems seemed to have stemmed from this season, they now appear to have made progress at exactly the right time.

And more importantly, if they begin the Champions League final at the same tempo they may just be able to catch out their opponents again.

You can also discuss more tactical issues and suggest future ideas on Twitter

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Nani is really a big game player. Hope he will play well in the Champions League final. Too bad to see Nani not play because in big games, he doesn't play better than Valencia or Park.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sorry, the first name should be Park not Nani.

  • Comment number 3.

    United must start how they did against Chelsea at Wembley, but they come up against a side who also like to start quickly and press their opponents high up the pitch. Barcelona have a midfield full of Park's willing to run tirelessly, but with more technical ability.

    Its going to be a great final and I believe more competitive than 2 years ago as Fergie for once got his tactics wrong in that game, and as great as Ronaldo is for dispatching smaller clubs, in the big games his work rate is not at the required standard to have a major impact. I believe United are stronger in the big games with players like Park, Valencia and Fletcher thus making them stronger than 2 years ago.

    I cant wait!

  • Comment number 4.

    Park is a complete player who plays for the team and his contributions includes charging, closing down, winning balls, deffending and passing the ball timely, effectively and more important is energy. Nani likes to play for himself and delays balls and loses a lot of balls. Park is definately a better player than Nani.

  • Comment number 5.

    What ever happens on the 28th of May we must NOT concede early on, that is how we failed 2 years ago. It would have been a different game if Eto'o hadn't scored that jammy opener.

  • Comment number 6.

    I feel both Barca & United as a complete team are almost matched. Starting at the back, Barca's defence is suspect while United's is Solid. In midfied, Barca is certainly better in terms of work rate & ability. While in attack United have danger from both Rooney & Hernandez, Barca's only danger man is Messi. No doubt he's on another level, but IF you can take him out of the game then Barca are much weaker.

    Both teams have a point to make and alot to lose. I expect a very cagey game that could go to penalties in the final.

  • Comment number 7.

    Because Chelski did not really have players out wide, Park was extremely effective, because he is not a natural winger and tends to come inside a fair bit, and chelski's formation suited his playing style. Usually when Park comes infield there's Evra providing the width, O'shea is nothing like that.

    Park and Valencia prove why they are preferred over Nani in the big games, they are team players, they will work hard, they will defend when needed, they will chase and close down with a purpose, and they always look to pass when possible.

    Question is, in the champions league final, do United stick with Carrick and Giggs in central midfield or do they try to find a place for Fletcher?

  • Comment number 8.

    I hope United start with this team at wembley. I have said previously that i thought we should maybe swap giggs for fletcher/anderson in the final as we wont have the ball that much....but after yesterdays performance and seeing how much we missed him againts arsenal we have to play him!

  • Comment number 9.

    Giggs, based on his last 4/5 big games (European ties and top four clashes) is surely one of the best central mid-fielders in the world right now. Dominating massive games that whole seasons hinge upon.

    Park is also proving to be a big game player, popping up with key goals (Champs league versus Chelski and obvious example) and proving the perfect foil, balancing the midfield and the whole team.

  • Comment number 10.

    No. 6

    Villa plays well and is a threat, as is Pedro. To write off either would be silly, especially with Iniesta and Xavi supplying the killer balls.

    Rooney and Hernandez are good but I'd have Messi over both of them.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think there is going to be a massive difference between this final and the final two years ago.

    First off, I think you are going to see Giggs start the game. I doubt he will play in either of the last 2 league games as you would imagine a team of the ilk that United put out against Schalke in the second leg would deal with Blackburn sufficiently to get the needed point. He has been magical in midfield this season. People keep mentioning his age but I think it's just a figure. I honestly believe he is still at the top of his game and has got another few seasons in him. His new role in central midfield basically fills the role that a lot of people believe we should bring Modric or Van Der Vaart in for.

    Second, Ronaldo is gone and I honestly believe this is a good thing. Ronaldo is a fantastic player on his day. One of the best of all time and there is no disputing that. However his work rate is average, and when he is marked out of the game or on an off day, his arms go up in a huff and whatever team he is playing for essentially have to play with 10 men. Also, even when he is playing the lad doesn't know what "tracking back" is. Valencia might not be the player Ronaldo is but he is definitely good enough at this level and what you lose in a goal threat you more than make up for with his defensive capabilites, work rate and selflessness.

    Finally, we have a proper strike partnership, and one that could really benefit from Barcelona's style of play. Rooney and Hernandez are ideal to hit them on the break and I have doubts, as good players as they are, that Pique and Puyol could deal with a through ball from Rooney and Hernandez's pace.

    The only question mark for me is whether we play Fletcher or Carrick in defensive midfield. Carrick is a terrific passer and has great vision, but Fletcher is a midfield destroyer who is there to break up attacking moves and could be the key to stopping Messi, and it is his absense a lot of people noted in the last final.

    I think the team for the final is going to be:

    Van Der Sar
    O'Shea
    Ferdinand
    Vidic
    Evra
    Fletcher/Carrick
    Giggs
    Valencia
    Park
    Rooney
    Hernandez

  • Comment number 12.

    Speedygun #6 - Just shows how much you know about Barcelona when you don't think David Villa is a threat. He's had an astounding goal scoring record throughout his career and Pedro is no slouch either. United will have to be at their very best and Barca below par for the game to go United's way.
    But its sad to admit, that United are the best bet at upsetting the Barca band wagon.

  • Comment number 13.

    interesting conundrum some of you have raised about Carrick and Fletcher in the midfield. Carrick has played well this season, but particularly so with Giggs in recent big games. I'm not sure if the final might come too soon for Fletcher, losing fitness is one thing but then there is sharpness which takes time to get back.

    In addition to Park, Valencia was a very interesting case against Chelsea. He nullified Cole which is exactly what he must do against Barca. However, the biggest problem will be on the other flank. Dani Alves is the key man and Park will have a far tougher assignment than he did against Ivanovic.

  • Comment number 14.

    The overall team display at Old Trafford swept away any doubts that United warrant a 12th Premier League crown

    -----------------------------

    Blatantly a scouser. But congrats to man utd. They wanted it more than we did

  • Comment number 15.

    @Alistair - True but at least Park is the type of player for the job. I honestly think throwing Nani in from the start would be suicide. Throw him on later if the need is there for all out attack, but don't start with him.

    As for Fletcher, is playing the next two games enough for him to get some kind of sharpness? Would he be better on the betch to bring on in the last 20 mins if, for instance, Man Utd were 2 up just to close the game down?

  • Comment number 16.

    Man U beat Chelsea cos they (MU) seemed 'hungrier' for the victory. I am sure that's a result that soothed a whole lot of people.

    It's okay to talk about something else now... like how Man U will beat Barcelona?

  • Comment number 17.

    Our problem lasttime is that Ronaldo was desperate to prove that he was a big game player and could overshadow Messi and it was to his and United's detriment as his impatience got the better of him. Hopefully Rooney won't make the same mistake and we will have en excellent chance of winning

  • Comment number 18.

    I have misgivings about playing the likes of Park and Fletcher against Barcelona. The closing down works against lesser sides, but I just think no matter how much running the do they're going to be chasing shadows for most of the game. They also tend to condede possession a lot.

    I would probably play Valencia, Scholes/Carrick, Giggs and Nani, with Rooney and Hernandez. Try as hard as possible to congest the center of the field when Barca have the ball, force them wide, if possible, then break at pace using Carrick and Giggs to distribute the ball to Valencia, Nani, Rooney and Hernandez.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think Barcelona will offer a completely new challenge to United's midfield.

    Giggs was sublime against Chelsea but it is a given that Barca will enjoy at least 60% possession throughout the whole game. If you start Giggs, does he really have the legs to chase shadows for most of the game?

    Park and Valencia will be key in shutting down Barca's wing backs from getting forward, and I think they can double up on Messi/Iniesta effectively.

    I still question United's centre midfield partnership though? Xavi/Busquets/Iniesta are in a different league to Carrick, and United can't rely on Giggs for the final, surely he can only be an impact player!?

  • Comment number 20.

    Whether United or Barcelona win on May 28 will depend as much on how the officials deal with the key decisions in the match as on how well each team plays. You often hear about matches being 'won in midfield' etc but looked at another way, they often come down to how well those half-chances are taken, on whether players can keep their composure in front of goal on the big occasion.

    Excellent as Carrick, Park, Valencia and Giggs were against Chelsea, I can't see them bossing it against Iniesta, Javi & co at Wembley. In order not to give their playmakers time on the ball, United would have to run themselves ragged, which I can see Park doing but not Carrick and Giggs. Man for man, Barca shade it over Man Utd in just about every area of the pitch, except perhaps the goalkeeper and maybe in central defence.

    As for conceding early on, it can go either way. Liverpool conceded in the first minute against Milan in 2005 and were 3-0 down at half time. It all depends on the mental strength and self-belief of the players. 'Jammy goal' (more like a goal-keeping error by van de Saar) or not, United lost in 2009 because Barca outplayed them.

    There may be nothing in it (certainly Mourinho wouldn't agree), but Barca seem to get more than their fair share of borderline decisions go their way. Goals change matches. So do mistakes and red cards (Lehmann in 2006). And refereeing decisions.

    It just occurred to me that Man Utd could fail to win - or even fail to score - in their next three games and still win the Premierhsip and Champions League double, as one more 0-0 draw in the Prem will win it and they could still win against Barcelona on penalties after a goalless 120 mins, just as AC Milan did against Juventus in 2003. That said, I can't see it happening that way. They're bound to score against Blackburn and Blackpool. Don't know about against Barca though. They couldn’t score the last time. My prediction is Barca to win it 3-1. Won the tactical battle in midfield!


  • Comment number 21.

    18. At 14:23pm 9th May 2011, James wrote:

    I have misgivings about playing the likes of Park and Fletcher against Barcelona. The closing down works against lesser sides, but I just think no matter how much running the do they're going to be chasing shadows for most of the game. They also tend to condede possession a lot.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    Hahahahaha, one of the stupidest comments I've seen for a long time, since when were Chelsea considered a lesser side? You make it sound as if Park had a good game against Wolves, when in reality, he played vital roles in defeating Chelsea TWICE, CL Semi & PL decider.

    Just... be quiet.

  • Comment number 22.

    4. At 13:23pm 9th May 2011, almas wrote:

    Park is a complete player who plays for the team and his contributions includes charging, closing down, winning balls, deffending and passing the ball timely, effectively and more important is energy. Nani likes to play for himself and delays balls and loses a lot of balls. Park is definately a better player than Nani.

    ------------

    And he scored very important goals! Park is world class, they type of player who goes under the radar because he doesnt run through the whole defence then slot it in.

  • Comment number 23.

    Totally off topic but I'm trying to spread the word so please forgive me,

    Some of you may be golf fans, you're certainly all sports fans so please take a moment to read this, thanks.

    I've just emailed the BBC with an idea and would like anyone who agrees with me to do the same.
    Firstly let me sat this. I can't think of anyone who has done as much for their sport as Seve. The European tour is now a global phenomenon and the Ryder Cup one of sports great occasions, golf is now percieved in a wholly different light to the fuddyduddy/rich man's game it once was. This transformation can be traced back to Seve's influence back in the late 70's and 80's. He was not only a great player but someone who touched peoples hearts and drew new fans to the game (let me add that this comes from someone who was a Jack fan rather than a Seve fan - though of course I liked him too)
    I've been trying to think of other sporting greats who had such an impact and the combination of greatness, ability to touch people's hearts and transcend their sport. Certainly not Jack or Tiger, Arnie maybe but only in the US. From other sports, Maradona no, Pele was before my time, Zidane no, Best perhaps here in the U.K. but beyond? Federer, Borg, Martina, no. Schumacher no etc.etc. The only name that springs to mind is Ali, now that's the highest reaches of sporting greatness!

    My idea is this. The BBC should open a tributes/book of condolences page which they should feature prominently on the sport homepage (with a picture of Seve smiling) for a week or longer and then print it bind it and give it to his family with all our thanks. As one of the Spanish commenters said above, it was the British fans who made the Spanish realise what a Superstar they had so I think it would be appropriate for us (through the BBC) to take the lead in doing this.

    Here's a shortcut to the email form

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/front_page/3701180.stm

  • Comment number 24.

    21. At 14:28pm 9th May 2011, BlueNotBirmingham wrote:

    Hahahahaha, one of the stupidest comments I've seen for a long time, since when were Chelsea considered a lesser side? You make it sound as if Park had a good game against Wolves, when in reality, he played vital roles in defeating Chelsea TWICE, CL Semi & PL decider.

    Just... be quiet.

    -------------

    Let me help you out.

    My assertation was Chelsea are a lesser side than Barcelona, as are Schalke, as are pretty much any team you can name in the world at the moment.

    Park started the final in Rome and steamed around after every ball till he was subbed, he never got close. Running after the ball isn't going to work against Barca, we need to keep the ball ourselves, and for me Park concedes possession too much because his first touch, dribbling and passing sometimes lets him down.

  • Comment number 25.

    Park is one of the most underrated players out there.

  • Comment number 26.

    "I feel both Barca & United as a complete team are almost matched. Starting at the back, Barca's defence is suspect while United's is Solid. In midfied, Barca is certainly better in terms of work rate & ability. While in attack United have danger from both Rooney & Hernandez, Barca's only danger man is Messi. No doubt he's on another level, but IF you can take him out of the game then Barca are much weaker.

    Both teams have a point to make and alot to lose. I expect a very cagey game that could go to penalties in the final. "

    First off, they DONT have a shaky defence. I also think youll find its not just Messi whos a threat. Theres Villa, Iniesta, Pedro and Alves is a nightmare breaking the offside trap on the overlap.

    This will most certainly be a cagey affair, UTD will be cagey but Barca will play as they always do, they will flood forward and pummel the defence of UTD until they buckle. They are almost impossible to stop, I was there for both games against us (Arsenal) and believe me if you see them live it gives you a new appreication of just how awesome a force they are

  • Comment number 27.

    Park was incredible in that game: cracking tackles and chasing back, breaking up their play, as well as taking players on, shooting and playing perfectly weighted passes.

    He does it sometimes, and I hope he keeps the power he used in this game dry for Barca.

    I'd rather have Nani on than Valencia, because I feel he's more dangerous. Maybe he's less consistent, but what a cracker to bring on later in the game at least!

    If we played that midfield against Barca, i'd be confident. The only risk is that Park get's drawn in to close down their midfield and get caught out of position. We can beat them, as long as we don't give them space in the wrong places.

    Hernandez is a player with fabulous movement and a tidy finish, reminds me of Eto a bit. We shall see! Rooney is back to form too, and our defence is as good as it has EVER been.

    Damn, i'm trying not to get excited too early, but it's going to be one hell of a game!

    My only fear is the Barca playacting rather than their playing.

  • Comment number 28.

    for me it is the perfect park on the left valancia on the right,

    i would also not mind if nani was sold this summer, he has had a good season, but he is still far to wasteful in possession. Intresting stat i would love to see is, number of shots by nani outside the area. then number of which are blocked by defenders, saved by the keeper ( caught ) saved by the keeper pushed into open play, goals scored, then missing the target completley. by watching nani i would guess for example, every 100 shots id say 50 miss the goal completly 20 blocked by defenders, 10 caught by goal kepper, 15 palmed away by the goalkeeper, and maybe 5 goals if he is lucky. he is just far to wasteful. if u compared that to ronaldo, ronaldo nearly always got his shots on target and forced the keeper make a save, rooney got a lot of tap ins from ronaldo shots. however no player follows in nani shots as they are normally no where near the goal.

    back on topic, im so glad valancia and park are playing they bring so much energy into the wide positions, they have both got to play vs barca

  • Comment number 29.

    For me Barcelona only have two weaknesses. Their defence is not as good as their midfield and attack, so you have a chance to score against them. The second, they're not good in the air, due to this they don't play with a lot of width or typical wingers.

  • Comment number 30.

    24. At 14:37pm 9th May 2011, James wrote:

    Let me help you out.

    My assertation was Chelsea are a lesser side than Barcelona, as are Schalke, as are pretty much any team you can name in the world at the moment.

    Park started the final in Rome and steamed around after every ball till he was subbed, he never got close. Running after the ball isn't going to work against Barca, we need to keep the ball ourselves, and for me Park concedes possession too much because his first touch, dribbling and passing sometimes lets him down.

    -------------------------------------

    The Rome final was 2 years ago, and in that time players DO change, I personally think Park's improved since then.

    Chelsea and Schalke are not comparable, Chelsea are the reigning champions of the EPL, arguably the best domestic league in the world, whilst Schalke are a midtable Bundesliga side who got through to the semis due to the complete shambles of Inter's management.

    As for Park conceding possession, Park wins more of the ball than he loses. Also, with the exception of a few, e.g. Giggs, Scholes, maybe Rooney, most of United's players WILL lose the ball under the kind of pressure that Barca exert on teams. To single out Park as the weak link is just a stupid point, EVERY player loses the ball, especially against a disciplined side like Barca.

    Also, "assertation" is not a word, I think you mean assertion.

  • Comment number 31.

    #6 - Barca's only danger man is Messi
    --
    Errr David Villa knows where the goal is and I would say Pedro does also...
    --
    Come on Fergie you know where it went wrong last time (IMO - individual mistakes and knowing Ronaldo was leaving), so lets put it right and show we are the greatest club in the world....

  • Comment number 32.

    Hard working wingers have been a feature of SAF's teams over the years. United fans expect to see wingers busting a gut to get back a trackle opposing fullbacks in our own half. Giggs led the way in this department for many many years, and I think Nani's reluctance to reliably do so is now costing him his starting position in the big games.

    Very interesting article though - looks like the inside left/right position may be making a comeback after many years without them. Needs a very smart player to play it well though so they know when to stay out and when to drop in.

  • Comment number 33.

    Also if you look at the stats from the final in Rome it tells an interesting story.

    Barca | United
    Goals: 2 | 0
    Shots: 11 | 12
    Shots on target: 8 | 2
    Possesion: 51% | 49%
    Corners: 4 | 7
    Fouls: 7 | 10
    Offsides: 2 | 5
    Yellow Cards: 1 | 3
    Red Cards: 0 | 0

    Ok, so stats don't mean much, but on the surface it seems the main difference was in the finishing, because we played Ronaldo as a lone striker, something which having Hernandez in the side, and having a more balanced team with the likes of Valencia, might rectify.

  • Comment number 34.

    Park on this form really is a revelation. People so often claim he is underrated and then just mention his work-rate, but he is about so much more than that. Yes, he does the work of two players. But he is also an increasingly shrewd player - his pressing is not just energetic but clever, forcing midfielders and attackers wide, pushing wingers infield where they crowd their own teammates (as with Kalou and Ramires yesterday), pinning attack-minded full-backs in their own halves.

    He is incredibly technically-gifted, something which is always overlooked: he moves the ball around in tight spaces as well as anyone in our team except maybe Giggs and Nani at the moment. His passing has always been technically strong, but he seems to be learning from the likes of Giggs and Scholes, because it's increasingly intelligent and incisive, too.

    He's one of the best tacklers on our team atm, perhaps second only to Vidic and Ferdinand. He tackled constantly and all over the pitch yesterday, complementing Carrick's style of defending (which is more about positioning and reading the game), and yet unlike many of our tacklers, he rarely seems to foul. Great timing.

    Add to that how he has been crucial to so many of our best counter-attacking moves over the last couple of seasons with his pace, willingness to run and accuracy of passing (think the 3-1 defeats of Arsenal last season especially). Then there's the fact that he's scoring more and more, and often at crucial junctures.

    All in all, when journalists say he's underrated, they don't seem to know just how right they are. Fletcher would have been useful against Barça in 2009, but Park is even better suited to playing them, and his work rate will let him play several roles for us - winger, play-breaker, and Messi-shackler - all at once. His performance will without a doubt decide that game.

  • Comment number 35.

    29. At 14:42pm 9th May 2011, James wrote:

    For me Barcelona only have two weaknesses. Their defence is not as good as their midfield and attack, so you have a chance to score against them. The second, they're not good in the air, due to this they don't play with a lot of width or typical wingers.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    Have you actually seen Barca play? As in do you watch any Barca games in La Liga not just the CL? They've conceded 19 goals so far in La Liga, when you consider Real Madrid, with Jose Mourinho in charge, have conceded 31 (which is the 2nd best after Barca), CLEARLY Barca's defence is not as bad as you make out.

    Puyol & Pique = Possibly the best CB partnership in the world at the moment.

    Dani Alves is not just an offensive threat but is also solid defensively, and Abidal/Maxwell are both adequate fullbacks. Barca's defence is not a weakness. They average about 0.5 goals conceded/game.

    As for Barca not playing with a lot of width, that's just an incredibly naive and unfounded statement. Barcelona are the MASTERS of utilising ALL of the space on a football pitch, to even suggest that they play narrowly is just idiotic.

    Unless you have proof of Barcelona's lack of aerial ability I highly doubt the accuracy of your statement. Barca don't need to hit long balls, they play with short passes, therefore you don't see them making many headers. Just because they don't make many headers, that doesn't mean they CAN'T head the ball.

  • Comment number 36.

    sorry, "a trackle" = "and tackle"...obviously....

  • Comment number 37.

    Ever since the semi I had the feeling SAF would need to go for a 4-2-3-1 vs Barcelona, with the 2 being Carrick and Fletcher and the 3 being Park, Giggs and Valencia/Nani with Rooney up top. A solid defensive block with Carrick and Fletcher in front of Ferdinand and Vidic but with the ability to cause problems in attack.

    After the weekend I'm tempted to change my mind - that 4-4-Rooney-1 seemed to do the job vs. Chelsea, although it struggled against Arsenal. I just get the feeling that United will need to stronger round the centre of the pitch vs. Barca (let's call it the Iniesta effect). If Fletcher doesn't make it you could put Park in the 2, Rooney in the 3 with Hernandez up front. Be interested to see how SAF goes......although a goal in the first minute would help!

  • Comment number 38.

    33. At 14:50pm 9th May 2011, James wrote:

    Also if you look at the stats from the final in Rome it tells an interesting story.

    Barca | United
    Goals: 2 | 0
    Shots: 11 | 12
    Shots on target: 8 | 2
    Possesion: 51% | 49%
    Corners: 4 | 7
    Fouls: 7 | 10
    Offsides: 2 | 5
    Yellow Cards: 1 | 3
    Red Cards: 0 | 0

    Ok, so stats don't mean much, but on the surface it seems the main difference was in the finishing, because we played Ronaldo as a lone striker, something which having Hernandez in the side, and having a more balanced team with the likes of Valencia, might rectify.

    --------------------------------------------

    This is the 3rd time I disagree with you...

    The low percentage of shots on target DOES NOT say ANYTHING about United's finishing.

    What it DOES say, is that United took more long shots than Barca did, i.e. they could not create clear-cut one-on-one opportunities.

    So the actual problem back in 2009 was the lack of chances, not the lack of quality finishing. Therefore Hernandez/Valencia WON'T rectify the problem. Strikers can only score if they are given the chances. The "problem" in 09 was the midfield's inability to supply Ronaldo and co.

  • Comment number 39.

    Ju-sung Park really took Chelsea by surprise yesterday, his performance in the opening 25-30 mins was one of the major differences.
    Pre-match I am sure that Chelsea, when assessing where United could 'hurt them' most, would have had Park's name somewhere down the list, well behind Rooney, Giggs, Hernandez, Valencia, etc; however by 25 mins into the game, Chelsea's mid field were desperately asking Howard Webb to count United's players, because Lampard, Essien and Ivanovic, were convinced United had twelve men on the pitch, such was Park's influence.
    I think SAF will try to get Fletcher fit for the CL final and would expect to see him play in both United's remaining PL fixtures to advance that aim; however if he does'nt make it, then expect the same team (except Evra for O'shea)as yesterday to take to the field at Wembley (barring injuries) on the 28th May.

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    30. At 14:45pm 9th May 2011, BlueNotBirmingham wrote:

    The Rome final was 2 years ago, and in that time players DO change, I personally think Park's improved since then.

    Chelsea and Schalke are not comparable, Chelsea are the reigning champions of the EPL, arguably the best domestic league in the world, whilst Schalke are a midtable Bundesliga side who got through to the semis due to the complete shambles of Inter's management.

    As for Park conceding possession, Park wins more of the ball than he loses. Also, with the exception of a few, e.g. Giggs, Scholes, maybe Rooney, most of United's players WILL lose the ball under the kind of pressure that Barca exert on teams. To single out Park as the weak link is just a stupid point, EVERY player loses the ball, especially against a disciplined side like Barca.

    Also, "assertation" is not a word, I think you mean assertion.

    -----------------------

    Let me help you out again.

    My assertion was both Chelsea and Schalke are lesser teams than Barcelona, not one lesser than the other. Regardless of whether Chelsea are soon to be deposed champions of the 'arguably' best league in the world your midfield isn't a spot on Barcelona's.

    I just don't think closing down and putting pressure on the midfield works against Barcelona, you need 5 extra men in midfield to get close, such is their ability to pass and move in even the tighest of spaces.

  • Comment number 42.

    I was shocked how much better United were than Chelsea. The first 25 minutes were the best we've seen from United this season. Complete dominace through some sublime football. Didn't even need Nani or Evra. I'm still thinking about a 20 quid punt on United for the CL.

  • Comment number 43.

    correction

    *number of times he was punished for assault before they had the breakthrough? 0

  • Comment number 44.

    Let me help you out again.

    My assertion was both Chelsea and Schalke are lesser teams than Barcelona, not one lesser than the other. Regardless of whether Chelsea are soon to be deposed champions of the 'arguably' best league in the world your midfield isn't a spot on Barcelona's.

    I just don't think closing down and putting pressure on the midfield works against Barcelona, you need 5 extra men in midfield to get close, such is their ability to pass and move in even the tighest of spaces.

    --------------------------------------------

    James, I UNDERSTAND that what you're trying to say is that essentially every team in the world in inferior to Barca, that is common sense and doesn't require you to explicity state so.

    HOWEVER, when you undermine Park's performance by merely brushing it aside as a performance against a "lesser side" that is grossly out of context and therefore inaccurate.

    If Park scores a hattrick against Wolves, and if Park scores a hattrick against Chelsea, using your logic, you would just say "it was a great performance, but it was against a lesser side". Lesser being your way of saying "worse than Barca".

    You HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO, see that the disparity in ability between Chelsea & Barca, is significantly less than the disparity between Barca & Schalke, Birmingham, Almeria etc whoever it may be.

    SO, it is absolutely positively USELESS to simplify GROUP all teams as "lesser sides", because you're not taking into account just how "lesser" they are in comparison to Barca.

    Park was dominant against one of the best teams in the world, Chelsea, I don't understand how you can just turn your nose up at that and just say, "oh well, it was only Chelsea, a lesser side"??

    As for closing down being ineffective on Barca... Well what do you suggest? Do you suggest playing with no closing down at all?

    "you need 5 extra men in midfield to get close"

    That's the whole point of Park being there, he practically does the off-ball work equivalent of two players, even if his pressure doesn't necessarily win possession every time, the simple fact that he puts players under pressure gives Barca less time to think, and less time to execute their moves.

  • Comment number 45.

    #11 yep, that is the team. Fletcher missed out last time so for that reason plus a few others he will get the nod ahead of Carrick.

  • Comment number 46.

    1 good game and suddenly he's the best midfielder in the leauge. Classic BBC.

  • Comment number 47.

    As a Chelsea fan, it was clear that we were never going to win anything with Malouda and Kalou as our main creative players - the sooner they are out of the club or relegated to the bench the better. The same goes for the midfield - Lampard gets goals and essien a physical presence and good engine but no real creativity between them. I heard someone say we are trying to get Van der wiel from Ajax, although i think it would be a good move, rightback is hardly a priority - i'd say Christian Erikson, Marko Marin, Pastore, Hazard - these are the types of creative players we should be targeting having watched chelsea this season.

    as for man u - barca - utd have an advantage from set pieces but barca will probably pass them off the park like a couple of seasons ago. I can see utd sneaking an early goal and parking the bus, but i still think Iniesta and Xavi are on a different level to Carrick and Fletcher etc. Also, utd had tevez and ronaldo in the last game and still couldnt touch the ball which is pretty ominous.

  • Comment number 48.

    46. At 15:13pm 9th May 2011, ShouldBeAtWork wrote:

    1 good game and suddenly he's the best midfielder in the leauge. Classic BBC.

    ----------------------------------------------------

    That's an interesting bit of inference there, I must have missed the part where it said: "Park Ji-Sung is the best midfielder in Europe"?

    Classic ignorant WUM. No-one has said Park is the best in Europe, read the TITLE of the article, its all about Park's performance in ONE GAME, there are no statements about how Park ranks among other midfielders in Europe.

  • Comment number 49.

    To beat Barca, Man Utd must use Rooney and Hernandez in attack. Fergie must start with Fletcher, Carrick, Park and Valencia in midfield. The midfielders' job is to break up the Xavi, Iniesta and Messi triangle. Do that and Barcelona can be overcome.

  • Comment number 50.

    I think Barcelona's defensive record in La Liga is more down to the fact that opposition players can't get hold of the ball enough in positions where they can pose a meanigful threat to the defence as opposed to the perceived strenght of their back line, which is vulnerable when attacked at pace as Madrid showed in the second leg of their CL semi.

  • Comment number 51.

    It really isn't a surprise that ferguson plays park in the big games, and had it not been for this reason then park would have left, but he is guaranteed to play regularly throughout april and june, when the real crunch matches are. And although he does not start the majority of games, he is ferguson's most reliable player, especially in the big games. Because he will always put in a shift, he is versatile and he will create chances and defend well. The reason he doesn't start more games is because he is not as gifted going forward as valencia and nani and in home games when they need to win and are playing against a defensive team, you would rather have those two on the wing. But park knows that he is guaranteed to play every game in april and may and that is probably what keeps him at the club because those are the games that you want to be involved in and he will definitely start against barcelona because if there is one player who will defend well and has a good enough engine to chase barcelona around the pitch then it is indeed park.

  • Comment number 52.

    50. At 15:20pm 9th May 2011, sircake12 wrote:

    I think Barcelona's defensive record in La Liga is more down to the fact that opposition players can't get hold of the ball enough in positions where they can pose a meanigful threat to the defence as opposed to the perceived strenght of their back line, which is vulnerable when attacked at pace as Madrid showed in the second leg of their CL semi.

    --------------------------------------------------------------

    Yes, a majority of it is down to the midfield, and how they maintain possession, but like I said, Madrid conceded 31 goals (with Casillas in goal + a resurgent Carvalho), and although they're not as good at keeping the ball as Barca are, they still dominate pretty much every other team in La Liga.

    Barca's defence aren't as dominant as their midfield/attack, but its not so weak that it should be considered as their Achilles' heel.

    Puyol & Pique > All CB partnerships.

  • Comment number 53.

    @ 48

    I never said Europe, and surely all this praise he's had is a bit much after what has been a quiet season for him.

  • Comment number 54.

    That was indeed a top class performance by Man U against Chelsea. It certainly ranks among the other two victories over Chelsea during the Champions league. Park, Giggs and Valencia were outstanding. Rooney and Hernandez were all over the park. The next issue is Barcelona. They are the best right now in the world. But even the best can be beaten as was shown by Arsenal and Real. United have to play their natural game as they did against Chelsea. But for all the class that Chelsea posses, they do have some cracks in the team, but Barca do not have any. If there is any weakness, it is in their defense.
    I am sure Sir Alex would come up with a solution and some how inspire the team to victory particularly after the last loss to Barca. If he does so this would certainly rank as his best achievement, better than the treble in "99".
    My team line up against Barca:Van Der sar, Rooney, Hernandez, Giggs, Park,Vidic, Ferdinand,Valencia, Carrick, Evra, Fletcher/Scholes

  • Comment number 55.

    I appreciate fletcher's industry and no doubt he is one of the most improved premiership players, however, injuries aside he has had one of his poorest seasons in recent memory. To be play him against barca would be a mistake, even though people are saying that united missed him in the final in 2009, they forget that was fletcher on form. He is still an important player for united and he still has a role to play in the final possibly of the bench.
    Im worried about the final though, barcelona's midfield if you include messi is one of the greatest of all time (although i dont think the team overall is) and carrick had a nightmare against them last time. The cliche is that the game is always won in midfield but to a certain extent this is right. Carrick is a good passer but does rely on time to manoeuvre the ball as does scholes, giggs maybe in prime form but he certainly isnt a midfielder that can control the game. This is why i wish scholes was a couple of years younger, i feel carrick might be the reason we lose the game as the midfield is going to be orchestrated by xavi and iniesta with no pressure on them.
    To nullify messi threat (who for me is in the top five greatest players of all time) they would have to think about playing someone who's role is to mark him out of the game, pepe did an excellent job of this in the copa del rey and up until he was harshly sent of. Fletcher in form would do a decent job but again he is along way from match sharpness and whether he has the defensive know-how is debatable, im not too sure if united really have anyone who can do this job apart from hargreaves. Also with this tactic it effectively means that the opposition team play with ten men cause that is how good messi is, you have to almost sacrifice a player.
    I honestly think that united chance will be if they can soak up an extraordinary amount of pressure which will be constant throughout and hit them on the counter and take the one of the few chances they make. Luckily united's counter-attack is one of the best in europe and with hernandez and rooney back on form we have two strikers which will be more than capable. My heart tells me united 2-1 but my head tells me its going to be barca again 2-0. If only snjeider joined now we would have a player capable of contesting with their midfield but ultimately this is were the game is going to be won.

  • Comment number 56.

    53. At 15:29pm 9th May 2011, ShouldBeAtWork wrote:

    @ 48

    I never said Europe, and surely all this praise he's had is a bit much after what has been a quiet season for him.

    ------------------------------------

    Fair enough, you said "leauge" rather than Europe. Still the point is, no-one from the BBC has said Park is the best in the league.

    As for the praise being a "bit much". Park is hardly United's poster boy is he? Park isn't a superstar and never will be, I don't really think its "a bit much", he played well in big games, CL semi + PL decider, a BBC Sports blog is not exactly the Ballon d'Or... The praise is justified. He's not the best, but he's good and plays hard when the chips are down...

    This coming from a Chelsea fan.

  • Comment number 57.

    The big midfield issue against Barca won't be closing down players or closing the ball - they tried that last time round and came unstuck. The reality is that there is no team that could prevent Barca playing football that way. Man U will 'simply' need to close down the areas of the pitch that they don't want Barca to play in. With this in mind, a midfield of Giggs, Carrick and Park seems the best option. Giggs has the nous to get his positioning right throughout the game (whether he has the energy is another matter, but I wouldn't bet against him). Barca will probably dominate possession something like 60/40 but, obviously, it is what Man U do with their possession that matters. I think the movement of Rooney and Hernandez could cause genuine problems for the Barca defence.

    Having said all that, I still think Barca will win by two clear goals. Man U were excellent yesterday, but Barca are quite simply too good.

  • Comment number 58.

    As a Chelsea fan I will admit Man U definitely deserved to win.

    My main poiny though, is that Hernandez could have had 3 or 4 goals yesterday. If he misses such brilliant chances against Barcelona, who are a much better side then Chelsea, they will not go unpunished.

    Also, Messi the only threat? Really?

  • Comment number 59.

    35. At 14:52pm 9th May 2011, BlueNotBirmingham wrote:

    Have you actually seen Barca play? As in do you watch any Barca games in La Liga not just the CL? They've conceded 19 goals so far in La Liga, when you consider Real Madrid, with Jose Mourinho in charge, have conceded 31 (which is the 2nd best after Barca), CLEARLY Barca's defence is not as bad as you make out.

    Puyol & Pique = Possibly the best CB partnership in the world at the moment.

    Dani Alves is not just an offensive threat but is also solid defensively, and Abidal/Maxwell are both adequate fullbacks. Barca's defence is not a weakness. They average about 0.5 goals conceded/game.

    As for Barca not playing with a lot of width, that's just an incredibly naive and unfounded statement. Barcelona are the MASTERS of utilising ALL of the space on a football pitch, to even suggest that they play narrowly is just idiotic.

    Unless you have proof of Barcelona's lack of aerial ability I highly doubt the accuracy of your statement. Barca don't need to hit long balls, they play with short passes, therefore you don't see them making many headers. Just because they don't make many headers, that doesn't mean they CAN'T head the ball.

    --------------------------------------

    I said Barcelona's defence isn't a strong as their midfield and attack. I don't believe they have a bad defence, just that it isn't as good as say United or Chelsea for that matter.

    I watch a lot of Barcelona games both CL and La Liga, and I can tell you their preference is to play very centrally. They make use of the width in midfield yes, to pull players out of position, but you will very very rarely see them go to the line and cross the ball. They much prefer to play with the ball on the ground, threading elaborate balls for Messi and Villa to latch onto. Much in the way Arsenal try to do, but succeeding.

    Maybe it's just indicative of the league they play in, winning aerial balls requires a bit more physicallity which isn't as prominant in La Liga as in the EPL.

  • Comment number 60.

    Park was dominant against one of the best teams in the world, Chelsea, I don't understand how you can just turn your nose up at that and just say, "oh well, it was only Chelsea, a lesser side"??

    As for closing down being ineffective on Barca... Well what do you suggest? Do you suggest playing with no closing down at all?

    "you need 5 extra men in midfield to get close"

    That's the whole point of Park being there, he practically does the off-ball work equivalent of two players, even if his pressure doesn't necessarily win possession every time, the simple fact that he puts players under pressure gives Barca less time to think, and less time to execute their moves.

    ------------------------------

    What I'm getting at is Barca are than good in midfield that chasing after them in the manner Park does is exactly what they want, and while midfields such as Chelsea's can be rushed into making mistakes Barcelona's pretty much cannot.

    Better to be tactically disciplined, hold shape, and hold onto the ball when you have it than chase around getting pulled out of position by the Barca carousel.

  • Comment number 61.

    I have this feeling that, if United score first in the final, Barcelona will be less able to play their game care-free, time wise, knowing they have to score.

    And if they concede again from counter attacking they will lose the match for a simple reason: Barcelona know no plan B'.

  • Comment number 62.

    I said Barcelona's defence isn't a strong as their midfield and attack. I don't believe they have a bad defence, just that it isn't as good as say United or Chelsea for that matter.

    I watch a lot of Barcelona games both CL and La Liga, and I can tell you their preference is to play very centrally. They make use of the width in midfield yes, to pull players out of position, but you will very very rarely see them go to the line and cross the ball. They much prefer to play with the ball on the ground, threading elaborate balls for Messi and Villa to latch onto. Much in the way Arsenal try to do, but succeeding.

    Maybe it's just indicative of the league they play in, winning aerial balls requires a bit more physicallity which isn't as prominant in La Liga as in the EPL.

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    Yes, they do predominantly play through the middle, because that is where Xavi is. But they DO make use of the whole pitch, e.g. Dani Alves is the wide man for them.

    Barca: Abidal, Puyol, Pique, Dani Alves
    Chelsea: Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Bosingwa
    Man U: Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael

    Even as a Chelsea fan, even as an Englishman, if I just look at those defences, Barca's is the best out of the three.

    As for the aerial ability, its not like Barca are a bunch of oompa loompas, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Keita etc are all good headers, and then there are the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Pedro, who can all head the ball without being 6ft tall.

    Anyway, United don't exactly lob the ball every time, so aerial ability won't be much of a factor in the final. Both teams will attempt to play the ball not just lump it into the box and hope for the best.

    The only way I can see United winning is if they score first, and then they can start to frustrate Barca.

  • Comment number 63.

    52. At 15:26pm 9th May 2011, BlueNotBirmingham wrote:

    Yes, a majority of it is down to the midfield, and how they maintain possession, but like I said, Madrid conceded 31 goals (with Casillas in goal + a resurgent Carvalho), and although they're not as good at keeping the ball as Barca are, they still dominate pretty much every other team in La Liga.

    Barca's defence aren't as dominant as their midfield/attack, but its not so weak that it should be considered as their Achilles' heel.

    Puyol & Pique > All CB partnerships.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    From what I have been reading, it sounds like your suggesting Barcelona are so good, that Man United may aswell not even turn up. Utd shouldn't close them down, they need 5 extra midfielders to keep up, they won't fashion any chances and are completely inferior in every single way possible. Sounds like we might aswel all hand the trophy to Barca now then.....


    But hold on, didn't Real Madrid beat them in a one off match only a couple of weeks ago? Didn't an 'inferior' spanish side beat Barcelona the other weekend? (albeit inbetween the cl semi-final matches) Didn't Inter Milan manage to beat them in the semi-finals last year? On Utd's route to the final in 2008, did they not beat a Barca team containing Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi?

    Barcalona are undoubtedly a great great team, who's use of the ball is unrivalled. However they are not unbeatable, especially in a one off match such as the Champions League Final.

    I personally think Utd's greatest chance of winning is to actually get at Barca's defence. They may have conceded very few goals this season, but this is because they suffocate other teams with their possession and teams don't even have a chance to create chances. Wingers like Park and Valencia are exactly what Utd need to nullify Barca's threat with overlapping wing backs and then when Utd get possesion of the ball, to provide service further up the pitch. Having Rooney and Giggs hanging around/running between Barca's midfield and defence is also something that Barca will have to deal with.

    United are not favourites, but if anyone can take on the might of Barcelona and come out on top at the end, I have faith that Manchester United can.

  • Comment number 64.

    What I'm getting at is Barca are than good in midfield that chasing after them in the manner Park does is exactly what they want, and while midfields such as Chelsea's can be rushed into making mistakes Barcelona's pretty much cannot.

    Better to be tactically disciplined, hold shape, and hold onto the ball when you have it than chase around getting pulled out of position by the Barca carousel.

    ------------------------------------------

    ? Park is a midfielder, not a centre-back, therefore its not an imperative that he stays strictly in his position.

    Let's not make Barca's midfield out to be something its not, Xavi, Iniesta and co are SUPERB midfielders, but no-one's perfect, and OF COURSE they will make mistakes. They can play all the one-touch football they want, but eventually, I guarantee you, if Park plays, they will end up losing the ball not necessarily to Park but to United, because one of their passes will be slightly astray/overhit/underhit, which will allow United to regain possession.

    Barca's midfield > all, HOWEVER, if United were to sit back and be disciplined, like you suggest, then that would just make them sitting ducks and would allow Barca so much time to think & plan what they're going to do. The likes of Xavi & Messi WILL crack a defence if given time on the ball. United should take their chances by rushing them and closing them down (not overdoing it of course).

  • Comment number 65.

    Sorry BlueNotBirmingham, I wasn't meant to aim that at you. It was meant to be aimed at James. I agree with what you are saying actually by the way!

  • Comment number 66.

    Ji-Sung Park is our magician. I personally believe he is worth at least.. £30,000,000. Tireless energy, not scared to stick a foot in, doesnt make dirty tackles, comes up with a goal here and there, comes up with important ones too. Like finishing the 2nd leg champions league tie against chelsea. He is so underrated i think.

  • Comment number 67.

    Guys i think we're missing the point here. We can spend hours on end speculating about who will play in the final of the barca game. The last time in rome, the major tactical error was ronaldo, his work rate wasn't at its best, and i will admit we did not play to our full potential in that game whatsoever. Note, this season i have heard rival supporters and pundits, say this has to have been the poorest united team in sir alex's reign in terms of personel. However, every time we have defied these people with our performances week in week out this season. One thing this team has that no other utd team had, is we have that never say die attitude!
    We play as a complete unit, rather then rely on individuals to win us games. In theory a team is stronger than the one person, so as long as we're playing as unit why whud we fear barcelona!
    This team is beatable, they've been beaten by madrid, arsenal etc, then why shouldnt we be able to. Its ridiculous at how ignorant some people can be. Fair enough bat a play amazing football, but i saw equally amazing skill from a certain team that were all over chelsea.
    I dont mind going in as underdogs, even better cos when we do beat barcelona, the win will taste so much more sweeter. I have every faith in this team to do fulfill their destiny. Cometh the day, Manchester United FC will be crowned european champion! The devilz we love, a devil i will die!

  • Comment number 68.

    Yes, they do predominantly play through the middle, because that is where Xavi is. But they DO make use of the whole pitch, e.g. Dani Alves is the wide man for them.

    Barca: Abidal, Puyol, Pique, Dani Alves
    Chelsea: Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Bosingwa
    Man U: Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael

    Even as a Chelsea fan, even as an Englishman, if I just look at those defences, Barca's is the best out of the three.

    As for the aerial ability, its not like Barca are a bunch of oompa loompas, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Keita etc are all good headers, and then there are the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Pedro, who can all head the ball without being 6ft tall.

    Anyway, United don't exactly lob the ball every time, so aerial ability won't be much of a factor in the final. Both teams will attempt to play the ball not just lump it into the box and hope for the best.

    The only way I can see United winning is if they score first, and then they can start to frustrate Barca.

    -------------------------------

    United have the best defensive record in the CL this season, and Chelsea probably have a smaller goals conceded per game ratio than Barcelona.

    Maybe Barcelona are excellent in the air, but just chose not to play aerial balls because they don't need to, but in my mind they only know how to play one way and that's a weakness.

    As for lobbing balls forward. The top teams in the EPL don't do it as much, but if you look at Sundays match there are still lots of Van Der Saar goal kicks and defensive clearences which more often that not go straight back to the opponent. Barcelona pretty much never concede possession like this and build from the back.

    United need to score first, but they need to continue to attack.

  • Comment number 69.

    63. At 15:50pm 9th May 2011, jammar24 wrote:

    -----------------------------------------------------

    Firstly I don't know where you're quoting "inferior" from.

    But more to the point, can I just say, I'm ENGLISH therefore I will be supporting United not Barca. But I'm also a realist, so I'm not going to get carried away and pretend as if United have a really good chance; they don't.

    "Didn't Inter Milan manage to beat them in the semi-finals last year? On Utd's route to the final in 2008, did they not beat a Barca team containing Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi?"

    Mate, I don't know why you are trying to be all coy/sarcastic? If you wanna have a discussion, that's all well and good, you don't need to be asking me rhetorical questions.

    Of course, Inter beat Barca, thanks to a great defence, great tactics etc. so what? They also lost to Hercules 2-0 at the start of the season. Is that relevant? NO. It shows they're beatable, yes, of course, they're human beings.

    But you mentioning past games when Barca have been beaten is COMPLETELY irrelevant & and is a redundant point. Those games' outcomes HAVE NO EFFECT/INFLUENCE on the course of THIS YEAR's Final. Understand?

    "Barcalona are undoubtedly a great great team, who's use of the ball is unrivalled. However they are not unbeatable, especially in a one off match such as the Champions League Final."

    When did I ever say Barcelona were unbeatable? Stupid point, you're putting words on my mouth.

    "I personally think Utd's greatest chance of winning is to actually get at Barca's defence. They may have conceded very few goals this season, but this is because they suffocate other teams with their possession and teams don't even have a chance to create chances. Wingers like Park and Valencia are exactly what Utd need to nullify Barca's threat with overlapping wing backs and then when Utd get possesion of the ball, to provide service further up the pitch. Having Rooney and Giggs hanging around/running between Barca's midfield and defence is also something that Barca will have to deal with."

    To go at the defence, you need the ball, therefore this match will be won in midfield, THEREFORE, United MUST MUST MUST close down Xavi and co. to force them to rush their passes and in doing so give away possession.

    IF United can get prolonged periods of possession, THEN they can attack Barca & test them.

    "Utd shouldn't close them down, they need 5 extra midfielders to keep up,"

    This is just plain stupid now, I NEVER said this, I was quoting a guy who said United need 5 mids to give Barca less space. Do you know what a quote is (serious question)?

    If you are going to argue with me at least have enough intellectual ability to understand what I am/am not saying.

  • Comment number 70.

    United have the best defensive record in the CL this season, and Chelsea probably have a smaller goals conceded per game ratio than Barcelona.

    Maybe Barcelona are excellent in the air, but just chose not to play aerial balls because they don't need to, but in my mind they only know how to play one way and that's a weakness.

    As for lobbing balls forward. The top teams in the EPL don't do it as much, but if you look at Sundays match there are still lots of Van Der Saar goal kicks and defensive clearences which more often that not go straight back to the opponent. Barcelona pretty much never concede possession like this and build from the back.

    United need to score first, but they need to continue to attack.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    United haven't played the same opposition as Barca, so its not really a fair comparison. Also, Barca are more attack-minded so inevitably they will concede some goals.

    United need to do an Inter on Barca, i.e. score first then shut them down. Aerial ability will be a non-factor. Like I keep saying, Barca's midfield CANNOT be given time. United played cautiously back in 09 and lost, Barca are used to having the ball, and by rushing them & taking it off them, that will make them uncomfortable.

  • Comment number 71.

    Jammer24 was not aiming that article at you BlueNotBirmingham, as he corrected!

  • Comment number 72.

    my bad i was already writin my comment when he corrected himself.

  • Comment number 73.

    Am I the only one who thinks playing both Rooney and Hernandez in forward positions against Barcelona is footballing suicide? It worked against a rather lifeless Chelsea midfield, who gave the ball away too cheapily, but it won't against the best team at keeping the ball in the world.

    When we played a similar formation against Arsenal a week ago, we were completely outplayed, especially in the first half. We couldn't keep the ball, and we were reduced to defenders kicking diagonal long balls to our wingers because the 5 man midfield of Arsenal closed down our space. Indeed when we were out of possession, with both Rooney and Hernandez staying forward, it meant there was more space for Arsenal to pick their passes. If we give Xavi, Iniesta and Messi the space we gave Arsenal, it'll be all over far too soon.

    It was so surprising to change formation given the success we've had against them playing 4-5-1, soaking up the pressure and then breaking quickly when we won the ball back. And I think 4-5-1 gives us the best of beating Barcelona.

    So for me, as amazing as Hernandez has been this season, he's got to be sacrificed for an extra midfielder, one with bite, pace, and who was sorely missed in the CL final 09.

    My team is VDS, Fabio, Rio, Vida, Evra, Carrick, Giggs, Fletcher, Park, Valencia, Rooney.

  • Comment number 74.

    56. At 15:34pm 9th May 2011, BlueNotBirmingham wrote:

    Park may not be a poster boy in the UK but is treated like a God in Korea!

    As a LFC fan, Park is similar to Kuyt - Hardworking, tactical clever, plays for the team and will always grabs crucial goals.

    Whilst watching Valencia in recent games, I don't think he is back to complete full fitness after his dreadful injury as I recall prior to his injury, he was blindingly lightning quick and tore past players with ease.

    I would personally go with Nani over Valencia as according to official stats, Nani leads the table with most assists with 18. Other Man Utd - Rooney has 11 and Giggs with 8 assists.

    Looking at some previous posts, nobody putting in Anderson in their team? This guy can pass short & long, shoot and is deceptively quick at bursting forward.

    As a neutral, I hope for an entertaining game with goals from both teams!

  • Comment number 75.

    ? Park is a midfielder, not a centre-back, therefore its not an imperative that he stays strictly in his position.

    Let's not make Barca's midfield out to be something its not, Xavi, Iniesta and co are SUPERB midfielders, but no-one's perfect, and OF COURSE they will make mistakes. They can play all the one-touch football they want, but eventually, I guarantee you, if Park plays, they will end up losing the ball not necessarily to Park but to United, because one of their passes will be slightly astray/overhit/underhit, which will allow United to regain possession.

    Barca's midfield > all, HOWEVER, if United were to sit back and be disciplined, like you suggest, then that would just make them sitting ducks and would allow Barca so much time to think & plan what they're going to do. The likes of Xavi & Messi WILL crack a defence if given time on the ball. United should take their chances by rushing them and closing them down (not overdoing it of course).


    --------------------------------------

    Park is an excellent defensive midfielder, his work ethic amazing, but my original point was he concedes possession more than Giggs or Scholes or Carrick and I don't think he will get as much joy (read none) closing down Xavi and Iniesta as he did with Esisen and Mikel et al.

    I have no doubt he will be a nailed on starter though, so we will see, but with their passing and movement fruitlessly closing players down like headless chickens just affords other equally or more dangerous players space. Obviously we can't just allow them all the time in the world to do whatever, but postitional discipline is key.

  • Comment number 76.

    Here Blue, you got nothing better to do?

    Get outside for some fresh air mate, I think you're going to explode!!

  • Comment number 77.

    70. At 16:06pm 9th May 2011, BlueNotBirmingham wrote:

    United need to do an Inter on Barca, i.e. score first then shut them down. Aerial ability will be a non-factor. Like I keep saying, Barca's midfield CANNOT be given time. United played cautiously back in 09 and lost, Barca are used to having the ball, and by rushing them & taking it off them, that will make them uncomfortable.

    -----------------------

    Real tried to get in amongst them, it didn't really work out for them. Barca either passed it round them all day, or rolled around on the turf till they got a freekick.

  • Comment number 78.

    I think I saw redmist when that James kept going on about how nothing compared to Barcelona and because of this I did a bad copy and paste job at the start. I blame that James for this.

    Only thing I would say BlueNotBirmingham, is that I mention the previous matches Barca have lost only to highlight that they are infact defeatable and yeah I was trying to be sarcastic and it worked. I just got the wrong guy!!

    I totally agree with you that United have to close them down. How efficiently they do so will be critical to the game.

    An interesting statistic (this is not aimed as a reposte to what anyone has written, just an observation) from the 09 final is that Barca had 51% possession. Some 15% less than what they are used to. I know they were the superior team in that final, but United did have their share of possession. I'm wondering if it might be the same again. Most will disagree I assume, but I believe United are capable. If they do, then I believe barca's defence will not be as good as some people are suggesting.

  • Comment number 79.

    #62-

    Barca: Abidal, Puyol, Pique, Dani Alves
    Chelsea: Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Bosingwa
    Man U: Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael

    Even as a Chelsea fan, even as an Englishman, if I just look at those defences, Barca's is the best out of the three.
    --------------------------------

    I would disagree there as Pique couldn't get in the united first team and as Chelsea's first choice back 4 is Cole, Terry, Luiz and Ivanovic your argument is a bit specious. Whilst Rafael is weaker than Alves, Evra is far better than Abidal & Maxwell as is Ashley Cole. Ferdinand & Vidic are better than their counterparts in both defences and Cole vs Evra is about even.

    Barca's midfield is the key, stretch them wide and get at the defence and they will struggle and Valencia is just the man to do that especially as Park will keep Messi pushed back a bit more rather than letting him rove the way other teams do.

  • Comment number 80.

    United haven't played the same opposition as Barca, so its not really a fair comparison. Also, Barca are more attack-minded so inevitably they will concede some goals.

    United need to do an Inter on Barca, i.e. score first then shut them down. Aerial ability will be a non-factor. Like I keep saying, Barca's midfield CANNOT be given time. United played cautiously back in 09 and lost, Barca are used to having the ball, and by rushing them & taking it off them, that will make them uncomfortable.

    --------------------------------------

    Aerial ability is not irrelevant as Valencia's crossing could be key. Also goal kicks are generally won in midfield and Barca's is not good in the air

  • Comment number 81.

    78. At 16:35pm 9th May 2011, jammar24 wrote:

    I think I saw redmist when that James kept going on about how nothing compared to Barcelona and because of this I did a bad copy and paste job at the start. I blame that James for this.


    ------------------

    Not saying Barcelona can't be beaten, anybody can be beaten on their day, just I don't believe the populist concept that closing them down like a madman is the magical key to unlock Barcelona.

  • Comment number 82.

    Never mind tactics. I just want some of what Giggs is on and i reckon so do a fair few Premier League players. Hes better now than when he was 25! Amazing. I know he has won the lot but i'm pleased for him that theyve won it.

    PS ... and im a fed up Gunner!

  • Comment number 83.

    2nd PS and he comes across as a truly nice chap too. Always humble, never critical and always respectful of his opponents.

  • Comment number 84.

    I'd compare them more like this: United's defenders are considerably better at defending, but Barca's are much better at attacking, which is their role, almost their primary role, since they defend as a team. Still, Vidic and possibly Ferdinand would start for Barca. Midfield: Man U's midfield has gelled nicely over the season, and at this point Carrick, Giggs, Park and Valencia are first rate. But they atill aren't nearly as good as Barca, Xavi and Iniesta are head and shoulders better than anyone else as a midfield pair. Strikers: Rooney and Hernandez, again, are now looking very effective, with Rooney almost more of a midfielder and Hernandez a poacher. But they're not as good, again, as Villa, Pedro and especially Messi.

    Finally, Barca is an extraordinary team not just, and possibly even not primarily, because of their individual players, but in the way they fundamentally play as a team, playing triangles around the opposition. Real, who are as talented man for man, didn't see much of the ball.

    So it may seem I'm arguing Man U doesn't have much chance, but I'm not. In England, with a team and manager bursting with confidence from having won almost all their big games, Man U has a real chance of pulling off a one-off win. They need to work just as hard as Barca and somehow snatch the first goal, both of which are well within the realms of possibility.

  • Comment number 85.

    One major difference at Wembley will be Fergies lessons learned. Carrick will not be left isolated in midfield, watching Busquets, Xavi & Iniesta run rings around him. McClaren said as much in a recent interview with talksport.

    Barcelona's pressing game is based on short passes, Cryuff gave this little secret away recently, they generally only pass the ball 10 metres or so, thus if they lose it they dont have far to run to close it down. There is also, therefore, a colleague nearby to help.

    The general feeling is to block up midfield and close down the fullbacks forcing the centre halves and keeper to look for the longer ball, ie stop Barca playing it out from the back.

    For these reasons i believe Fergie will go with

    Van Der Sar

    Fabio, Vidic, Ferdy, Evra

    Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Anderson, Park

    Rooney

    This gives the stability in the centre of the park and a threat going forward. Anderson showed, albeit against Schalke, a new willingness to get forward from deeper positions. Something that Barca wont be too used to. Giggs is intelligent enough to know when to support Rooney and when to hang on in there.


    Not quite parking the bus, but certainly containing the Barca threat.

    We would then have Nani, Hernandez, Berbatov to use as impact subs. Fletcher, Gibson, Smalling & Rafael will complete the bench to provide more defensive resources should the yellow cards mount up, or heaven hope we take the lead!

  • Comment number 86.

    Whilst i am at it.

    2008 was about a Man United team supporting the superstar Ronaldo. He was the star actor in the Ronaldo Show with everyone else there in a junior role.

    This time it will be about the team. The press have been banging on all season about how poor this side is and how there are no stars. Wembley is the perfect stage to show what team work and spirit can achieve.

    That said i am a realist and Barca are a formidable side, but certainly unbeatable.

  • Comment number 87.

    I would go

    VDS

    O'Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra

    Scholes/Carrick

    Valencia, Giggs, Nani

    Rooney

    Hernandez/Berbatov

  • Comment number 88.

    I'd play the same team that just beat chelsea but with Rafael at RB.

    Fully understand some people saying John O'Shea though, but I'd be concerned about his lack of pace against messi vill.....etc etc etc etc

    United are going to have to play to their absolute maximum to have a chance you feel though

  • Comment number 89.

    In my point of view I just cant see Man United beat Barca, look at Real Madrid, good players all aorung the pitch compared to Man united, good midfield compared to park and they couldnt stop Barca to play, they end up yello carded and red carded, I just see loads of yellow cards to Man united, or may be red card to Vidic, which will result to give Barca more freedom to play, which will make Man united loose concentration and loose the game, the best the can to Man united, i think to stop being humiliated. 3-0 to Barca.

  • Comment number 90.

    Rafael vs O'Shea is an interesting one. I really get the feeling Rafael is an accident waiting to happen in such a high pressure game. At this point in time I think O'Shea's experience will be more useful.

  • Comment number 91.

    There is evidence of Park's clear potential to shake Barcelona: CL Semi-Final 2008. His MOTM performances were spent hustling Messi & Deco, while surging forward with Ronaldo & Rooney. The thought of breaking down Barcelona in the final isn't easy to conceive as all players will need to step up the intensity together. This is also why I believe playing Rafael won't be a mistake.

    A sharp start to the match like in 2009 is also crucial (& fewer lapses in Carrick-tration!)

  • Comment number 92.

    la liga has two teams and an also ran. if you compare the tables points-wise positionally la liga and epl break down similarly. if you look at goal difference only 6 of the 20 liga sides have a positive difference with only the top 4 on the table showing a double digit advantage. whereas in the epl 9 of the top 10 have a positive difference. essentially liga is a weaker league full of cup cake sides.

    the epl has the 'big 4' but there is also man city and spurs pushing forward. liga has barca, real with valencia carrying the baggage. positions 4-7 are a revolving door in liga.

    the key to beating barca is mental. strong as they are physically, they are a side of divers. this can get in the back of utd's mind and cause mental lapses and silly fouls. creative as barca are, they can get frustrated when teams pack the midfield (look at inter's two matches in last year's cl semis). and as great at pressing and getting the ball back as barca are, they tend to tug shirts, kick heals and generally do the same things to the opposing side that they are always complaing to the refs about.

    overall, utd are the physically stronger side. but still, they cant just hoof it up and try to out muscle barca. utd need to be patient. they need to string 10-15 crisp passes together and walk the ball into the attacking third, then pick and choose their spots to either cross or have a go.

    utd will lose if they try to take the game to barca because while utd are stronger, barca are faster. their speed on the counter will destroy utd as ferdinand and vidic will have to give up silly fouls to stop barca's progress or van der saar will have to roll back the clock and play out of his mind.

    i have goltv and have watched barca at least 12 times this year in liga, and all of their cl matches. they can be beaten by patient teams who walk the ball up with crisp passes and do not fall for barca's diving and mind games. once the diving and heal kicking gets into a teams mind, they crumber and barca wears them down.

    i think barca win on penalties and i hate that because to me la liga is spanish for diving.

  • Comment number 93.

    @52 BlueNotBirmingham:
    Puyol & Pique > All CB partnerships.
    What are you smoking?? Have you seen the relatively unknown pairing of VIDIC and FERDINAND who have the best defensive record in a better league (only when they play together)??
    Pique is one of the most over-rated centr-backs in the world I could name at least 5 others who i would prefer in:David Luiz, Pepe, Terry, Carvalho, Ramos, Vermaelan and those two randomers mentioned above!
    Mate i would advise watching football as a remedy for your blatant inability to see. It is not to say united would win though. i still think barca are firm favourites, but a bit of magic from giggsy, rooney or javier and i think we can win it.
    My prediction (more in hope): United 0 - Barca 0 --- United win 3-0 on pens Van Der Saar saving all three of barcas and parading wembley on the shoulders of his teammates!

  • Comment number 94.

    I think United if they play like they did against Chelsea for the whole game, against Barca, they will murder them. United conceeded a very very soft goal, and that is a weakness when things are going well. If Ferguson picks the same team for the final, I am confident United will win.

  • Comment number 95.

    I have to agree with the Poster above for O Shea, he is calm skillfull and extremely underated, extremely so. He has come on a lot this year again. He gets better and better... I think this United side is going to get stronger and stronger.. they look really good. However playing scholes in the final from the Off would be an error.. I don't think Fletcher will have had enough games to warrant his inclusion.....I can't believe there some people who still doubt Parks ability... Come off it. The guy is fantastic.

  • Comment number 96.

    I told you Chelsea wouldn't win. The point was proved after 37 seconds. I should have gambled some money on it!

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 98.

    I must admit i fear a bit for Man U in the champions league final . They have in my opinion improved leaps and bounds since defeating Man U last time round none more so than Messi , it seems the only way to beat them is to play dirty ( like Real Madrid did in the Copa Del Rey , or be flukey )

    I think Barca will tear them a new one .

  • Comment number 99.

    hahaha you make me laugh mate, man united to murder barca, think twice dude, i think the team he picks against chelsea is so weak, barca are very different team compared to chelsea in term of creativity and movement of their midfield, look at Madrid, i believe they have hte best defensive midfielder around, including Pepe, who is a CB but came in just to stop Messi, which he did tactically but then they still couldnt stop barca play, and if you cant stop them play they will punish u.

    the only solution is to play the way barca play against other team which is hard against well organised barca, they not just a good passing team, but when they loose the ball look how they chase it to get it back, and thats again people forget to notice, they want the ball all the time.

    I wish all the best to Man united and i hope it not a humiliation to the final.

  • Comment number 100.

    Sorry but you must have been watching a different Park from me because all I saw him do except for his initial pass that led to Chicharittos goal was run around like a headless chicken. Nearly all his passes went to a blue shirt, he never knows what to do with the ball when he's got it, his control is non existent, in forward areas he is clueless and would rather attempt a pass than run on goal. He has zero skill and not much knowledge all he does is run around, he is lucky that he has been noticed just for expending energy and not for his ability because it was down to ability he would still be in Korea.

 

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