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Tag Archives: Champions League

A Barcelona-Manchester United final is absolute box office. But after witnessing scenes of utter despondence at the bridge, I am not sure whether Barcelona merited a deserved place in the final. A combination of refereeing blunders, Drogba’s ineptitude in front of goal and Hiddink’s ultra conservative style made sure Chelsea bowed out in controversial circumstances. Honestly, Barcelona were really running short of ideas and were quite blunt in terms of their creativity. Of course, it is not wise to judge them over the two legs of the semi-final. But when they are deprived of space and moved out of their comfort zone, they don’t seem to have a plan B in place. They are a one-dimensional team although that style is quite attractive to many people around the world. One of the reasons that made them less imaginative was the way iniesta was asked to play. Because of Iniesta’s position, Xavi also became less influential because both of them when together are quite creative. Sergio B and Keita didn’t use the ball usefully as Iniesta, Toure and Xavi would have done. They just kept passing it around without any conviction and their first shot on target was in the 92nd minute. It was quite apparent to see that the game was played so bloody narrow that it looked like a death procession. Messi and Iniesta had come in central.

I can now type the starting line up for barca in the final.

Barcelona(4-1-2-3): Valdes; Puyol, Pique, Toure, Sylvinho/Keita; Sergio B; Iniesta, Xavi; Henry, Eto’o, Messi.

The problem with the style that Barca adopt is that the opponent runs so much off the ball that he gets tired in no time. When they eventually get the ball they are reluctant to thrust themselves to go forward as the physical demand on their bodies is extreme. There are two secrets to beat Barcelona’s passing carousel; First one is to do what United did to them in last year’s semi-final; 2. Attack them from the wings and use high energy central midfield play to disrupt their rhythm. United will mostly play Rooney on the left side with Ronaldo upfront and Park on the right with 3 defensive midfielders shielding the back four if their adopt the conservative approach. If they go for Kamikaze football, it will be a 4-3-3 with Rooney and Ronaldo the flanks and Tevez/Berba in the middle to test their suspect central defense. Playing a 4-4-2 against Barca will be ineffective because if Barca lose the ball, then there will be 3 players who will be in an advanced positions to receive the ball immediately rather than 1 or 2 which makes ball retention a bit more complicated.

Porto’s performance in the first leg of the quarter final gives amazing insights into how the game will pan out if United go hell bent for leather. But I don’t see three really physical strong forwards as Porto had. Messi and Eto’o are anything but physically imposing and add to this the fact that Xavi and Iniesta aren’t monsters either. Barca will go into the game with the simple thing in mind that tactical approach becomes simple if they retain the ball for long periods and keep passing the ball until United get tired. I think the game is going to be decided when Barca don’t have the ball. United won’t be sitting back and Fergie would demand a high octane start from Rooney and Ronaldo in particular with Anderson buzzing around in the midfield showcasing his power game in the midfield playing in an advanced role. Fergie will ask Evra to bomb upfront even though it leaves gaps behind for Messi to exploit. But this is where Fergie can win the tactical battle by playing one of his defensive midfielders constantly on the left side (Like Fletcher) to help Vidic tackle Messi and ask John O Shea to be more conservative while going forward. Attack Barca on the left while keeping the shape on the right. This would mean Rio marking Eto’o by playing in a more advanced role in defense and Fletcher and Vidic double teaming on Messi on the left and O Shea marking Henry on the left. To make Xavi and Iniesta less creative, United have to be more aggressive in the midfield and move the ball at pace. The absence of Toure in midfield will also cost Barca a tackler which will be vital to deprive Rooney and Ronaldo service on either wing.

I might be totally wrong in saying that Park won’t start. But if Park starts, then United will line up almost the same way as they did against Arsenal at Emrates (4-3-2-1) with Ronaldo up top on his own. I prefer starting with Berbatov to play behind Rooney and Ronaldo in between Xavi and Iniesta and in front of Sergio B because he is very similar in style to those three and can be a great asset to United while starting off attacks.

All this is a bit confusing as there are 4-5 ways in which United can line up which is what makes this final tough to call tactically. And my strong feeling is that they will make it a real physical battle in the midfield. Barca targeted and almost physically abused Henry in the Paris final in 2006 by kicking him all over the place. Fergie will go any distance to retain the cup this year. Thats for sure. Your thoughts please.

How I still remeber those days when Ryan Giggs was linked with a move to Inter Milan. They pursued him for a considerable amount of time around the 2000-01 season and couldn’t get their hands on Stretford ends’ most priced asset. How Mourinho would have liked former Inter manager Hector Cuper to have tied up this football machine? The true repercussions of that failed foray should have been felt across the whole of Italy particularly in the blue half of Milan.

There was an air of inevitability around Old Trafford today when Mourinho marched on to the technical area before the game kicked off. Underneath the raucous surface, there were a few jangling nerves about what the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ had in store tactically for this round of 16 champions league tie. Vidic proved why he has been likened to Steve Bruce by United fans by scoring a terrific headed goal although I couldn’t figure out what Viera was doing during the setpiece.

United started with a weird formation; 4-4-2. Now that sounds a bit awful because that has become the most potent and loved formations of Sir Alex. But against a side managed by Mourinho who has always showed an inclination to play a 4-3-2-1, this seemed like a naive tactical option.

In the Milan derby, Inter absorbed most of the pressure and never had much possesion but still managed to score a couple of goals playing a 4-3-1-2. Adriano and Ibra up front and Stankovic behind them and the midfield trio providing great buffer for the backline. This tactical ploy was lethal. Although Milan did all the running, Inter scored two very simple goals; first by Adriano from a cross from Maicon and the second from a terrific strike by Stankovic from a flicked header by Ibra from a long ball played to him.

After conceding the opener, Inter grew into the game courtesy of the central midfield pairing of Carrick and Scholes. The central midfield pairing struggled to keep the ball and spray it around because they were chasing shadows most of the time although match stats say otherwise. Carrick requires someone with pace to help him out in the central area and Scholes, for a long time, had the mother of all shockers. He gave away the ball so many times and his usual cross field balls were not accurate. For all that United have been all season, keeping the ball and wearing down the opponents, this was as much bad because they were at the receiving end today from Inter. Berbatov was deployed between Rooney and the midfield couldn’t see much of the ball because he was closely marked by Cambiasso and Zanetti who really stayed close to each other positionally. United bring the ball out of defense by playing Berbatov in the hole.

Although Viera was anonymous in the first half, his positional presence proved a kind of a hindrance to United who couldn’t put 5 passes together. Giggs managed to get behind Maicon once during the first 20 minutes and that was it from United after they had broken through Inter’s defense with a setpiece. Some semblence of sanity was restored to United’s shape once Sir Alex moved Giggs into the hole and Berbatov up top and Rooney to the left hand side. Maicon’s runs became less ominous and Giggs’ intelligence helped out the United midfield duo to supply the ball to Ronaldo on the right flnak. One can say this was a damning verdict on Berbatov’s performance, but the truth is far from that. Giggs’ ability to run at defenders with the ball at his feet in the central midfield area proved to be the difference because Cambiasso and Zanetti couldn’t live with him. Giggs was particularly running circles around Cambiasso who was Inter’s most important player because of his vision, technical ability and desire.

Mourinho tried to improve things by introducing Muntari for Viera but this didn’t have the desired effect. Giggs was running the show for United and the midfield trio of Cambiasso, Zanetti and Muntari had to tuck in to make it more hard for United to keep possession. Inter’s tactical plans had been dashed after United scored their second and now Inter had to chase the game more. From 4-1-4-1 (till 50′), Mourinho switched to a 4-3-3 by replacing Stankovic with Adriano. Now United started finding more spaces opening up in the midfield area and Carrick became slightly more aseertive. By this time Ronaldo also had been given the free role along with Giggs which helped to counterintelligently (although the shape was considerably sacrificed).

But for Giggs’ ability to run at pace with the ball and his masterful artistry of running circles around Cambiasso, United would have crumbled and conceded at least two goals which might have seen Inter go through. Some might have noted that Giggs’ attemped backhell led upto the setpiece that saw Ibrahimovic hit the bar. This was his only blemish in the game which saw him shine unlike his colleague for so many years, Paul Scholes who didn’t have one of his best games. I would go on to defend Scholes because this is not the type of game that he would want to play. For a game where the midfielders had to dig in and fight for every ball rather than blitz the park with audacious croos field passes and sublime chips, this was not the game to play Scholes at his age.

And finally, Rooney’s committment and tactical awareness and intelligence was excellent. United  without a verstile player like him, would have suffered dearly today. A self less servant who is maturing as a wonderful player with every game he is playing although he was close to being insipid in the first half with his passing and movement.

The draw for the quarterfinals is on 20th March. How I would relish if the following had to happen:

Manchester United Bayern Munich

And I would want to know what you guys think of other possible match ups for the round of 8.