Sunday, 29 May 2011

Barca Expose United's Limitations.

In typical English football fan fashion, most critics mistakenly thought last night's Wembley final would be a titanic battle, with the cream of English football slugging it out with the cream of Spanish football. In reality, this was the cream of English football versus the cream of European football. In otherwards, United were not on an even playing field, they were trying to reach a higher plain. One that not even a Mourinho-helmed Real Madrid side containing the most expensive player in the world could reach. That Madrid side is probably better than Man United, and it is arguably only down to Barcelona that they themselves are not celebrating the La Liga/Champions League double.

Last night's match was eerily similar (if you can compare the two sports), to one of those Andy Murray v Federer match-ups from a year or two ago. You just knew that if Federer turned up, he would prevail. Murray played badly in none of those meetings, and Man United didn't play badly last night. Of course, they didn't play well enough to come close to Barca's majesty. Rooney provided glimpses of his ability, with that equaliser in particular proving he is not far behind Messi in terms of big-game nous. Yet there is currently no team in the world, or at least Europe, who doesn't become affected by a kind of shellshock when faced with Barcelona's intricate passing ability.

Sir Alex Ferguson probably did everything he could. In hindsight, perhaps Berbatov would've been a better option up front, as at his best he provides a target man of sorts. While Hernandez and Rooney both gave their all, and both had their moments, neither were able to hold onto the ball long enough to give the likes of Giggs and Valencia something to feed off. The midfield were often reduced to relying on the rather mixed deliverty of Michael Carrick, and while Hernandez often is a key outlight playing off the shoulder of the last man, his exuberance worked against him, as many promising positions were wasted by his inability to stay onside. This is the sort of thing that comes with experience, and while a lot of Barca's key players remain in their early 20s, they have all achieved so much, with much more surely still to come.

In terms of where to go from here, I don't think there is the need for any ripping apart of Fergie's current squad. Giggs and Scholes are nearing the end, and Van Der Sar has just reached the end. We all knew this before last night's match, and we now know that surely reinforcements are needed if Man United are to stand a chance of bridging the gap. A destroyer in the midfield is needed. If Hargreaves wasn't cursed by injury, he would have been the ideal solution, so it is impossible to blame Ferguson too much for this. However, the need for a true creative force in the centre is proving impossible to ignore. Paul Scholes has remained at an astonishingly high level for his age, but his goals and assists are beginning to dry up, and someone of the calibre of Modric is surely a must when Fergie gets the chequebook out in the summer.

Having said all this, there is no-one out there of the calibre of Messi, Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta, or Villa. This quintet will keep Barcelona at the top for the forseeable future, should they remain injury-free. But that doesn't mean Sir Alex will stop trying, and this writer suspects he probably sees ending Barca's dominance as his greatest challenge. I for one hope he succeeds, and while United are hardly paupers, it is refreshing to see them reach a Champions League final AND win the league by nine points, while spending a fraction of their City rivals, and their Chelsea rivals. Give me a strong team ethic over a billion-pound dream team anyday.

Unfortunately for all us Premier League supporting folk, Barca have got the dream team, without spending millions. Are you reading this, English board members? Youth investment is what got Barca where they are today, and while it is too late to stop the dominance of their current squad, a good academy may stand the best chance of emulating them. One would like to believe so anyway.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Can Judd Trump Higgins?

Snooker, like golf, is one of those sports where careers can seemingly last forever. The actual physical strain on your body is limited. Which makes it all the more exciting when a new kid on the block emerges. To continue the golf comparison, when Tiger Woods won his first major tournament, he was only 21. Fourteen years later, he still has a long career ahead of him. Rory Mcllroy is in a similar world-at-his-feet position as Tiger Woods, albeit without a major at this point. His time will come.

But with that early digression aside, today is all about Judd Trump. Only two weeks older than myself, for him to be battling it out with the legend that is John Higgins on such a stage is already an impressive feat. Currently ranked number 9, he has by no means fluked his way to such an occasion. Let's take a look at his path to the World Snooker Championship final.

Even in round 1, Trump proved his mettle, taking down the defending champion Neil Robertson 10-8. That no doubt sent a warning shot to the rest of the field, and his form has carried on since. Graeme Dott was another notable victim in the quarter-finals, as the 2006 champion was thrashed 13-5. It looked like Ding Junhui was a step too far for Trump at many stages during their epic semi-final, yet he prevailed 17-15.

Now, as the second youngest ever World Championship finalist (the youngest being Steven Hendry in 1990) he faces the Scotch might of John Higgins. A three-time winner, and currently in ominous form, he represents the stiffest test yet for the Bristol sensation. Then again, Judd Trump's run of form cannot be seen as a complete surprise. At the start of April he won his first title, beating Mark Selby 10-8 in the China Open final. In many ways this was a statement of intent, and he has carried on this fiery run of form to the final frontier.

Often sporting a cheeky grin, and what can only be described as an 'interesting' haircut, Trump represents the new generation of snooker up against the old. I grew up watching Higgins, O'Sullivan, Hendry, Dott, and so forth; is Trump about to add his name to the glittering list of World Champions? Should he do so, at such a young age, he has the potential to be fighting for titles over the next 15 years.