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.

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