Man Utd preview of mother of all matches

26 05 2009

So the day we’ve been waiting for is nearly here, and the activity on the blog suggest RC and me are well up for it. Manchester United vs. Barcelona in what will no doubt be an historic event. I’m sure there will be a lot more to come, but for now, take a quick 1-2 hour break from whatever you’re doing and enjoy well over 2,500 words about the Champions League Final.

1) Just how nervous are you for Wednesday’s match?

Wayne: You might be quite surprised but I’m not nervous at all, just excited. With me, nerves don’t kick in until the few minutes prior to the match where the TV shows shots of the crowd, then the teams coming out, then a quick shot of the trophy,etc. As the buildup gets closer and closer I’ll get more nervous, but right now I’m just excited.

Taylor: I’m with you about 70% of the way. I’ll be watching this one at the pub, with about 300 other United supporters (if last year was any indicator). So, I won’t be a total ball of nerves until I’m seated and am forced to hear Tommy Smyth tell me about onion bags and how Barcelona is superior for the entirety of the 45 minute preview show. However, I would be lying if I said that all of the billions of articles already online regarding this match weren’t making me overanalyze just a touch. Writing a 10,000 word match preview with you should solve that issue, right? Right?

2. Do you think the memory of Sir Matt tomorrow will have a similar effect on the players as the memory of Munich did for them last year?

Taylor: If all goes as planned, the Busby Tribute should be a pretty powerful display. I also think it will really prove who takes pride in the badge, and who’s just there to further their reputation. For players like Rooney and Rio, I think remembering those who came before them and brought the club to greatness will push their performances to new levels. Hopefully, everyone else will take notice. That said, if nothing else, it will surely get the traveling United supporters good and ready for an epic Champions League Final. Having a loud, rabid fan base could be a necessary asset in a hostile Italian stadium.

Wayne: Yeah, I agree on all counts there. For some players; your Rooneys and Rios, it will be nothing but fuel and inspiration for them to create more history. Hopefully the fans take it on and really create a great atmosphere. United’s away fans are considered much louder than the home fans and I hope they’ll prove it. I just hope the alcohol ban doesn’t make them shy.

3. The general consensus is that Barca will be marching out with a 4-3-3 featuring a more than capable strikeforce. Do you think United should go defensive and try for the counter, or do they push forward and stress an injury/suspension weakened back four?

Wayne: I think United need to play their own game and not worry about what Pep and his team do. Obviously, Barca’s game plan will be to keep the ball in United’s half. They won’t want United in their box, what with their weakened defense and for them, attack is the best defense. I think that United can do a number of things and still be very effective. If they sit back, soak it up and counter then they have the team to do that. But if they want to go on the offensive early to get an early blow in against Barca then that could work too. I’m really very confident going into this game and I’ll be happy with whatever game plan we go with.

Taylor: I think the match preview from Sky had one of the more telling bits of information: the Barca defense is looking shakier than I expected. No Daniel Alves (banned), no Rafael Marquez (injured), and no Eric Abidal (banned). So, the potential back line has a combined 24 Champions League starts out of a possible total of 44. That’s with Puyol, Pique, Caceres, and Sylvinho. Toure and Sanchez each only have one apiece, so that won’t be making too much of a difference. So, I think United must go forward early and hammer them often. I don’t think we can afford to fully rely on the sit back/counter option. We did that last year, and (although it eventually worked out okay) Chelsea were able to settle and dominate the second half.

4. Ideally, what sort of lineup do you want to see Sir Alex go with?

Taylor: Up until the Inter tie, United had pretty consistently been fielding a 4-4-2. After sending Jose packing, however, Sir Alex switched to a 4-3-3 and the benefits have been obvious. I think if United had Hargo available, they go 4-4-2 and our Canadian/German/Brit/whatever midfielder shadows Messi throughout. Since that isn’t an option, a 4-3-3 that plays like a 4-3-2-1 makes the most sense to me. As far as the starters go, that’s a bit more difficult. Obviously VDS, O’Shea, Vidic, Rio, and Evra… then it gets a bit tricky. My guess is that we’ll be seeing Carrick in the middle (to control the pace), with Park and Anderson out wide for their overall style of play. The top three is a bit more challenging. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tevez, Rooney, and Slave, but I don’t think that happens either. Rooney on the left sides makes sense, with Giggs on the other. Slave stays up top. That formation gives us the attack-minded possession we’ll need, and keeps our defensive shape intact.

Wayne: Yeah, a 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 or whatever it’s called. I think with a 4-3-3 we’re much more dynamic and much less restricted in our options to fine tune. If we want to attack or sit back and counter then 4-3-3 is perfectly suited to both, with Rooney and Tevez/Park tracking back if needed. I think that if we go with this then we have all bases covered. I agree with your lineup and like you, I can’t pick the top three. Obviously it’s Rooney and Ronaldo but whether Tevez or Giggs partnering them is hard to know. I’d guess Giggs is most likely. His experience and cool head could just be the key. And, if needed, he could switch with Park.

5. Who do you think is the Barca player that most concerns Sir Alex Ferguson, and what do you think the Scotsman will do to counter him? The obvious choice would be Messi, but Iniesta, Henry, and Eto’o are all options/threats. Having Ando’s gangster affiliates murder/kidnap them is not a viable solution.

Wayne: Well, the obvious choice would be to get Anderson’s goons after them but perhaps it won’t work this time. I think that the threat to nullify is Iniesta. Messi , Eto’o, and Henry are superb, but before the ball can reach them it has to go through the midfield and more often than not it goes through the little ghost child that is Anders Iniesta. The problem is that without Fletcher we haven’t got a natural man-marker. But if Ando, Carrick, and Park can all work as one and crowd out the Barca midfield and especially Iniesta then we’ll see their creative sources drained.

Taylor: See, this is why I love doing these. I was all set to just say Messi and be done with it, but now you’ve got me thinking. Despite his strike against Chelsea, I don’t fear Iniesta as a goal scoring threat (knocking on wood). Statistically, he’s far more likely to send the ball into the upper deck than he is to find the frame. However, his roles in distribution and transition will probably make him the central cog in the Barca attack. He’s still not the one that concerns me, nor can I even give you the name of the man who does… because it’s all dependant on their starting eleven (specifically who’s playing on the left). As always, John O’Shea makes me nervous, and seeing as how Henry has a history of lighting up the United defense, I may panic every time the ball goes in that direction. However, I think the biggest single thing that can keep United balanced in that aspect is O’Shea’s first tackle. His game is built on confidence, and if he gets burnt early on, it could be a rough one. A solid stick or tactical effort right away would no doubt settle the Irish Bundle of Nerves.

6.The Barca side are trying to guess what United’s lineup and tactics will be and it appears that that’s the thought on most Catalonians’ minds. Do you think Pep will fall into the trap of focusing more on the opposition’s tactics than his own team’s?

Taylor: There’s a fine line between focusing too much on the opponent and not focusing enough. Avram Grant was accused of never paying attention to what the other eleven were doing, and therefore never responding accordingly. I can’t see Pep making the same mistake, and so I think there is a distinct possibility that he will over think. The Barca attack is fluid and fast, but it’s dependent on transition. If Pep tries to counter United’s attacking options by keep his defense stationary and limiting his midfielders’ movements, then Barca are in a world of trouble. That’s one thing I always take solace in. No matter what, I can count on Fergie to adjust his tactics accordingly, without ever actually overdoing it. Can Barca truly say the same of a semi-inexperienced manager like Pep?

Wayne: That’s the tricky position he’s in. I would love to see him either underthink or overthink our tactics. Ordinarily, with the squad he usually has I’d say it’s unlikely but with those key defenders out and with the possibility of Yaya going in the backline he really really has to think about things. And you’re right, if Pep keeps his defense completely defensive it will have a domino effect on the team. They really are like an assembly line and if one part breaks down the rest tends to, if you’ll pardon my French, turn to shit. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Pep does to counter our tactics. I can’t wait.

7. Will Dimitar Berbatov be given a chance tomorrow night? Our predicted lineup/strategy doesn’t really include a player of his style, so how does he get onto the pitch?

Wayne: He won’t start in my opinion. This is going to be a fast-paced game from the off and he could get lost out there. But I think he’ll be aware of this and he’ll know that if Fergie wants to change it at all, if he wants to slow down the tempo at all, that he’ll be the first man called upon. If we’re winning come seventy minutes expect to see Berba come and do his languishing stuff that he does best. In the same vein, if we’re losing with seventy minutes gone I can see him stuck right up front to get stuck in. His calming presence can do wonders and if things are getting a bit out of line he can come in and sort it out. Plus, he’s a tall man, he could try and get his head on the end of a cross or two.

Taylor: You pretty much hit the nail on the head there. The only way Berba would start is if Slave was moved out wide… which isn’t going to happen. So, I would agree he only figures as a substitute. I think he’s certainly shown enough in this Champions League campaign that to let him idle on the bench would be a waste of a valuable option, regardless of the scoreline. And before people jump all over us for saying he deserves it for his effort, an analysis of Berba’s meters covered/minute vs. Tevez’ reveals that the Bulgarian outpaced the Argie by two yards. Not sure if that really means anything, but putting in Berba doesn’t always mean that the pace drops off.

8. A real serious question here. How will you be spending your day in preparation for this most wondrous of occasions?

Taylor: I’ll be going into work at the normal time, and then try not to spend the next four hours frantically checking The Offside and every other site to absorb every possible nugget of information. Then I’ll leave work early and head to the pub with girlfriend/friends in tow. She’s been instructed to make no disparaging remarks about anyone wearing white (except, of course, for Slave). I contemplated taking the whole day off, but I think I would go as crazy as Sir Alex when he contemplated retirement.

Wayne: Not a bad plan mon ami, I must say. For me, since I am without work at the moment I will get up at a healthy time, have some breakfast, and stay glued to Sky Sports News while I have my breakfast (coffee and cigarette). Then, at about five o’clock we’re going to the pub to watch it on the big screen. I’ll be bringing the only United jersey I have, although I might pop into a sports store and buy this season’s on the cheap. I think it’s only about €15 now. So yeah, then the sweet surrender of alcohol.

9. Any particular bevies you’ll be needing tomorrow? And how many cigarettes will you destroy before the final whistle goes?

Wayne: Well, it’s gonna be fairly basic at first; a couple of brewskies (probably Heineken or Coors Light) during the first half. I’ll have a whiskey and Coke during half-time, and then back to the beer in the second half. With regards to cigarettes, I can’t see myself smoking too many what with the smoking ban in Irish pubs. But if there’s a beer garden with a TV I’ll skip out every now and then to have a cheeky one. I’ll probably have about four at half-time to be honest, leaving the total during the ninety minutes at around ten. It’s gonna be lungtastic stuff.

Taylor: The sweet surrender of alcohol sounds like a happy euphemism for Wayne drinking himself into a coma. The fact that you have such a set plan does nothing to dissuade that notion. For me, I can’t really say for certain, but beer will be prevalent. Whiskey as well… the standard for me is Jameson and water if the game is going poorly, and anything bitter (ironic) if the same is going well. No ciggies for me, but I’m hoping a lot of IPA gives my liver a good run for its money.

10. So, the important matters now settled, how will this one turn out?

Taylor: I am all over the place on this one. Can United keep a clean sheet? How potent will our offense be? Can their attack by stifled for a full 90? Can ours? In the end, I see goals going in and this being very entertaining match for even the most neutral of observers. Barca will get one, but United will surely answer. Important note: the ten periods of extra time (five hours) played during the past 25 finals have brought only one goal (sadly scored by Ronald Koeman for Barcelona in 1992). So, it’s either going to be 2-1 United after 90, or a United victory on penalties. Either way, I’ll be celebrating.

Wayne: I’m always crazily confident for United games. I see a good display from our boys and I fully expect them to nullify much of the Barca attack. If I had to really stick my neck out I’ll say a convincing 3-0 win to United. C’mon United!!!!

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