Manchester United vs. Barcelona: Breaking down the dream final
When three-quarters of your starting back four are sidelined, you know things aren't looking good. But that's the reality facing
On the other side of the ball,
With Touré switched to the back four and
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that
Man. United enjoyed a long stretch of clean sheets and credit must go to
Barça is already stretched at the back and options are few and far between.
So many options for United. Berbatov and Tévez would start on most teams,
Taking charge of a club like Barcelona in your first season as a manager would have scared the pants off most men. Not Guardiola. He found a way to put together a well-balanced attacking side, helping guys like Eto'o and Henry not just coexist but thrive. Yet experience matters, and having been here as a player just isn't the same thing.
Sir Alex is a living legend who has rewritten the record books and enters his third Champions League final. His greatest asset may be his pragmatism: He has rebuilt and torn down United at least three times in his 23 years in charge, each time emerging stronger than before. And he can beat you in so many different ways.
Nobody has successfully defended the European Cup since AC Milan in the late 1980s, which doesn't bode too well for United. Logic (and Barcelona's absentees) should make Ferguson's crew favorites, and yet it looks too close to call. The fact that Messi is due a big game on the biggest stage of all just tips this one toward Barça.
1. Get the strikers (particularly Henry and Messi, as Eto'o always runs his butt off anyway) to work hard and press United in its own half when you don't have possession.
2. You have an edge in tight spaces; use it. This means push the back four up and congest the middle. Xavi, Messi and Iniesta can thread the needle with the best of them.
3. Don't get sucked forward. United is devastating on the break and, if it sits back, you'll be tempted to bomb on. If you do, keep your shape at the back or you'll pay a hefty price.
1. You have an enormous edge on set-pieces. Ronaldo, Vidic, Ferdinand, O'Shea, Rooney -- there is no way Barça can pick up everybody on corners and free kicks. Make sure you exploit this.
2. Don't raise the barricades. In last year's semifinal against this same team, you went ultra-defensive. You may be tempted to do so because it worked for Chelsea in this year's semis (at least to some degree). But this would be a mistake. You're not built to play that way and, besides, if you go a goal down, it will be that much harder to react.
3. Get physical. Not dirty, just physical. Henry will be hobbling anyway. Xavi and Iniesta don't measure up physically with your midfielders. Messi can be rattled, too. Just make sure you keep your discipline.