For all the talk of United’s ability to upset the odds against Barcelona in the Champions League final, Sir Alex Ferguson and his side’s inability to raise a charge against the irrepressible Spanish champions raised more than a few questions.
As United took to the Wembley turf the Red Devils began brightly but faded away badly in the face of the ever impressive passing skill from the Catalan club, their opponents looked unbeatable, but were they? Could Man Utd do anything different to have changed the outcome? Here is where United went wrong.
Midfield partnership couldn’t cut it
The midfield pairing of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick were always going to struggle against the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, but even Ferguson surely wouldn’t have been able to envisage just how badly they performed. Carrick looked a step off the pace in the face of the Barca onslaught while Giggs did his best in an unfimilar role- too often did the pair provide no protection for their defensive unit, putting unbearable pressure on Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in particular. For all his energy, Park Ji-Sung could do little to stop the waves of attacks when switched with Giggs into the fire at the centre of the park – a five man midfield would have been a better option.
Nani should have started
Ferguson has always opted for the more defensively reliable Park Ji-Sung in the bigger games but perhaps his insistence on keeping things tight compromised United’s ability to attack. When Nani emerged as a substitute in the second half he was able to carry the ball directly at Barcelona and take the defensive pressure off his team-mates. The Portuguese winger may have been unable to do a similar defensive job to his South Korean team-mate, but as the old saying goes; attack is the best form of defence and he could have been a useful outlet for his side down the channels in in particular.
Hernandez was over-whelmed
Javier Hernandez has enjoyed an excellent season so far, but perhaps it was a case of one big game to far for the talented youngster as he often found himself on the periphery of the game. He showed his inexperience as he found himself being caught off-side too regularly – something which would have frustrated Ferguson as he looked to take advantage of any prolonged spell they had with the ball. As he drifted off-side the whistle blew, Barca regained possession and it was back on the carousel for United.
They failed to use possession wisely
This is perhaps the most difficult task for any side facing Barcelona. The pressure Pep Guardiola’s side put on their opposition when they are without the ball is incredible – and so United could not afford to give away the ball when they did have it. There was too many loose passes which invited pressure back on the English side, and while almost every other side in Europe have failed to come up with a solution to gaining the upper hand in terms of possession, the key to the game was in who could use the ball best, and United failed to fully utilise it when they had the ball at their feet.