Manchester United overcame their setback against Arsenal in the Premier League to ensure their progress to the Champions League final at Wembley. Though this Manchester United team has been under-rated by many experts, Sir Alex Ferguson's team have shown immense competitiveness as they are on course for a double which would be a huge success for the 2010-11 season
The Red Devils will meet Barcelona, who progressed to the final beating arch rivals Real Madrid 3-1 on aggregate. The Catalan club will be the favourites going into the final which would be a good thing for United, who will enjoy less pressure being the underdogs. However, underestimating the capability of United to perform in crunch situations could prove to be fatal for Barcelona who will be cautious of Ferguson's men.
Though Manchester United were outplayed in the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona, Ferguson would have prepared to counter the threat posed by their rivals for the final at Wembley, which will provide the home advantage to the Manchester club.
In recent games, the weaknesses of Barcelona and Manchester United have been on display in theirgames against Real Madrid and Arsenal respectively and both managers will know that they would have to be at their best to win the prestigious trophy.
Ferguson has the desire to place Manchester United among the greatest European clubs which include the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid. In order to do that, here are five things for the manager to consider in order to beat the Blaugrana to emerge as winners of the tournament.
1. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand must use all their experience
Though Sir Alex Ferguson initially ruled out Rio Ferdinand for the season, the English defender has returned to provide the club with a huge boost in the title run-in this season. He was immense in both legs of the Chelsea tie but has been rested in many games in order to ensure that he is fit for the most important games of the season.
Vidic has been Manchester United's player of the season according to many of their supporters and it is quite easy to see the reason. He has been a rock at the centre of the defence and has often personified the spirit of the club through his commitment and work rate.
This Barcelona team possesses a lot of guile and their defence splitting passes from their midfield enables them to put many teams under the sword. Vidic and Ferdinand cannot afford to switch off for the entire 90 minutes of the tie and must show that their partnership can be impenetrable for the Catalans.
2. Rafael, Fabio and Other Manchester United Players to Maintain Their Temperament
Manchester United are likely to make a number of tackles to break up the passing of Barcelona and could be penalized for some of them. However, Barcelona players showed their ugly side of their game against Real Madrid as they constantly clutched their faces and indulged in diving which ultimately influenced the referee to send off Pepe.
Barcelona players have a reputation of haggling with the referee, which could lead to some unpleasant moments in the Champions League final. Manchester United players should use their experience in order to maintain their temperament and keep their emotions in check because it only takes a lapse in concentration for the Spanish club to open up any defence in the world.
In the second leg against Arsenal, the Gunners defended stoutly for the first 35 minutes until there was an altercation involving a tackle by Mascherano on Wilshere which also included some unsavory moments involving Robin van Persie and Eric Abidal. However, just after the disruption in play, Barcelona took advantage of Arsenal's disorganization to score a vital goal before the break.
United must maintain their organization throughout the break and probably look to hit them on the counter. Rafael, in particular, has a reputation of being a hot-headed youngster and needs to control himself. His red card against Bayern Munich was one of the major reasons that the German club was able to eliminate the Red Devils.
This could be one of the factors which could influence Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection as he could prefer the experience of John O'Shea over Rafael and Fabio though the twins are arguably more talented.
3. Darren Fletcher must start the game and cut the supply to Lionel Messi
Though the Manchester United midfielder has missed the last two months due to injury, it is likely that he will start the Champions League encounter against Barcelona. Fletcher's influence can be overlooked by some but he is easily one of the most important players for United, more so against teams that play fluid passing football like Arsenal and Barcelona.
Arsenal's young midfield of Ramsey and Wilshere dominated proceedings in the game against United where Carrick and Anderson struggled to influence the game. However, Fletcher would certainly have not allowed the freedom for the British duo. His work rate and ability to cut out dangerous balls to David Villa and Lionel Messi will be the key to United stopping the Blaugrana from scoring.
Fletcher's tackling and partnership alongside Michael Carrick could be the decisive factor int he game.
Carrick will also have to be at his best in the game as his passing will be integral to United's counter-attacks. Sir Alex Ferguson has made it clear that Fletcher will go straight into the team after his return and in all probability, he will be trusted with the hardest job on the pit
4. Sir Alex Ferguson Must Take Cues from Arsenal's First Leg Game Against Barca
Barcelona are the favourites for the Champions League final against Manchester United but the Red Devils' boss Sir Alex Ferguson will be keen to win the tactical battle against his counterpart Pep Guardiola who enjoyed his first Champions League triumph as manager at the expense of Manchester United.
Though this Barcelona team have excellent talent at their disposal, they have shown vulnerability in some aspects which could be exploited by United. The long-serving manager of United will have to look no further than the defeat of Barcelona to Arsenal to identify certain tactical strategies.
Barcelona's players work as a unit in closing down opposition players in their own half but they struggled to deal with the pace of Theo Walcott in the three games that the England International has played against them in the last two years. United will have to utilize the pace of Valencia or Nani and use their talents to exploit the left back Eric Abidal.
Laurent Koscielny stuck like glue with Lionel Messi not allowing the little genius to make his trademark mazy runs. United will need to figure out a way to stop the Argentina International and it is imperative that none of Vidic, Ferdinand and Fletcher earn a early booking.
Though the partnership of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez has been excellent in the second half of the season, the United boss will have to consider the option to play 4-5-1 with Rooney as the lone striker. It could hamper their attack but will certainly help them curtail Barcelona's dominance in midfield as Rooney is certain to track back to win balls.
Arsenal substitute Andrei Arshavin proved to be decisive in the first leg and Barcelona have dropped their intensity on more than one occasion after 70 minutes. United have some quality substitutes in one of Nani and Valencia and Dimitar Berbatov along with Chicharito if he decides to bench the Mexican.
Not for nothing is Sir Alex Ferguson, the best manager in the world and he is certain to have a few tricks up his sleeve. He will need to get his tactics spot on and his players to be at their best to beat this talented Barca side.
5. Ryan Giggs Experience Could Be the Decisive Factor for United's Attack
Much of the talk about United scoring goals against Barcelona is likely to be centered around Wayne Rooney who has excelled in a withdrawn role this season. Though Rooney is amongst the most important players for the Red Devils, it will be up to the ageless Ryan Giggs to produce a vintage performance which could seal the tie.
United played a strong team against Arsenal but Giggs was not present in the squad. The Welshman showed his class against Chelsea in the Champions League where he made a number of superb runs into the box and created numerous chances for his team mates. In the game against Schalke, his combo with Rooney was superb and it was only a matter of time before the duo ensured the tie was won by them.
His commitment to the team has been exemplary over the years just as it was in the recent game against West Ham where he played as a temporary Left Back. Giggs is likely to come up against Dani Alves who provides great width down the left for Barcelona. Evra will have the unenviable task of cutting out the dual threat of Alves and Pedro.
However, the experienced Giggs will provide him ample support and his performance going forward against Alves could be decisive in the outcome of the Champions League Final.