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How Will Man United Defeat Barcelona?

Manchester United’s clash with Barcelona in the Champions League Final Saturday will be the club’s biggest test in recent history. When they’ve played against others recently, whether it’s the Premier League or Champions League, Manchester United have dominated most of their matches and rarely have played second fiddle. But in the Champions League Final at Saturday, even if they win, they’ll still will have less of the possession and will be less in control of the game than they normally like.

However, I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson will be comfortable seeing Barcelona walk the ball back-and-forth in their own half. But when Barcelona brings the ball forward into Manchester United’s half, that’s when the real battle will begin.

The question is, how can Manchester United defeat Barcelona?

There are three ways Manchester United can go. They can either go out on the attack and push Barcelona’s backs against the wall as Arsenal did in the second half of their match against Barca in the Champions League. Or, they can play uber-defensively as they’ve done on many occasions in the Premier League this season where they’ve had a seemingly impenetrable wall of six to seven players lined up across the back. Or, they could do a combination of those two tactics, hoping to break on the counter or pushing forward with pace when necessary.

As fans of the beautiful game, we would hope that Manchester United will go out on the attack but it’s quite possible that Sir Alex Ferguson will play a very defensive game to frustrate Barcelona and hope to be at nil-nil by half-time. That’s not a style of play that we’ll appreciate too fondly, but Ferguson is there to win games, not to dazzle TV viewers. That’s what Barcelona is there for.

Regarding Sir Alex Ferguson’s formation and tactics, we won’t know for sure what his plan is until we see the first 10 minutes of the match. There have been reports that Michael Carrick will start instead of Darren Fletcher. Carrick hasn’t been at his best for a couple of years, but he’s still a hard-working midfielder who played exceedingly well in Man United’s 2-1 victory against Chelsea a few weeks ago. Carrick worked well with Park Ji-Sung that day, and it’s very likely that Ji-Sung will be in the heart of midfield again as he hounds Xavi Hernandez and tries to prevent the Spaniard from playing his effective game.

The key to winning the match will be midfield in my opinion. Whether Manchester United can prevent Barcelona from playing their game and pressuring their players when they get the ball will be a true test. If they can do that, and then break forward with pace and float balls into the box for Javier Hernandez to latch on to, they have a fighting chance.

But what do you think? How do you think Manchester United can slay Barcelona? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
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23 Responses to How Will Man United Defeat Barcelona?

  1. FC Asheville says:

    “The question is, how can Manchester United defeat Barcelona?”

    They can’t and they won’t.

  2. Hack says:

    Regarding Fletcher: There has to be some hesitation starting a player that hasn’t played in a competitive game in nearly three months.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Darren Fletcher played the last game of the season in United’s 4-2 win against Blackpool. I would say that was a competitive match.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  3. nungaml says:

    I think key players are Rooney and Jisung Park.
    if i am sir Fergi, i let them free role.
    and Giggs, Jisung Park, and Rooney will change position eternally like a quater final in Chelsea.

  4. JC says:

    I think it’ a foregone conclusion that Carrick will start ahead of Fletcher.

    The only choice we don’t know is Fabio or O’Shea.

    Even though it won’t happen, I’d rather see Nani than Giggs (with Park inside), or even Rooney on the wing and Berbatov with Hernandez (with Giggs on the bench), because Giggs is distracted and slow. Two things Barcelona will take advantage of. But I’m sure Ferguson will start Giggs.

    • El Tri 2014 says:

      I’ve thought about that as well but since Nani has come back from the Carragher tackle he has not been his confident self. He strides up the side, beating the defender but then stops outside the box, hesitates, juggles the ball, and then makes a weak pass. Prior to the injury, he was almost sure what he was going to do, either make a lovely cross to the man in the box, or slide the ball a little forward and take high percentage shot with a forceful strike (something which Valencia does not provide). As it is, I would have to leave Nani out. Giggs would play the midfield alongside Carrick and Park playing the left wing. I also predict Fabio will start. I disagree with one thing, Gaffer, I think the Red Devils will be coming out like gangbusters to score first – mostly on counter-attacks to keep the defense solid.
      VDS
      Fabio Rio Vidic Evra
      Valencia Carrick Giggs Park
      Rooney Chicharito

  5. Lyle says:

    Play like Fulham and play a 4-4-2 that stays back deep. Suffocate their passing by choking their passing lanes, and then score a goal or two when they happen to rarely have possession.

  6. Troy says:

    I think United will try to “control” the midfield by flooding it. Especially on the left side. While on the surface, the formation may say a 4-4-2, there’s no doubt Rooney will be playing deep and looking to deliver balls to Chico over the top and Tony V on the right (and Park tends to play more inside than wide). I agree that United will have limited chances on offense, that’s why it will be crucial to take advantage of Barca’s sometimes shaky back line. Tony and Chico have more pace than either of their fullbacks and Puyol has a tendency to get caught out at times. The match for United will rely on converting on a limited amount of chances.

  7. Sarah says:

    Normally I root against ManU, but Barca lost me with all their dives, whining, and gamesmanship against Real… Can’t wait for the game!

  8. MNUfan1991 says:

    Hit them on the wings.
    Wingplay does not seem to be prevalent in La Liga. Tony V has the speed and strength to go past just about every leftback in Europe. Keep sending the cross in and sooner or later our players will divert a few towards goal. Heck, maybe we’ll even nick an own goal.
    Nani has not been his old self lately and he clearly prefers the left side, but with his and Tony V’s pace the fullbacks of Barcelona may be left in the dust. The trickery of Nani can earn us freekicks and corners, in which we can call the heavy Serbian artillery. Evra and Rafael can cameo as wingers when needed.

    My team selection:
    VDS
    Rafael Rio Vidic Evra
    Valencia Carrick Rooney Park Nani
    Chich

  9. Jason says:

    According to some reports in the English press, United are training for a 4-4-2 formation to begin the game and if they go behind will go to a 3-4-3 with Evans, Ferdinand and Vidic at the back with Rafael and Evra moving into a midfield position. Evans won’t start but if United go behind then Fergie will bring in Evans.

    United will need Park’s energy to get in the faces of Barcelona’s midfield. That’s why I think Carrick will start as well because of his energy and running. Giggs will probably start because of his passing. My only fear is that if Scholes starts then I can see him getting frustrated having to run after Barcelona’s midfield and he is not the best of tacklers and I can see him getting a red card. If that happens then United are in trouble. Otherwise, I think Fergie has plan A, B and maybe C for the game and he has learned a lot from their last meeting.

    United cannot afford to fall behind. I’m going for a 3-1 United victory. Rooney and Hernanadez will prove too much for Barcelona’s defence especially if Mascherano is a central defender. Barcelona are also very vulnerable on the left backline with Abidal only now returning from illness and he isn’t match-fit. Valencia will have a field day and will set up Rooney and Hernandez for a goal each with Giggs getting the third.

  10. Francis 'Mourhino' Sarploh says:

    To beat Barcelona, Man u must deploy the following tactics:
    First half: Frustrate Barcelona by preventing their ‘possession attack’ game which they enjoy doing. To do this, put pressure on the ball and close down spaces in midfield. This will deny them PENETRATION and force them to play either wide or back. After gaining possession, Man U should do QUICK COUNTERATTACK by bringing Giggs or Park into the game on the wings. Fight hard to get a goal or two.
    Line-up(first half): Fabio Rio Vidic Evra
    Fletcher Carrick
    Giggs Rooney Park
    Chicarito

    Second half: Defend DEEP by playing nine men behind the ball and attack ‘on-the-break’.
    Line-up(second half): Fabio Rio Vidic Evra

    Valencia Carrick O’Shea Park
    Rooney

    Chicarito

  11. Why? says:

    Anybody can win this game the morons saying Barca will win may well get a shock. It’s a one game match. I am not a Utd fan by a long way but I have a feeling they may do it, the odds are so against I go for Utd. Good luck! (I’m a City Fan belive it or not)

    • Troy says:

      Pretty rational assessment if you ask me. You’ve definitely earned a + in my book. Something about this match just makes it feel like its ripe for an upset. Considering SAF’s battle with the FA all year, the slagging off about how this United team isn’t a “great” team (by the media), the final being at Wembley, and the fact that the media seems ready to appoint Barca as the greatest team of all time if they win. I don’t know man, something tells me tomorrow will be a special day.
      This match almost reminds me of the Super Bowl between the Rams and Patriots (although the Pats were much bigger underdogs than United) in the 2001 season. The Rams were called “the greatest team on turf”, they had the most prolific offense in the history of the league and the Patriots made it to the game with their backup quarterback (at the time). Also, how coincidental was it that a team whose colors are red, white and blue wins the Super Bowl 4 months after 9/11. You can’t make that stuff up.

  12. David says:

    How? That’s rather presumptuous.

    Can United beat Barcelona is the real question. The answer to that is yes. It won’t be easy but with close to 70-75% of the crowd being pro-United it will feel like a home game. United haven’t lost at home all season long and will take advantage of the situation. United should emulate what Liverpool did to Barcelona when they met at Anfield in 2007. Pressure them high on the pitch and frustrate them by not allowing them time on the ball.

    • Devils Advocate says:

      Excuse the pedant in me but the article title is using the word “how” in a question context, not “how” in an assertive one.

  13. Gary says:

    How? By getting help from the officials. That’s the only way Man U will beat Barcelona.

  14. Carolyn says:

    Manchester United have won all 3 games that the Hungarian referee has officiated in. Bad omen for Barcelona.

  15. mosdef says:

    The bigger question is will Man U work harder than Barca…It’s difficult for a team to just switch it on but one thing that most fans overlook about Barcelona, is how hard they work , not only in getting the ball back but also in maintaining their shape. If Man u do work harder than Barca then they will stand a chance, the only problem that I see, is that the level of intensity that Barca have showed this year, has been at a very high level both in terms of their pressing and the intensity of their attacks. Most teams that have faced them this year , were literally bewildered and suprised by their workrate, and I think thats what has made them thrive,simply most teams are not tested week in week out at the level that Barca press the ball and hold on to the ball, and I think thats their element of surprise. The one player that Utd should not let flourish is Pedro,if and when he thrives during a match, Barca tend to more than dominate. He is easier to shackle than the others, but his movement and workrate, is what sets the tone for Barca’s frontline.

  16. David says:

    I cannot believe the arrogance of the poster. “How will” ? Many knowledgeable Man U supporters don’t believe that their team WILL beat Barcelona but that they CAN beat Barcelona. Two very different things.

    It is such arrogance that makes Manchester United so reviled by most people around the world. As a neutral I’ll be hoping Barcelona win. While they are a club with faults at least they aren’t anywhere nearly as bad as Manchester United.

    • MNUfan1991 says:

      Relax, David. The Gaff has said many times he’s not a United supporter. Your indignation may be misplaced.

  17. ryan says:

    it’s not how, it is when manchester united beat barcalona.

  18. mutinta mwaanga says:

    They can’t, not now!!

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