While it hardly pained me to write from the point of view of Barcelona a few days ago, I certainly found it unnatural. It’s my pleasure now, to rattle off a few reasons why United will prevail on Saturday and why Barca should be quaking in their total-football boots.
In an interview with the Guardian Tony V was asked if United could pip Barca to the trophy. “Of course we can win. We are Manchester United” was his reply. While words and sentiment alone won’t bring home the bacon, his response is laced with meaning. Let’s take a look at the United team, from back to front, and take comfort in the fact ours is a team not easily beaten, nor easily stopped. I’m thinking 4-3-3…this may be wrong, and perhaps Fergie will want to stifle Barca’s midfield, but both Valencia and Park can certainly be counted on to track back.
Goalkeeper. Van Der Sar. One of the finest goalies around (and possible the best retiring goalkeeper ever?), and the cornerstone of United’s recent success. Our usual strong defending means he’s not called upon as much as, say, a Robert Green, but his authority and intelligence is partly the reason why our defence works so well. His reflexes, positioning, and reach are all outstanding, making him one link in a chain we don’t have to worry about.
Defence. Vidic + Rio = Stout. Evra is Probably the best Left Back in the World™, and either Raphael or Fabio make it an almost perfect pack four. Which is absolutely essential, given we’ll be up against the silver bullet in Lionel Messi. Not to mention the rest of Barca’s attacking arsenal…in fact, let’s move on shall we?
Midfield. I’m assuming it looks something like this: Giggs, Carrick & Fletcher. Carrick has his opponents, and then he has his parents. They believe in him, and so do I. I’ve always been a fan, and his form has certainly picked up. Giggs, assuming he’s had that annoying blindfold taken off, has been very consistent and very good this season. Darren Fletcher will be a machine, because he is a machine and because he missed out on the opportunity to be a machine two years ago. Not as creative a midfield as Barcelona’s, but MORE than capable of providing service to our front three while providing that extra protection (and whitening) for our (sensitive) back teeth (four).
Attack. Rooney must play well. He has the capability of lifting the team from good to great. And, all hyperbole and cliche aside (actually, I’m just going to embrace it), he will be the threat Barcelona are most worried about facing. Valencia has been one of my players of the season, despite being out for most of it. Without his early return from injury, I’d be willing to bet we may not have clinched our 19th title. Just a thought. Park has been a big game player, and I have no doubt that the team will benefit from an out of the Park performance due to his absence two years ago.
Where I am most likely wrong: Carrick and Fletcher. Could be Scholes and/or Anderson in for one or both of them, and there’s a genuine question mark over Fletcher’s sharpness. Poossssssibly Nani for Valencia, but Nani doesn’t provide enough defensive cover. I reckon, barring unforeseen circumstances, the other places are sewn-up.
So how do we win? In two ways. The first is so entirely obvious you’ll regret even bothering to read this post. We need to play very well indeed. All of our players will need to play the game of their lives. I can’t even begin to imagine the concentration necessary to keep Barcelona at bay. Rio and Vidic’s brains will be challenged in the extreme, however well the rest of the team play. Evra has to face Pedro, who is Barca’s ace in the hole (although arguably, Barca’s deck has more than its regulation ration of aces), while scampering forward at every available opportunity. No easy task. Wazza needs to find a way to play his own game, to unfetter himself from the pressure of the occasion, and play at his magical best. In some ways, I think this is the perfect stage for him: his season has been so up and down that the spotlight is considering taking a holiday. If we play like we did in the league against Chelsea at OT, we’ll hold Barca. We will have to play better.
Secondly, and more intangible than the first (which is saying something), we have to Believe. And not in the way that Mars Believed before the 2006 World Cup. No, we need to Believe in what Tony V was obliquely referencing. The legendary United spirit, that we are never beaten, and never bettered. Every game is ours to lose. Barcelona are perhaps the only side (of late) that have found a piece of what United have had for decades: the hunger to be better, to win more, to always be the best. To never give in. My gut feeling is that if both teams play to their best, we will largely cancel each other out. Our team must find something else, something beyond top gear. Which, of course, we can.
We are Manchester United.