See, this is what happens what you don’t use the unstoppable attacking colossus that is Le FletcherÃ©.
On a more serious note…where the hell do we begin? I guess it’s easiest point by point.
- The biggest question has to be: WHY MR BEETROOT? Back in 2009 Manyoo had Giggs and Carrick in CM and it manifestly didn’t work. So why did Ferguson persist with it yet again? That old adage about repeating things and expecting different results apply. I don’t think the old man is insane (possibly senile, but that might be my schadenfreude side talking). Yet how else would you describle trying to match Barca’s midfield triangle with only 2 men, neither of which are particularly equipped with in-your-face defending skills or are particularly mobile. Which leads us to…
- …Giggs. Fergie, whether out of foolish sentiment or appreciation for his Indian summer antics, decided to field him yet again in the middle. Now, clearly SAF isn’t completely barmy, as he didn’t use Scholes in the starting lineup. So he does has some appreciation that his favorite sons have faded to some degree. Still, as good a season as Giggs had, none of it really hinged on him having the kind of fresh legs that is essential in this particular match. If Giggs was actually capable of seizing initiative when matched against a superior technical side, Manyoo would not have won only 5 away league matches this season. A constant remark by watchers this season is the staggering ease even relegation sides willing to take the battle to Manyoo have waltzed through their midfield like it wasn’t there. Giggs simply no longer has the stamina to chase the ball when Manyoo don’t have at least on-par possession figures, which is simply not going to happen to ANY team playing Barcelona, home, away or Wembley. He’s an attacking player that’s a luxury Manyoo could ill afford yesterday.
- Since Giggs is out, logically that leaves Carrick. Now, as much flak as he’s gotten for the first half of the season, he was still their best midfielder yesterday. The situation was made completely hopeless for him though when you see Xavi,Messi and Iniesta just triangulating around him with complete impunity. His job was simply impossible unless he had at least one dedicated DM working in tandem who is willing and able to chase the ball.
- Thus, I fail to see what is the damn point of having both Anderson and Fletcher on the bench if they’re not being used. Unless the whole gameplan was to use them to close out the game for the last 10-15min by taking off Hernandez once Manyoo were ahead (a wishful thinking scenario if ever there was one), that’s essentially two productive slots wasted for no good reason. Both were clearly not completely match-fit, but could easily have been used for at least 45min since they were on the bench, so a partnership with Carrick has to be considered if Manyoo wanted to win yesterday. Mourinho has had the best success against Barca for the last 4-5 years, and his Inter side used THREE CMs just to screen the space in front of his defence, so he clearly understands the magnitude of the task.
- Park and Valencia, in a purely defensive sense when they were off the ball, were very disappointing. They clearly were under instructions to tuck in to bolster Carrick and Giggs, but it wasn’t a blanket order. Park was still trying to shadow Alves but it was completely impossible to do both at the same time effectively. Many Manyoo fans are aware that Park is more a player that applies liberal zonal pressure than an effective man-marker, since he doesn’t track runs very well. The only way his skills can be properly used against Barca is either as part of a wide three in a 4-2-3-1 or as a CM that patrols the space Busquets operates in. Since Alves more or less was left unchecked, Rooney’s inability to deal with Busquets meant that Barca were able to push Manyoo back after that 10 min of pressure exerted by Manyoo and had all the passing options they needed.
- Valencia was on the suggested starting lineup offered by footballing fans, because at the very least many thought Manyoo couldn’t accomodate both him and Nani and since Valencia was more defensively sound…. Hindsight being 20/20, Valencia had an effing terrible game and could possibly be the worst MF of the night if Giggs wasn’t so anonymous. The point of playing him and not one of the twins is his crossing ability, but what few crosses he did were abyssmal. He also clearly was too much on the edge and could easily have been sent off for his repeated fouls on Messi. Like Hernandez, he simply was too dependent on normal service to his feet in an abnormal game. In retrospect starting Nani would have been better, because at least a natural dribbler has more hope of creating space for himself and his team than Valencia could when he got the ball.
- Much hay was made on what Fergie would do with his strikers. We have the answer yesterday and it wasn’t pretty. By choosing Hernandez up front he deprived his MF of an extra man, basically making it impossible to fight for the ball and hence, most crucially, depriving the Peameister of his usual service. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the Darren Bent kind of role even considering his pace, and it wasn’t helped by Barca’s very clinical use of the offside trap. There may even be additional fallout, because Fergie chose to put Owen, Anderson and Fletcher on the bench and leave Berbatov completely out, which makes the summer transfer window very stormy potentially. In the interest of squad politics Berbatov (as their leading scorer, if only in goals, not impact) should have been given a token appearance, especially since all of the other three mentioned were criminally underused. Owen should never have been there and Hernandez should have taken up his impact sub role.
- Some fans have taken solace that Rooney was supposedly their best player of the night because he beat Busquets in 50/50s when Manyoo went on the offence the few occasions that they could. I couldn’t disagree more, he was possibly their most culpable player since his MAIN role (and the crucial one) was to stop Barca at its source by denying Busquets in the intermeditary zone in front of the defence. It’s debatable whether he even seriously attempted to, especially in the 2nd half. The bollocking Fergie gave him could have been due to this. In any case, his temperament is very suspect in the match, because he was very ill-discplined positionally and went looking for the ball in offence while neglecting basic duties. Even when Busquets had trouble finding an outlet now and then, the failure of Carrick and Giggs meant that Xavi could always drop deeper and pick up the slack, making the whole plan an exercise in futility.
- Vidic was evidently their best player of the night, even excusing his immobility at points for the goals. It’s pretty understandable when it happens, because he’s not the first of the “statuaries” Messi has created in his remarkable career. The man is so complete in his number nine role that he never gives a clear impression when he will pass or take on defenders for the space to shoot. (An amusing parallel with Torres being Vidic’s nemesis for that one season of form can be found.) Without Vidic’s defending (Rio was average at best), they could easily have conceded twice as many.
- Little needs to be said about Barcelona besides the usual superlatives. To be fair they’ve not really played at their peak for at least three months now and even given their rest due to winning the league early (as seen in a revitalized David Villa), what bested Manyoo was simply a side playing at 70% but using basically the same routine. It was more than enough to give a stunning footballing lesson to the supposed best side in England, which tells us just how poor Manyoo were in a tactical and technical sense.
- People have made note of the curious fact that Barca have suddenly adopted a willingness to take mid-range shots. Even more telling, they were pretty accurate shots too. If the team is flexible enough to now do so outside the box given the massed defence tactics more and more sides are using against them, it could be very ominious news for the opposition in the future.
TO THE VICTORS GOES THE SPOILS
AS THE CURTAINS DRAW TO A CLOSE