Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Five keys for the game tomorrow:
1. Andres Iniesta's Gait - If he doesn't play or plays at less than full speed, then this Barca team is vulnerable. The slump in February occurred when Iniesta was injured. If he gets to play alongside Xavi in the midfield, then Barca can dominate possession and pin United back, thus reducing the pressure on the suspect back line.
2. Alex Ferguson's Hubris - I've said it before, but I'll repeat myself: Barca's best chance as the underdogs in this match is for the greatest manager of our generation (with the possible exception of Capello) to imitate Icarus and try to fly too close to the sun. If he plays his normal, cagey style and relies on counters, then United should be successful. If he tries to make amends for being defensive in 2008 by taking an expansive approach, then Barca could get going like they did in the home first halves against Lyon and Bayern, two of the most dominating displays you'll ever see. Ferguson's most interesting tactical dilemma is that he would normally use Ji Sung Park against a team like Barca to provide defensive oomph from the front line. However, if he sticks Park on the right side of attack, then he's deploying his weakest attacker against Barca's weakest link: the 34-year old second choice left back. Then again, if he doesn't play Park on the right and Henry and Iniesta are healthy, then John O'Shea could have a really tough time defending against Barca's left.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo's Shooting - Barca's defenders are not the most confident bunch, so they'll be wary of letting Ronaldo go past them. That might give Ronaldo the space to put home a rocket, a la Porto and Arsenal. Ronaldo has shaken the choker label, but he can pile further dirt on that myth with a 30-meter screamer tomorrow.
4. Pep's Countermeasures - The Blaugrana struggle against EPL sides that defend in depth because Barca's short passing game gets choked off and they lack the shooting from distance or crossing threats to overcome a massed defense. Dani Alves was the most useful addition to this year's team because of his ability to cross (ask Chelsea), but he'll be watching from the stands. Carles Puyol is a surprisingly adept offensive threat at right back, but he's no Alves. If Barca have a hard time breaking through United's ranks, what do they do as a Plan B?
5. Eto'o's Form - Samuel has been going through a real crisis over the past several weeks. Guardiola kept playing him in the last two meaningless matches after La Liga was sewn up, but Eto'o keeps misfiring. An ineffective striker can make all of Barca's nice creation and passing useless. On the other hand, Eto'o can rise to the occasion (ask Arsenal), so a performance against the run of play could be the difference tomorrow.