Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Case against Manchester United

In the immediate aftermath of the semifinals, I thought that United should be the clear favorite in Rome. Barca were wounded by playing a much tougher semifinal (you're right, Bill Simmons; this whiny bitch thing is pretty fun) and United are really rounding into shape. However, after thinking a little more, I'm of the opinion that United are overrated. This could be a really dumb thing to say about the two-time EPL champs and the Champions League holders, but bear with me here. I give you the case against the Red Devils:

1. They don't have an identity. The fact that they can play all sorts of styles is great, but what do they do when they play a team that plays one style really well?

2. United's best test was their games in the EPL against the rest of the Big Four. If anything is a good predictor for how United will stack up against Barcelona, it would be the games against Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal. United's results? Two losses against Liverpool, a loss and a draw against Arsenal, and a win and a draw against Chelsea. The sole win came against the collapsing, disinterested Chelsea team that got Big Phil Scolari the boot. (The counter: United's two-legged thrashing of Arsenal in the Champions League, a result that is both very impressive and also creates a recency effect that overrates United a tad.) I've often thought that Barca could be measured by their performances against the elite teams in Spain. If the same is true of United, then they aren't that great. And by way of comparison, here are Barca's results against the elite in Spain (and I'll freely grant that the Primera elite are not on the level of the EPL elite): two wins against Real, a win and a draw against Villarreal, a win and a draw against Valencia, two wins against Sevilla, and a win and a loss against Atletico.

3. Per the Guardian Podcast, United scored fewer goals than another of their other sides that have won the EPL.

4. With the Ronaldo and Tevez drama, are they really pulling in the same direction?

5. If Sir Alex really thinks that the United-Barca semifinal was a missed opportunity (the Graham Hunter theory) and he wants to show the world that his side can go toe-to-toe with the Blaugrana, then he'll be electing a sub-optimal strategy. He does not have a midfield that can create chances like Iniesta and Xavi can. I'll freely admit that I'm relying on one of the all-time great managers to make a strategic error, but Sir Alex isn't beyond a little hubris. f

6. When is the last time that United played really well in a Final? (G-d, I'm really setting myself up here.)

Altogether, this United team is reminiscent of the '97 Juve side. I vividly remember reading a USA Today article while on a bus in Florence about how that Juve team were unbeatable. They were defending European champions and were en route to another Serie A title. Two days later, Borussia Dortmund upset them 3-1 in the Champions League Final in Munich.

Other random thoughts about the Final:

  • United's counters scare the bejeezus out of me. Their final goal against Arsenal -a sweeping counter that ended with Ronaldo roofing the ball - is exactly the sort of goal that they could score in the Final. Barca can get caught forward with their pants down. The key guy to stopping the counters will be Busquets in defensive midfield. He has to break United's rhythm up as soon as Barca lose the ball in attack. And by break United's rhythm, I mean foul the s*** out of them.

  • I am also scared of Ronaldo in the air. If he plays on the right, then he'll be matched up against Sylvinho, who will have to do a better job of tracking him into the box than Michael Essien did in the Final last year. Otherwise, Barca's back line - Puyol, Pique, and Toure - are all good in the air. Pique and Toure aren't the fastest guys in the world, so Rooney will pose problems.

  • Samuel Eto'o's finishing has been dreadful over the past several weeks. Barca could outplay United and still lose if Eto'o keeps whacking the ball right at the opposing keeper.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

ManU 3-1 over Barca!

Actually, I have no idea how this is going to play out because I'm just now getting back into keeping up with the international scene. Last year I decided I would try to make a concerted effort to follow a team overseas and because I liked Ronaldo and Rooney it made sense for me to go with ManU. I wish that I could say that I followed them closely, but with the local sports teams, mainly the Falcons and the Hawks, actually winning, my attntion and fandom really isn't there.

I also am not one for spending money on TV sports packages because I really don't watch TV, so I have been trying to watch as many highlights as I can on the internet. So, in my opinion, both team are strong, and while I would like to think that ManU will pull this one out, I know that it only takes one slip of a defender to seal the deal.

I read you footie coverage avidly, just trying to get a grasp on the international play, but I wish it garnered more coverage here in the states.