Familiar faces are back into the mix as Manchester United travel to Gothenburg to face European giants FC Barcelona. It was a relieving sight to see United’s captain Nemanja Vidic situate himself at the heart of defence, and in most likelihood, Patrice Evra too will start.
The 21-man squad for the European tour for Manchester United consists of: David de Gea, Anders Lindegaard, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Michael Keane, Nemanja Vidic, Anderson, Michael Carrick, Nani, Nick Powell, Jesse Lingard, Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa, Federico Macheda, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck.
Both teams—United and Barcelona—will have quite a formidable lineup going into the game, as the game signifies more than just a preseason friendly. These are two perennial heavyweights of football, and any game between these two is more than a mere match.
Obviously, a few questions loom in the back of the Red Devils’ fans.
Can Manchester United press Barcelona heavily for them to relinquish the ball? Can they keep possession and dictate play rather than letting the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta run the entire show? Will Sir Alex Ferguson yet again use the 4-4-2 formation that Barcelona ran circles around in the Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011?
In last year’s preseason friendly, Manchester United did manage to win thanks to a Michael Owen goal, but Lionel Messi did not feature then; he will certainly feature in this one.
There are some key-matchups that might decide in which direction the game might swing by. Here are some of them:
Lionel Messi vs. Manchester United’s defence
Unless you are Pepe, keeping Lionel Messi under control can prove obnoxiously difficult.
It will be a testing game for United’s defence, but there are reasons to be optimistic for United fans; Nemanja Vidic is back, and surely this is the most reassuring presence at the heart of defence. His combination of Rio Ferdinand is the most ideal for United, and with Patrice Evra back into the mix of things, United’s defence is looking not too shabby.
Yet, Lionel Messi is not the only threat. Andres Iniesta, named best player of the Euro 2012 tournament, is also fully capable of wreaking havoc on United. With Xavi sitting a bit deeper and spreading passes around, Iniesta is given a bit more room to roam around and unlock United’s defences.
Kagawa and Rooney vs. Barcelona’s defence
Will Shinji Kagawa start? I certainly do hope so. Against Valeranga, Wayne Rooney did not look particularly sharp, while Kagawa has been a shining star in United’s preseason tour thus far.
Against Ajax Cape Town, Kagawa operated alongside Javier Hernandez, either sitting right behind him or moving more towards the center. His linkup play was particularly impressive, and he looked his best whilst sitting just behind the lone striker and orchestrating the attack.
Likewise, against Shangai Shenhua, his playmaking skills shone out; his through-ball to Federico Macheda was particularly sublime.
Kagawa’s lone goal was the decider against the Chinese club, as United won by 1-0, and he racked up yet another man-of-the-match performance.
We do know of Rooney’s exploits though, and with him and Kagawa both capable of orchestrating the attacks, Barcelona’s defence needs to be more assured and they might be unable to press forward as much.
Battle in Midfield
Although, I have vouched for a change in 4-2-3-1, Sir Alex seems intent on sticking to the 4-4-2. I hope Kagawa starts so that United can employ at least a 4-4-1-1 which can form a pseudo 4-2-3-1 with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes at the center, and Antonio Valencia (if he doesn’t operate at right back) and Nani on the wings, and Kagawa as the attacking-central-midfielder.
It is also likely that Anderson might start and interchange with Scholes at the hour mark. It will be a good opportunity for him to shine if he is given the start.
Barcelona will also crowd the midfield, so United should try to move the ball out into the wings as quickly as possible.
Nani and Antonio Valenica vs. Carles Planas and Dani Alves
If United do manage to get the ball quickly into wide areas and use Kagawa effectively, I think United will give Barcelona’s defence nightmares. I would say operate Phil Jones as a right-back and allow Valencia to occupy his traditional role.
Nani was extremely frustrating against Valeranga, and he needs to learn how to pass and integrate the team more often.
Hopefully, Dani Alves will be unable to operate as a wing-back. And since Carles Planas has been thrust into the first team in the absence of Eric Abidal and Jordi Alba, his immaturity might show.
To read more about Shinji Kagawa, please read:
And to read which areas that United need to bolster and why Lucas Moura would simply be a superfluous signing read:
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