May 9, 2011
Posted: 1258 GMT
This weekend, Manchester United and Barcelona moved within a point of clinching the English Premier League and Spanish Primera Division titles, respectively.
These two teams are clearly the best on the planet right now and should guarantee a fantastic Champions League final later this month. As far as who will come out on top, there is no doubt in my mind that it will be the Spanish giants lifting the trophy at Wembley.
If United line-up with the team that recently beat Chelsea in the Champions League and the Premier League, they don't have a chance. There are a few reasons why I believe this, and the most important one is the quality of their midfield.
There is no way their quartet of Antonio Valencia, Park Ji-Sung, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs can compete with Barcelona. They may have been good enough to get past Chelsea, who can arguably boast the best midfield in England, but they will not be able to cope with the speed and precision of Barca's passing in the title match.
Let's break it down. I will admit the central midfield partnership of Carrick and Giggs has been good so far and that has surprised me. I honestly thought this pairing was a gamble by Alex Ferguson and that it would not pay off, especially against Chelsea. But I have been proved wrong. Obviously it helped that neither Frank Lampard or Michael Essien have been close to their top form, but still, I commend both United players for setting the tone in the key games against the Blues.
However, as good as they have been until now, they are still nowhere close to having the skill, the physical presence, or the pace to threaten Barcelona.
There is no doubt Ryan Giggs is a legend. Recently he became the oldest ever player to score in the Champions League and his career has been nothing short of spectacular. Furthermore, his influence in the games against Chelsea and Schalke in the knock-out stages of the Champions League was amazing. Barcelona will be a step too far for the 37 year-old, though. He will struggle to make an impact at Wembley. He simply does not have the endurance to play in that position effectively in the final.
Giggs' role would be made easier if he had a tougher player behind him – a rough and ready defensive midfielder with a passion for making big tackles. Carrick is not that player. The England international has impressed me lately with his composure, but he is still an average player. He is like an engine that only has one gear and I see him getting gobbled up by Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta in the centre of the park.
Last but not least, let's take a look at the wings. Park and Valencia are two hardworking players and have proven time and again that they are extremely reliable, but as far as I'm concerned they are not good enough to trouble Barcelona's defence. They don't possess either the skill or the explosion of pace that you need to get past Dani Alves or Eric Abidal. United need more than just consistency from their wingers to threaten their opponents, and they are not going to get it from either Park or Valencia.
So is there a hope for Ferguson's side in the final? Yes, of course there is. Their central defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic is probably the best on the planet and with an inspired Wayne Rooney, anything is possible. However, the Premier League giants will have to change their tactics if they want to have a chance of beating Barcelona at Wembley.
So what would I do?
I would definitely go for a 4-3-3 formation. In midfield, I would pick Anderson to play behind the central midfield partnership of Carrick and Giggs. The Brazilian would add some resilience, physical presence and fresh legs to chase Barcelona's passers around. He would also give Giggs a bit more freedom to use his energy attacking rather than defending.
Up front, I would go with Nani on the right, Javier Hernandez on the left and Rooney in the middle. Chicharito and Rooney could switch positions frequently during the game and with this line-up you would have three players who could all make a difference in one-on-one situations and a trio who all have pace to run at Barca's back line.
So that's my call. What will the greatest manager of all time do? We’ll find out soon enough.