Date: 5th May 2011 at 3:09am
Written by:
Lionel Messi

"Phone! It's the phone for ya!"

So United face the all powerful behemoth that is FC Barcelona at Wembley on May 28th for the Champions League final.

Although the match is on English soil that’s probably about as much an advantage as it would be playing the Harlem Globetrotters in Los Angeles rather than New York.

The fact is Barcelona on their day look practically unbeatable, although that still hasn’t stopped every United fan with access to the internet or a phone from applying for a ticket. While we may be resigned to the fact that it’s going to take an almighty effort to prevent a repeat of what happened in Rome two years ago, there is the underlying feeling that not all hope is totally lost.

After all did Real Madrid not beat Barcelona in the final of the Copa Del Ray? Did Arsenal not manage a victory over them at the Emirates? Did David Villa not recently endure an eleven game goal less run? Is it not possible that even the great sides can have one bad day at the office?

Okay so I’m clutching at straws somewhat but while the smart money may be on Barcelona leapfrogging United in European Cups in 23 days time, as always with United there has to be a little bit of optimism.

While the likes of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Pedro, Pique and Dani Alves may all be among the best on the planet in their position, most people agree that stopping living legend and a true contender for the world’s greatest ever player Lionel Messi is the key to victory.

Some of the ideas being mooted are:

Move Rafael or Fabio into the middle and have them man mark Messi for the entire game.

Pin our hopes on Darren Fletcher being fit enough and having the game of his life.

Ask Rooney to drop even deeper and stay with Messi.

Play Rio in front of the back four and promote Chris Smalling to the heart of defence.

Ask Anderson to mark Messi.

Hire the caterers from the infamous Spurs West Ham game in 2006 and ask them to look after Barcelona.


While all ideas have their good points there’s one major flaw in every single one of them – human error. United’s midfield has been arguably the most inconsistent department all season and there’s always a worry that whether it’s Fletcher, Carrick or Anderson tasked with trying to track Messi, it could end in disaster.

Playing Ferdinand anywhere other than centre back would be weakening our defence to a point where the likes of Pedro and Villa could well expose United and cause real problems.

Can we really trust either of the Brazillians not to get themselves sent off if charged with the task of marking Messi?

It’s difficult to ask a central defender to look after Messi as the diminutive Argentinean has the ability to drop so deep you ideally need a defensive midfielder to pick him up. Messi plays intricate one-twos with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta that mean midfielders can get caught ball chasing and lose track of him.

There may be credence to the idea of playing the midfield and defence a lot tighter to each other at Jose Mourinho did with Internazionale, granting Barcelona more possession but making it harder for them to create openings.

Personally I’d go for a five man midfield with Rooney dropping deeper and Fletcher sitting just in front of the back four, with Park the other man in the middle.

Of course this would mean dropping Michael Carrick who’s arguably been our best player in the latter stages of the Champions League, but I’d pick the energy of those three over the cool passing ability of the former Spurs’ midfielder.

Although Park is more suited to going forward than he is any defensive duties, he does have a tenacious quality that would be useful not just against Messi but also the likes of Iniesta and Xavi.

Some would argue that Anderson could do a job especially after his goal spree last night, but for me the Brazilian still represents a massive gamble in a game of this magnitude.

Desperate times require desperate solutions and while my idea is obviously far from perfect I just feel it may be energy and the ability to get stuck in -without needless fouls- that could give United the best chance of coping with the world’s greatest player. I’m not saying Park should be left to mark Messi alone, but with Fletcher in front of the defence and Rooney doing his bit in the middle, plus Vidic and Rio tracking any runs, if the spaces are tight enough, it could be an answer.

Am I chatting the sort of nonsense that would make Alan Green blush or is there a modicum of insight in my insanity? Feel free to comment or abuse below.



16 responses to “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Lionel Messi?”

  1. Danny says:

    Rafa Ferdinand Vidic Evra

    Carrick Fletch

    Valencia Rooney Giggs


  2. Ezra says:

    One thing we should know is that Messi uses his left leg more, and he always moves to the left side. So I suggest a player with a strong right leg to mark him, so that he can always intercept the ball easily.
    The da Silva suggestion is better. Infact Fabio, he also attacks more. Then in the 2nd half we can bring in Fletcher as the marker.
    But my arguement is Man utd should not a mistake of going there with defensive game. Nothing to defend, just put the ball forward. ATTACK. If you can remember 09 finals. In the first 10 mins we played offensive, and were a great threat.

  3. Anas says:

    Line up should be like this..
    GK VDS
    Defender Rafael, Rio, Vidic, Evra
    Midfield Fabio/Anderson, Giggs, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney
    Striker Chicharito
    Ando or Fabio is effective for Man marking Messi.. Rooney should be in left wing then it would effective against Dani Alves.. Valencia or Nani.. Carrick or should be Fletcher if need to mark Xavi or Iniesta.. If playing Rooney has lone striker, then play Park as left winger..

  4. lamar says:

    i’d go with the brazilians. they r young, tenacious and r the only ones that can stop him. the BAD THING is that we’d lose their atacking edge.

  5. BW says:

    I think we need to concentrate on disrupting Xavi (and Iniesta) more than anything else. Isolating Messi is the best way of stopping him have a major influence, either by keeping possession or forcing the Barca midfield back. If you can somehow put Xavi off his game you might, just might, be able to expose the Barca back four. We have to put them under pressure, not just sit back and wait for the inevitable outcome.

    Perhaps Giggs/Rooney will be given the job of man marking Xavi…the benefit being that Xavi will be just as worried about these two getting behind him. If you do the man marking with Fletch that isn’t the case.

    Playing one of the Brazilian twins for this job isn’t the worst idea, though as soon as they pick up a booking or injury I’d wheel them off! The beauty with this plan is that you’ve got a ready made replacement waiting in the wings!

    Our only hope of keeping possession for long enough spells is to play Carrick. He’s good enough to keep the ball in tight spaces provided there is good movement from other players, they take responsibility and don’t go hiding. Admittedly Carrick is not the pressing type, but we still need him because Barca will try and hold a high line like they did against Arsenal. Without Carrick I can’t see how we will get out of our own half aside from hopeful punts up the pitch! That won’t work.

    There’s even a case for playing Scholes alongside Carrick because if Barca get 70% possession like they normally do I think we have no chance. They key is to hold a high line to condense space for the Barca midfield and also keep possession, which will be hard. Maybe Scholes is the ace card to bring on in the second half, 90-120 mins is probably unrealistic!

    The best team performance I saw against Barca was actually by Chelsea a couple of years back. I can’t remember the details but if I was Fergie I would replay those matches. The physicality of the Chelsea players seemed to unsettle Barca.

    Really we need 12 players so that Fletcher can do the “headless chicken” type running alongside Carrick, but even Sir Alex might not get away with that 🙂

    Whatever happens, ManU need to let Barca know that ManU are their equals – not by making stupid tackles but by having the confidence to press up the pitch and retain possession under pressure.

    We cannot do an Arsenal and defend in our own penalty area for 90 mins…that would be embarrassing.

  6. BW says:

    I would play:-

    Rafael Rio Vidid Evra
    Vallencia Carrick Giggs Fabio/Park

    one of Giggs or Rooney has to be man marking Xavi all the time Barca have possession
    Tough to leave out Berbatov and Nani 🙁

  7. BW says:

    On second thoughts we’ve got no chance. We need Gareth Bale, not Ji Sung Park! I love Park for his workrate, but Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and Messi…

  8. BW says:
    Highlights from 2009 game

    Where was Rooney? I could not see him anywhere in the highlights?!

    And when you see Ronaldo’s last game…he was especially greedy that night, reminds me of Gerrard and Lampard for England in the World Cup.

    ManU cannot be that bad again. Surely?

  9. Rajesh says:

    Sorry a Barca fan here. Came into this page very accidentally. I was very impressed by your play yday night against Schalke, with your second string team. And I am sure it is going to be a final of two equals. To be very frank, I am not confident like some die hard Barca fans, and I am more than nervous about MU, just like you guys are about us. I would not have been this nervous, if this match was happening before Xmas’10. Barca was playing unbelievable football then, not now. We are now playing just like most big teams like yourselves or Real Madrid, except that we can keep the ball a lot more. And most of our players are really tired. So this final is definitely going to be a game between equals.
    I simply hope SAF wont take a leaf out of Mou’s page and come out with a defensive tactic. Barca will always play the same style and will not change that, the 16Apr classico was an aberration, to which we will never revert. MU have a great defense and players like Rooney, Chicarito and Valencia and all together it will be a great team. I simply hope SAF will want to play football, unlike Mou, rather than trying to kick out Messi and Iniesta. I would like to have the game end with 11 vs 11 like it did in ’09. MU are better than 09 and Barca too are better. Just that Barca is not in the same form as how it were in May 09.

    So we are going to watch a great game of football, between the masters of possession and the masters of power and stamina – a team (MU) who knows how to win better than anybody.

    For sure, the better team of the day is going to win. I wish it is Barca though.
    All the best to you too.

    • BW says:

      Hey Rajesh – Barca fans welcome here!
      Interesting to hear that you’re also nervous. Picking the Barca team is quite easy but Fergie has so many choices. I’m pretty sure it will be a better final than last time as ManU is more of a team now – last time the whole gameplan reverted around CR7 so it was easier for Barca to stop. Rooney is back in form too… 🙂

  10. manu fan says:

    i am mostly worried about our team performance. Barca are prepared enough and i don’t see anyone marking messi.
    Lets berg messi not to score.
    May our lord hear our prayer