Ever since the Champions League final in which United fell so far short of the excellence of Barcelona’s style of play the question seems to be how will Ferguson improve his squad to match Barca next season?
The focus has been the Spanish opposition; I haven’t really heard many pondering the home teams. This summer’s potential signings all seem to be receiving a weighing up against Barcelona from fans to see how they will compare to them. So has Fergie got this same Barcelona obsession?
I don’t want to rile anybody up with this article with any kind of suggestion United do not play attractive football. I love watching the classic counter attack rip a defence apart and leave them helpless as Chicharito slots home. However I can’t help but feel Ferguson is working towards an ambition of even more attractive football, the most attractive football in the world.
Whilst United can make mesmerising moves and, I’ll stick to the stats to avoid a mass debate, the league table proved them the best team in the country last season there were many matches where a scruffy performance had to be fought out. I am of the belief a league winning team should still be able to take the wins when the game is not going all their way and they have to scrap it out to the end. Despite this, maybe United had to do this too many times last season for Fergie’s comfort.
United are capable of playing attractive football and have many players capable of doing so. Barcelona on the other hand play a different kind of attractive football. Their players are more free-moving and will move out of position to create a midfield which will outnumber any other. From this midfield they will suddenly move players forward and make a rapid attack and catch the opposition unawares. Arguably one of the best passing teams in England is Arsenal, however there is the debate as to whether Arsenal can play this football and win the title. Something they have not yet proved.
One hint that Ferguson is trying to achieve something a bit different for his team are twins Rafael and Fabio. The deal for the full backs was done back in February 2007 despite not moving to United until later. The two could have been seen as future replacements for an aging defence, however as they broke through it became apparent the Brazilians were not like-for-like replacements. They look more like wing backs then full backs with their attacking tendency. Whilst Gary Neville was good at overlapping the wide midfielder to look to get a cross in, and likewise with Evra, neither are nor were quite the same mould as the twins.
The F.A cup Sixth round tie against Arsenal last season showed the attacking capabilities of the twins. A game which was in United’s hands for the whole match, resulting in a 2-0 win, was in a big way helped by the fact the Brazilians were on the wings. Some saw this a questionable decision and there were complaints of United playing seven defenders (O’Shea was in midfield too). I didn’t feel the same. To call Fabio and Rafael defenders is not completely accurate and I was very exciting to see how they would relish the chance of being given full responsibility of the flanks. They did very well, Fabio even got a goal. The performance of the twins on the wing rang something home to me. As a set of new-to-United style of full backs has Ferguson been hatching a plan around them?
One of the key components in Barcelona’s midfield master plan is full back Dani Alves’ ability to move from the back to give an extra man in midfield and help outnumber teams. Whilst this can seem a dangerous move in that it may leave a team short at the back, Barcelona don’t tend to lose the ball in the midfield with this ploy and when they do they have the players there to crowd the opposition and prevent any counter.
Is it possible that the Brazilian twins are part of Ferguson’s elaborate plan to play the game in the midfield? Could it even be possible that a defensive, destructive midfielder would be used to allow both Rafael and Fabio to push up whilst the midfielder drops back? Could this work? After all I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of what kind of football Brazilians are known for playing.