Date: 30th July 2011 at 1:06pm
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Could he be key tonight?

Two months, two days, two hours and 30 minutes after Manchester United’s last meeting with Barcelona in the Champions League final, they meet again, but this time in a pre-season friendly. So what has changed in that time? 

This summer Manchester United have lost some key players in Edwin Van Der Sar and Paul Scholes to retirement as well as Hargreaves to injury and O’Shea and Brown to Sunderland. Between them they ammased a total of 1736 appearances for Manchester United. Since then we have reinforced the squad by signing David De Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young as well as recalling Tom Cleverley, Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck for the coming season.

Anderson also seems to be having a very good pre-season so far, something that could possibly kick-start his career at Manchester United. With the departure of Paul Scholes and the likely departure of Darron Gibson, it is looking very likely that Anderson will be playing a prominent part in our quest for a record 20th league title.

So how could this squad fare against that of Barcelona’s? The pre-season game has been billed as nothing but a friendly however it could give an indication of where this rejuvinated Manchester United squad are compared to that of Barcelona’s. Despite the absence of Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano it would seem that tonight’s match should be a competitive one. As always both teams will be going out there to win, though Manchester United are much further into their pre-season than Barcelona are.

Has the current signings really helped to bridge a gap to Barcelona? Most people’s opinions are that Manchester United should be trying to bridge the gap between Manchester United and Barcelona, a gap that seemed apparent in the 2011 Champions League final. So has it really? In my opinion I do not think that it has so far. Each of the new signings, as well as the players returning from loan deals are not particularly guaranteed a first team starting spot which means the “first XI” has not really been improved on when compared to last season. I believe however that the new signings and the youngsters returning are part of a long term plan where they would eventually develop into players of the highest quality.

So what can we make of tonight’s pre-season friendly? There are two players that I think will be key to tonight’s match if they start; Thiago Alcantara and Ashley Young.

Former Manchester United target Thiago Alcantara will be one to watch for Barcelona. He has had a superb pre-season so far and was the player of the tournament in the Audi Cup which Barcelona won convincingly. Thiago is almost guaranteed to start for Barcelona tonight as Pep will want to see how the youngster who is tipped for big things can hold his own against one of the best sides in Europe.

Ashley Young has appeared in most of Manchester United’s pre-season games this summer and the tricky winger may find himself on the left attacking an inexperienced Barcelona right back due to the absence of Dani Alves. This is definitely an area that could be exploited tonight. He has been very impressive since his move from so far this summer.

Where could we be exploited? It will be interesting to see whether Sir Alex Ferguson will line up with a 4-4-2 formation or a 4-5-1 variation. On the USA tour, currently there are only 2 natural central midfielders; Anderson and Carrick. The intent of Sir Alex Ferguson so far is to use Tom Cleverley as a central midfielder, highlighted by the fact that this is the position where he has played in every game for Manchester United in pre-season. There are currently 6 natural strikers on which would indicate that we are more likely to field a 4-4-2 formation. If that is the case, the could be over-ran tonight with our midfielders coming up against a likely Barcelona trio of Keita, Iniesta and Thiago (as they lined up against Bayern in their last game).

The match between Manchester United and Barcelona on the US can be seen on tonight at midnight UK time. It is a fixture that is part of the MLS World Football Challenge in which Manchester United have so far posted maximum points. To attain maximum points tonight, Manchester United will need to beat Barcelona and score 3 goals or more in the process.

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