Thursday 22 February 2018

Five reasons United believe they can beat Barcelona this time

1 Wayne Rooney is not lost in Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow

In the 2009 final he was cast as the Cristiano Ronaldo support act, Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh to Clarke Gable's Fletcher Christian in 'Mutiny on the Bounty' as somebody put it at the time.

At the pre-match press conference in the Stadio Olimpico, it was Ronaldo they wheeled out to declare United could win it and Rooney was as much in the shadows the following night, stuck out on the left wing -- a bit-part player who was never unshackled.

But his burgeoning partnership with Javier Hernandez is a far more symbiotic one, with Rooney restored to the classic No 10 role where, as he observed in Schalke, football life began for him, while Hernandez operates just ahead -- drawing defenders away from the space just outside the penalty area where Rooney is free to do damage.

2 Having Darren Fletcher, the 'big-game' player, available

The abiding memory of Rome was the sight of Michael Carrick and Anderson, stuck on the Barcelona carousel, not knowing whether to go tight, stand off or offer gentle pressure. Alex Ferguson has always identified Darren Fletcher as the missing link that night -- his red card in the semi-final second-leg against Arsenal ruled him out -- and Fletcher's mental attributes for such occasions as Wembley on May 28 has led his manager to compare him to Mark Hughes.

"Some players are big-game players and he's (Fletcher) a big-game player," Ferguson said. "The perfect example is Mark Hughes -- he's one of the best big-game players in United's history, who never failed in a big game and Darren is that type of player."

Fletcher is expected start on the bench on Sunday against Chelsea and to be restored to the starting XI in time for the final.3The joys of United being familiar with their surroundings

Ryan Giggs grinned when it was put to him that a home soil of sorts might be a help in the final. "We've played there many times. We've won there and we've lost there. We hope it does help, but it probably won't."

History suggests otherwise. It was not just the familiar pitch which helped United when they faced Benfica in the final 43 years ago, but the pre-match surroundings, too.

Matt Busby's side stayed at the Great Fosters Country House hotel and though Bobby Charlton remembers the struggle to put the game out of his mind, there was the chance for the players to explore the hotel's secret passageways: a ghostly cry Charlton heard came from Nobby Stiles, who had found one of the passages and thrown on a white sheet for dramatic effect. It all helped engender the esprit de corps which was so visible in United when kick-off arrived.

4The lessons learned in defeat the last time United met Barcelona

The current Barcelona would defeat United nine times out of 10, one Premier League manager said yesterday. But it is that manager's view that what happened last time is of most significance next time because, as United have been mesmerised once before by Pep Guardiola's side, they know this time around not to panic, rush in and exhaust themselves when those long periods of Barcelona possession start.

Defeat will have taught them the value of patience -- that, 22 days from now, it is safe to wait, allow Barcelona to rack up the possession percentages and seek to regain the ball when it hits the edge of the 18-yard box.

Those who know Ferguson best also suggest that he has genuinely believed for weeks that Lionel Messi need not be unduly feared and that he knows how to contend with the Argentinian.

5United now know more than anyone about how to react when behind

The United players have been fielding questions for the past month now on what went wrong against Barcelona in Rome. No one has ever explained and the only answer emanating from the ranks is that United simply failed to respond when Samuel Eto'o scored.

"We just didn't react after they scored. It knocked the stuffing out of us, and if it happens again we need to react better," Ryan Giggs said.

United had entered the game as favourites last time and seemingly did not expect what came their way, but this time the dynamics are reversed.

Ferguson's players have been trailing enough times this season for the experience to benefit them. In all, 13 points have been rescued in the final seven minutes of league matches this season. Perhaps the biggest prize can also be rescued.

Irish Independent

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