Manchester United have had a fantastic season, overtaking Liverpool domestically by winning the 19th title, which should not be forgotten. This season has culminated a truly sensational feat by Sir Alex Ferguson but it is not over yet as the next target is Barcelona.
The Champions League Final at Wembley last month illustrated the difference in quality between Manchester United and Barcelona. Many have even gone as far to say that Barcelona are the greatest club side in the history of the game. This is a stretch too far.
They are a fantastic side but as Ferguson has insisted since the defeat, it is questionable whether they will be able to sustain success. Barcelona possesses unmatched quality in world football at the moment with Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta being the pick of the bunch. It is, however, difficult to see this system of football being utilised for a prolonged period of time. Xavi Hernandez is 31 and although he may have a contract extending for a few more years, it is unlikely he will be as effective as age catches up with him.
Of course he may well be able to play at the top level at around 35 but like Ryan Giggs he will not available week in, week out which is a huge problem for Barcelona. He is the rock in the centre of the park that dictates the way the team plays, allowing Messi to make runs into all sorts of positions. Barcelona do not have a squad, they only have a starting 11, a fantastic starting 11 at that but in time the cracks will show and Guardiola’s mismanagement will become apparent.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team are, whatever the Scotsman might say, a team in a transitional period but at the same time are still achieving great things. Manchester United’s season was down to the depth and quality of the squad with all playing contributing magnificently to the overall outcome of the season. Their starting 11 is of course not to the standard of their Spanish counterparts and needs fixing up.
The attack of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez is fantastic and will only get better. The defence is also fine and although looked fragile at times in the Champions League Final, it was down to the fact they had so much to do throughout the game. The problem in this match was the midfield.
The central partnership of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick was out of place when up against Busquests, Xavi and Iniesta. The Spanish midfield controlled all elements of the game, leaving Giggs and Carrick anonymous for large parts of the match.
Giggs was starting to look his age after a difficult season and obviously a difficult time for him personally due to private life issues. Carrick has been crucial in games for United in Europe this season, being used both defensively and creatively throughout the Champions League campaign. In the final, however, he was up against players who quite clearly possess capabilities on another level.
If Fletcher was fit enough then he surely would have been given the role of breaking up the Barca play but at the same time, it is unlikely it would have changed the final outcome of the game. Sir Alex Ferguson has accepted that his team are second best in the world right now but he will not sit back and admire the Catalan team in all their glory. Ferguson knows it is time to mull over changes this summer and come back next season stronger than ever, starting with signing Luka Modric and Wesley Sneijder.
After the dreadful showing in central midfield in the final, it is time now for the Manchester club to step up their pursuit for the pair. Wesley Sneijder took apart the Catalans in the 2009-10 season in a remarkable treble winning campaign with Inter Milan. The Dutchman is very diplomatic in his approach to speculation linking him with Old Trafford and it is evident the midfielder wants to join Manchester United.
Luka Modric is much less speculative on his future and keeps himself to himself. He has been heavily linked with Manchester United throughout the season whilst doubts over Scholes’ future were uncertain. The Tottenham ace has been in superb form all season and seems a natural replacement for the Old Trafford legend, though questions hang over Redknapp’s willingness to let him leave White Hart Lane.
A combination of Sneijder and Modric in midfield would be a dream for the Old Trafford faithful, after losing the great Paul Scholes. Modric would be fantastic as both a ball winning and creative midfielder, contributing to the dogged and stylish approach from Sneijder. It may seem a very attacking approach to bring in both but Manchester United have never utilised a defensive midfielder as they know in the majority of games they will dictate play. These two targets would combine well together and help out in both defensive and attacking aspects of the midfield. This partnership is needed in order to compete with the brilliance of the Barcelona midfield.
Obviously money could be an issue here as well as Ferguson’s desire to buy young players and watch them progress through the club. The problem with that, however, is that the Great Scot will not be around for as long as many would hope and needs to act now if he is to take over once again in Europe.
It is a challenge that Ferguson will relish and will drive him to assemble the greatest team of his Manchester United era.
Rumours of Nani leaving Old Trafford are untrue and he will remain at the club next season, with Ferguson giving more trust to the player. Nani was left out of the Wembley starting line-up but when he came on he proved why his team mates voted him player of the season as he actually got at the opposition unlike most others.
Nani has been possibly United’s most effective player this season despite being dropped for large parts of the latter stages of it but will come back stronger next term, hopefully alongside a midfield consisting of Sneijder and Modric. These three along with either Park or Valencia out on the other flank would provide a midfield ready to match Barcelona’s best.
Manchester United will be back next season and even after all the fantastic things Ferguson has done in his quarter century at the club, the signings of Sneijder and Modric could spark the start of the next great achievement, overhauling the ‘greatest club side ever’.