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Fletcher omission a mistake

There was always going to be a gulf in class between Barcelona and Manchester United at Wembley, but that should not disguise the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactical choices prevented us from seeing a closer contest.

They suffered from a lack of presence in midfield and I was quite surprised to see Darren Fletcher sat on the bench while Javier Hernandez partnered Wayne Rooney in a two-man attack.

I know Fletcher had been out for a while due to a virus and was lacking a bit of fitness, but his natural enthusiasm and his desire to play in the final – having missed out due to suspension in 2009 – would have got him through it. But Fergie didn’t take that chance and there must have been a very good reason not to do so.

I would have had Fletcher in the side because a central midfield comprising Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick was always going to lack legs. When you play Barcelona you are never going to have a lot of the ball so you need players with energy and at least one player with a bit of guile who can win the ball back and launch a counter-attack. United did not have that player, and suffered as a result as their midfield was overwhelmed.

United pressed very well for the first 10 minutes or so and hounded Barcelona, but when Pep Guardiola’s side did settle into their rhythm, Fergie’s men were running out of energy and couldn’t get near them. They desperately needed something in that midfield, four or five workmen, and they needed to disrupt the passing ‘carousel’.

Park Ji-Sung supplied some impetus but a 10-year-old has more energy than Michael Carrick. He is only effective if you are enjoying the lion’s share of possession and it was never going to be that way against a Barca side that monopolises the ball.

In fairness, there are very few teams who can stop Barcelona playing. Inter did so when knocking them out at the semi-final stage last season – they stifled them all over the pitch – but Jose Mourinho had the players to adopt that kind of approach and make it work.

For Sir Alex and United, it is not in their mentality to play in a negative fashion; they try to stick to the club’s tradition of attacking football. That meant United’s midfield was outnumbered and outlclassed by Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, and they were inferior in all departments to be honest. The moment United’s players tired, Barcelona capitalised and exploited the space.

The decision to omit Dimitar Berbatov from the matchday squad entirely was also a puzzling one. There is always method in Sir Alex’s madness, but it still baffles me that he could choose Michael Owen over Berbatov. In my opinion, Owen is very fortunate to have a Premier League winners’ medal and to make the squad for the Champions League final as well… he probably can’t believe his luck.

That particular romance is ended and I don’t think it makes much sense to keep Owen. With Berbatov, however, I think there are personal issues. There is something that has happened behind the scenes.

Given that he shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Carlos Tevez and was not deemed valuable enough for the Champions League final, it tells you there is an issue that Sir Alex believed was important enough to exclude Berbatov for the benefit of the team.

Despite these reservations about United’s tactics and selection, you have to hand it to Barcelona. Any team in the Premier League would have been wiped away by that team. Just look at what they did to a side of the calibre of Real Madrid in their 5-0 win at Camp Nou earlier in the season.

Sir Alex said after the final that this Barcelona side are the best he has ever faced at United and the challenge is now to match them. But United are not capable of doing that. Barcelona’s team have grown up together and the way they play football is organic.

You can go out and spend money to try and challenge them, but there is something about Barcelona that no other team is going to be able to match, it is as simple as that. You can’t just go out and spend money and hope to reach their level, even if you buy five of the best players in the world.

When they play at such a level against a club that has been dominating English football for the past two decades, you have to say that this Barcelona side are possibly one of the greatest of all time.

Over the past three seasons they have proven themselves time and again by consistently winning silverware, so they are certainly the best European team of the past 10 years or so. History will decide the rest.

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