More of the usual ‘mind games’ coming from the Manchester United camp last night, with news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s ankle needing strapping, and Nemanja Vidic holding his hamstring. They have tried calling the media’s bluff on too many occasions in the past. Not even Sky Sports fell for this one. And that says an awful lot. Those two will undoubtedly start and have been vital to the United cause since for the past three seasons. But it’s Ferguson’s promise of a start to two of the lesser lights in his vast squad that has given me reason to doubt the Scotsman’s decision in the biggest game in club football. Tonight’s Champion’s League Final in Rome against Barcelona.
John O’Shea sat on the bench in Moscow last May, as United won their 3rd European Cup. Ji Sung Park was not so lucky. He was the 19th man in the squad. He celebrated in his suit in the Moscow rain. Ferguson called leaving Park out of the match day 18 the hardest decision of his career. He rang Park’s parents to explain to the reasons behind his decision. Many saw it as an ‘easy decision’, with the South Korean’s quiet and humble nature meaning a Gazza type tantrum wasn’t on the cards when the news was broke to him.
O’Shea has made a career of filling in. He has played in every single position on the pitch with his cameo in goal against Tottenham in November 2006 causing much hilarity. Tonight, the Waterford native is playing at right back. Probably not his best position at filling in. This is a game to far for him in my opinion. Pep Guardiola has said he will target the right side of United’s defence. Not so much O’Shea, but whoever they played there. Be it the young Rafael, or the permanently injured Brown and Neville. But O’ Shea is the only viable option for this evening, and he will have his hands full. Thierry Henry will look to use his pace and experience to isolate O’Shea. Seydou Keita is likely to line up as a makeshift left back, and he is much more comfortable going forward than defending. The Monkey Wrench could have a long evening in the Eternal City.
Ji-Sung Park is likely to be employed on the right of the midfield. He is as much there for protection as he is to hurt Barcelona. His energy, work-rate, and devotion to the team are reasons championing his inclusion tonight. However this will play into Barcelona’s hands.
Chelsea almost, I stress almost, shut the Catalan’s out for 180 minutes in the semi-final. Their tactics of getting 10 men behind the ball nearly got them though. If United do something similar tonight, I can see it been their downfall. The 3 likely starters in midfield will be Anderson, Carrick and Giggs. Not as physical as Essien, Lampard, and Ballack. Barce found it very difficult to pick their way through that trio. None of the United threesome would have defensive instincts in their nature. (One would think with shooting as bad as Anderson’s, it would be an aspect of his game he might work on). Iniesta and Xavi are very patient footballers, and will pass it sideways until they can sense a hint of an opening.
Also, there is the lack of goal threat from the United midfield. 12 goals all season from Carrick, Park, Giggs and Anderson is a poor return. A lot rests on the shoulders of Ronaldo and Rooney tonight. The thing is, they relish such responsibility. They could do with more support, which is why I would start with Berbatov or Tevez, and leave Park out. This will give Barcelona and their patched up defence much more to think about.
Then again Ferguson could be playing us all for a fool. He surely has a trick up his sleeve. However, when Ferguson riles people he tends not to do it to his own players in such a public manner. It seems to me that both Park and O’Shea will be in the eleven. Let’s hope for their sakes that they can repay their manager’s faith.