When Manchester United lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final two years ago defeat broke thousands of hearts. After all, not only was Sir Alex Ferguson’s side trying to defend Europe’s premier trophy but began the game as favourites. Outclassed by a team now widely regarded as one of the finest in the game’s history, United supporters could only ponder what might have been. Indeed, one of the principal questions raised in the post-match analysis was whether United might have done better if Scot Darren Fletcher had not missed the game.
It was hard on the Scot, sent off during United’s semi-final second leg with Arsenal when the game and tie was already won. Moreover, in committing a ‘professional foul’ Scotland captain Fletcher got the merest toe on the ball, resulting in an unjustified red card, according to many pundits.
Once again 26-year-old Fletcher is in danger of missing a European final having been laid-low with a mysterious virus over the past two months. The illness, which has sidelined Fletcher for the best part of United’s run-in, left the player with considerable weight loss.
Yet, having played some reserve football and a brief appearance in the comfortable win over Schalke last week, Fletcher may take part in this year’s final. He is likely to make another appearance against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday and then – results permitting – will start against Blackpool on the final day of the domestic season.
“Darren has put the weight back on and is back in training, but he has a bit to do yet,” Ferguson confirmed.
“But, as far as the final is concerned, there is almost three weeks to achieve that. If he does reach the target, it will be a big boost to us as we all know he is big-game player. The 20 minutes he got against Schalke last week was certainly a step forward. His training, in terms of sharpness for such an important game, will be stepped up now.
“We’ve also got Blackburn Rovers away, Blackpoool at home, and even Gary Neville’s testimonial game so there’s opportunity for game time that will help him reach his target.”
But the question of Fletcher’s participation in European competition is certainly more nuanced than the midfielder’s fitness. Ferguson has a tactical conundrum to answer, especially with Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs – aided by Wayne Rooney – in such good form during the past six week’s. Indeed, with time on the ball coming at a premium against Barcelona, United’s manager may not benefit from losing the Giggs-Carrick possession axis.
The alternative for Ferguson is to alter the tactical plan that worked so well against Chelsea in recent weeks, with Fletcher augmenting midfield and Rooney ploughing a lone furrow up-front. The change would add more steel to United’s midfield but disrupt Rooney’s renaissance at ‘number 10′ and force in-form Javier Hernández back to the bench. It might be a losing hand too, with United then betting on shutting out the Catalans’ extraordinary attacking threat while catching the opposition on the break.
However, defender Rio Ferdinand has backed the Scot’s return, claiming that Fletcher’s energy will add much to the United cause. It’s a fair point, with Fletcher arguably the only dynamic central midfielder in the United squad capable of effectively playing a more destructive role. Certainly, the horrors of Anderson’s performance against the Spaniards in 2009 will not easily be forgotten.
“Darren can run ridiculous amounts during games,” said Ferdinand.
“Park Ji-sung is the only person who could rival him running-wise. That says a lot. He covers a lot of ground, gets at people and can score important goals. He gets the crowd going and is an integral member of the squad. It will be great to have him back.”
Alternatively, Ferguson may opt to meet fire with fire by sending out an attacking United side to take on the newly re-crowned Spanish champions, consigning the fit Scot, at best, to the bench. The gambler’s instinct may just tip Ferguson to hold Fletcher back and retain a formula that has proven successful against domestic and European opponents recently.
In the meantime United should wrap up the Premier League with ease against a dispirited Blackburn side, which should be safe from relegation but has shown no real form under manager Steve Keen. The game may afford Fletcher 45 minutes this weekend, the full 90 against Blackpool at home and Neville’s testimonial four days before the Wembley final.
On Ferdinand’s part, the former England has promised a better performance from United in the Champions League final than last time out. It couldn’t get much worse.
“I have never watched 2009 again,” the Scot told ManUtd.com.
“But matches like that are hard to forget as it is clear in your head. If you want to sit and think about games like that they come up quite easily. It is like bringing something up on the internet. I have not watched it but I have re-run it in my head a few times. We never played. We never got on the ball. We weren’t Manchester United that day. This time we will give a better account of ourselves.
“On the way back we were sitting there thinking if only we had gone out and played and been the real Manchester United, it would have been different. They always say you don’t want to come off the pitch with any regrets. There were regrets that night.”
For Fletcher, fitness ought not to be a regret two years down the line.
34 thoughts on “The Fletcher Euro question”
If I’m not mistaken, he played 60 minutes tonight in the reserves.
We lost by the way. 1-2
‘Certainly, the horrors of Anderson’s performance against the Spaniards in 2009 will not easily be forgotten’
way to frame anderson! not just our mid field, the whole team did not show up to play that unfortunate day, save critiano ronaldo opening 10 mins. we were woeful as a group.
this time we will see the real manchester united. BELIEVE!
it will be a disgrace if he or oshea play, fletcher especially, both will play
What? Fletcher is a class above O’Shea. I’ve never understood why people don’t rate him. Baffling.
Ignore him – he’s just being a dickhead as usual.
I would be very surprised & very disappointed if Hernandez does not start. We must have all the pace we can get in attack. Valencia offers that & protection against Villa; Park, perhaps more important, against Alves. So it is two from three or four. Carrick, Giggs, Fletcher (& Anderson as a sub). If fit I would go for Fletcher & Carrick because they are both “proper midfielders” but Fletcher has had a poor season & Giggs recently has played out of his skin so I think SAF will go for Giggs & Carrick.
Two points. SAF will want to make a “surprising selection” to demonstrate his supposed strategic wizardry. Barca, at the moment, look a very tired lot -World Cup & most of the A-team playing most of the games- so we do need to attack them. Pique is a mistake waiting to happen.
Barca have just pretty much claimed La Liga with two games to spare like us, and (like us) now only have two meaningless games before the final. I’m not counting Nev’s testicular here.
Yes Fletcher has had a poor season and out so long through illness and considerable weight loss would be a nightmare to start him against Barcelona. Pepe Guardiola was quoted today as saying his players are very tired from playing so many games and their standard in the second half of the season had dropped. We need to attack them and hit them quick like we did against Chelsea. But first, we must hit Blackburn early also. Blackburn are in desparate need of all 3 points and we must take this game serious to wrap up the league title.
Tough call. If Fletcher was fully match-fit I’d say start him and stick Carrick on the bench, he’s almost certainly not gonna be ready though so I’d stick with Carrick and Giggs in midfield, but keep Fletcher on the bench in case Carrick has a shit game.
Chelsea presented a different opposition to Carrick and Giggs with Rooney supporting the midfield. Essien, lampard and Mikel are nowhere near as mobile as the Barca trio – Mikel defends too deep while Frank only wants to Join Drogba for knock downs. Fletcher is going to be very important and really should be alongside Giggs and Carrick.
However, Barca hold a high line and the pace Hernandez has to be vital. He will give them a lot to think about and cause them not to try and compress the game in midfield too much. This is a tough call and we must not let Barca waltz this match like they did the last one.
The back four picks itself if all fit. Rooney and Valencia are certain starters. So are Carrick and Giggs. So, who fits the last two slots? Park and Fletcher or Park and Hernandez? Nani and Fletcher? Sod it, that is why he is the Knight of British Empire Sir Alex. The one thing going for this side is that they are a TEAM. When we have a fit squad and morale is high they just will not let go.
Lets just get that no.19 out of the way first.
It is a disgrace what you have just written. O’Shea will only play if Evra is not fit.
Word. Fletcher is a different class to O’Pie.
I think it would be a big risk to start Fletch against Barca; after his illness he is virtually starting his season again from scratch and it takes at least 6 weeks to build up to peak fitness and longer to get match sharpness. I feel sorry for him but I think he will be a sub for the final at best!
I’m not so sure of that any more. 3 of the back 4, yes, but what about the right-back spot? A couple of months ago that place would’ve surely been Rafael’s without question, but Fabio has put in a couple of very strong performances lately.
There are still two real games left for Fletcher to show what he’s got in the tank.
65 minutes last night… if he manages a full, high tempo 90 minutes at home to Blackpool… then, why not?
I’m not going to worry about it till we see what he’s got to offer.
Fletcher is our saviour… Or not
He won’t change that much if he runsaboutalot like he sometimes does… Barca will just knock it round him
And you can’t tackle these cunts because they’re too good on the ball and they will go down holding their face and get you sent off. You just have to stay on your feet and get tight (but not too tight because they’ll do you)
Play with your head, not your heart against these cunts
He’ll be useful when we counter. His energy and box to boxness will be crucial. And also when we lose the ball and have to leg it back towards our own goal
But in terms of defending, there’s not a lot you can do other than let them have the ball and make sure you’re on the right side of them
One thing to add… I don’t think he’s much use to us, if he’s not fit to start.
He’s not an impact player, who’s going to come on at 70 minutes and change things… maybe a useful utility man, if we run into injury problems… the good thing I suppose is we can have 7 subs in the Champs league, so there’s room for a couple extra.
I see no reason why Fletcher should not be fit enough to start. Apart from RB the only choice is two out of Carrick, Fletcher & Giggs. There is no way we are going to outpass or outclass them in midfield so in that area we need discipline, aggression, compactness, energy & not to give the ball away cheaply. Carrick & Fletcher are the best that we can offer. I think that sentiment will make it very difficult for SAF to leave out Giggs, but Giggs does give the ball away,has not got the discipline to stick to a tight game plan & tends to wander rather than sticking to the middle of the field. I think that Fletcher would offer the best option of cutting out most of the Messi & Iniesta danger.
To be honest I think the final team is pretty much picked, the one slot to decide is right back. Fletcher on the bench for this one, Carrick and Giggs have been outstanding in the latter stages of the CL.
Fletcher will probably be fit enough, but will he be sharp enough
the idea of leaving giggs is mental, fucking mental, are we playing to win or keep the loss to a 1 or 2 nil ffs
There’s only one starting lineup for Barca
It started against Chelsea
Fletcher might be fit but won’t be match fit. On the bench. I think Fergie will go with O’Shea who has played in the big matches before, Rafael is in a similar boat to Fletcher and Fabio is very inexperienced.
The next big decision is on the bench.
Definites: TK, CS, DF, LN, DB
Scholes, Anderson, FDS and RDS for two slots on the bench.
JE, WB, GO, MO all will definitely miss out.
GO? Is that Olbertan? Does he still play for this team?
Why is Nani a cert for the bench? Hes had an outstanding season and should start ahead of Valencia in my opinion.
Because for the past month/6 weeks… he’s gone backwards to being a twat.
Valencia and Park offer more defensively than Nani and this will be important against Barca. Nani to come on an impact sub.
GO does, and has been playing well for the reserves and
is still only 22 so can’t be written of altogether. Likely to go out on loan next season for some 1st team football. Has to be to an English club though so how he copes.
Again with the fucking initials! Who the fuck is LN?
United Rant’s original returning eternal optimist!
Giggs, Fletcher and Carrick as central midfielders and it will work out just fine.
I think that Barcelona can be beat by wide attacking football, Valencia, either Da Silva and Evra will be giants in this game. First it will keep the fullbacks at home and not allow them to provide the linkup that Barcelona thrives on. I have seen many Barcelona games and the typical break is Alves to Xavi back to Alves who will gets is back to the center where two, three or four attackers are waiting. Make Alves stay at home and break up this flow. This strategy would also cause the Barcelona midfield to have to play much deeper than they want to.
As for Messi, put Carrick or Fletcher in front of him and let the back four have go at him.
Of course SAF have a different football mind than I do; so he might have a few ore tricks up his sleeve.
Rafael Ferdinand Vidic Evra
Valencia Rooney Park
Subs: Kuszczuk, O’Shea, Smalling, Fletcher, Nani and Berbartov
Fletcher for Carrick
Nani for Park (only when we go ahead)
O’Shea for Rafael (late)
Manchester 3 – Barcelona 1
What is your team for the match against Blackburn? We need to take care of that business first. SAF will play his best team for this game to make sure of winning the title so he can rest players for the home game against Blackpool. And then there’s a friendly game against Juventus 5 days before the Champions league final.
Hopefully it’ll include:
Brown Evans Gill O’Shea
Gibson Bebe Obertan
The starting lineup against Chelsea has to start against Barca (injuries permiting). If Fletch comes back strong then we’ve got more options if we take the lead and need to park the bus against Barca.
But we need to start positive and fletcher bless him isn’t going to give us enough creative options paired up with Carrick. Giggs simply has to start for that to happen.