Venables predicts pivotal role for Park
Speaking exclusively to FourFourTwo.com, Venables outlined the size of the task the Old Trafford side face in taking on the 2009 winners and current Spanish champions, and exactly how Sir Alex Ferguson will look to approach it.
“They’ll look to stop Messi, there’s no doubt about that,” Venables said. “He will be drifting out to the right side and having a go at Patrice Evra - he’ll be probing around to find a weak spot.
“If he’s not getting any joy he’ll go to the other wing. He’ll be looking to use the space between the midfield and Manchester United’s back four, so United will look to limit that space and push Barcelona wide, because they haven’t got many tall players to meet a cross if they‘re forced down that route.”
Ferguson has a habit of deploying the ever-reliable Park Ji-Sung in the Red Devils’ toughest matches, and Venables believes the South Korean could play a big part in quelling the Barcelona threat.
“It’s very possible that he could use Park Ji-Sung to mark Messi. When Real Madrid played Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey, Jose Mourinho used Pepe in a similar role, and Madrid won the game 1-0.
“Pepe was also able to break away from Messi to become an attacking player when Madrid were looking to get forwards. The same thing happened in the Champions League semi-final first leg, at least until Pepe got himself sent-off! Park has the energy and know-how to do the same job for Manchester United.
“But Sir Alex Ferguson is lucky - not only does he have Park, he’s also got the energy and discipline of Darren Fletcher. He’ll probably play one of them wider, because he’ll want to play [Michael] Carrick in the middle. But we’re also hearing that Ryan Giggs is going to start - Ferguson’s giving out a bit of confusion, so Barcelona may not know exactly what to expect.”
Pep Guardiola’s side are favourites to win a fourth European Cup - and a third in six seasons - this weekend, with pundits and fans across the globe lauding the Catalan side as the greatest club side ever.
But Venables, coach at Barca between 1984 and 1987, believes it is almost impossible to make such a judgement.
“It‘s not really fair to compare teams from different eras because the game changes so much from decade to decade - fitness plays a much bigger part now than in the past, for example. But they’re certainly the best club team I’ve seen in the last ten years or so.
“It’s the same with Lionel Messi; how can you judge whether or not he is better than Diego Maradona? He’s only 23, he’s got 50-odd goals this season, and he’s not even halfway through his professional career yet. It’s a privilege to see him play, that‘s for sure.”
While the millions of neutrals watching at home may be looking forward to a Messi-masterclass, Manchester United will be hoping the Argentine superstar is uncharacteristically subdued when he lines up against them at Wembley on Saturday evening.
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