Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

You just can't beat classy Barcelona at their own game

By Paul Scholes

In 2011, when Manchester United faced Barcelona at Wembley in our second Champions League final against them in three years, we believed that this time, in England, we could overpower them and win on our own terms. We were proved wrong.

By the time I came on for Michael Carrick with 13 minutes remaining, the game was well and truly over. We had been outplayed. We had tried to take them on at their own game and they had broken us with that second goal from Lionel Messi not long after half-time.

I don't see any alternative for Juventus tomorrow. You try to beat this Barcelona team at their own game and, over the course of 10 games, you lose every time. Defend against them and then counter-attack, and perhaps you win once or twice in 10.

Those are the odds facing Juventus, a side I rate highly. When you have as many attacking, creative players as Juve do, when you've won your own domestic double, it is not a pleasant reality to have to face but it is one that you must accept if you are to have a chance of winning a final against Barcelona.

In 2008, over two semi-final legs, we did that. We matched them all over the pitch and kept our levels of concentration high. I managed to score the goal that won the tie. It can be done, and Juve have the defenders who can focus for 90 minutes.

My old team-mate Patrice Evra is playing his fifth Champions League final tomorrow, a great achievement. Pat is a warrior and a strong character who you want on your side. He never gives up.

And while facing Messi in his current form is a daunting task for anyone, the one thing you can be sure of with Pat is that he will not be overawed.

Pat would tell us at United that he was from a very big family. He has 24 brothers and sisters, I believe. So he had to learn to hold his own from a young age and he does it very well.

Juve have great experience in that back four, even if Giorgio Chiellini has been ruled out and Andrea Barzagli is a doubt. If they had been fit, it would not have surprised me if the manager, Massimiliano Allegri, had opted to play three at the back with Chiellini and Barzagli alongside Leonardo Bonucci, as he did earlier in the season.

Pat struggled to get in the team then. He is much better suited to the orthodox four-man defence, and there will be a lot of pressure on Juve's defence to get it right.

Naturally, much will be made of Pat playing against Luis Suarez again. What happened between the two was serious but I don't see it as an issue for Pat any more.

It's over now. I know Pat will be desperate to win this European Cup, having lost in three of his previous four finals. The experience he and the two Italian centre-halves possess will be crucial.

I think about the great players with whom I have shared a pitch: Eric Cantona, Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo, Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo - and the greatest of them all is Messi. I watched him at the Mestalla against Valencia in November and he looked less than interested to me. Since then, he has been sensational. His goalscoring record, in terms of goals to games, is a phenomenon.

Playing against Messi is as tough a test of your concentration as any in football.

At any moment he can take the mickey out of you.

Physically it is demanding, but mentally even more so. You cannot switch off.

The second you allow your mind to wander, he is off, gone with the ball at his feet and flitting towards goal while your options are being reduced by the millisecond

There is no defender in the world who can stop Messi every time. But every now and again a good defence has managed to do it for the space of a game, and Juventus have a good defence.

The problem for them is that they also have Suarez and Neymar to think about, and that can be overwhelming.

Juventus will have a plan to beat Barcelona and if that does not work then at least they can always tell themselves that they lost to the best.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph