How Sir Alex Ferguson planned to stop Lionel Messi when Manchester United faced Barcelona
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used plenty of Sir Alex Ferguson’s methods during his short time as Manchester United manager – and he may adopt the Scot’s approach for dealing with Lionel Messi when Barcelona visit Old Trafford. United host Barca in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Wednesday evening.
And one of Solskjaer’s biggest headaches – aside from his injury-hit midfield – will undoubtedly be working out a way to stop Messi. The Argentine has been in sublime form for Barcelona this season and plenty of sides have failed to find keep him shackled. Ferguson witnessed Messi’s prowess first-hand as United lost to Barca in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
But after that defeat at Wembley in 2011, Ferguson believed he had finally worked out a way of minimalising Messi’s threat with a more man-to-man approach. ‘You need centre-backs who are prepared to drop right on top of [Lionel] Messi and not worry about what is happening behind them,’ Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography.
‘Ok, he’ll drift away to the side. That’s fine. ‘He’s less of a threat on the side than he is through the centre. ‘After the inquest I told myself: ‘When we play Barcelona next time in a Champions League final, I would have [Phil] Jones and [Chris]Smalling, or Smalling and [Jonny] Evans, right on top of Messi.’ I wasn’t going to let him torture us again.’