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Why Fergie needs another Roy Keane

Man Utd’s weakness in midfield was ruthlessly exposed by Barcelona in the Champions League final.

Tony Cascarino, 09 Jun 2009

I have to say that before their Champions League final win over Man Utd, I was one of the sceptics about Barcelona. They’re not the greatest team defensively and I’m not convinced about their goalkeeper, but you have to say that from midfield onwards, they have some of the best players in the world, with the likes of Iniesta, Xavi and Messi. Still, it’s always said in football that one of the pre-requisites for a successful team is a strong spine, and I felt that was something Barcelona lacked.

I don’t think Valdes is a particularly great ’keeper, and Puyol has serious weaknesses as a defender. Iniesta and Xavi are certainly excellent midfield players, but neither of them is really a ball winner. Also, they don’t play with a centre-forward in the classic mould, so overall I felt that Barca were lacking a solid core to their side. And yet, they proved that that needn’t be a hindrance to winning trophies.

The team’s success really boils down to the fact that their attacking players are incredibly creative and possess outstanding technical ability. In addition, their tactics in the final were very clever – Messi just sat in the hole and didn’t drop out wide too often, with the result that Ferdinand and Vidic didn’t know who to pick up.

As for United, their shortcomings were cruelly exposed. Against a top team like Barca, the team’s midfield was made to look disinctly average; Carrick was unfairly left isolated far too often, while Giggs and Anderson contributed very little. The injury to Owen Hargreaves and Darren Fletcher’s suspension made a big dent in the side.

There is work to be done for Fergie in this area – he needs two new midfielders. Anderson isn’t good enough and I don’t think he can rely on Hargreaves being fit for next season. Also, he certainly can’t think he’s going to get another season out of Scholes and Giggs.

My view is that Fergie won’t be fooled by the way United won at Arsenal in the Champions League – he’ll look at certain games, like the defeats away to Liverpool and Chelsea in the Premiership, and realise that the team’s midfield needs significant improvement. In fact, I actually feel that United over-achieved in the Premiership this season – I think they just about got away with it, despite some real deficiencies.

With the way he was so humble in defeat, I also wonder if the Man Utd manager feels that his team wasn’t sufficiently aggressive against Barcelona. Overall, I expect Fergie will pursue a midfielder of the Roy Keane type in the transfer market this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes after West Ham’s Scott Parker.

Looking forward to Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, the key factor is that Giovanni Trappatoni has made us a tough team to beat. We showed against Italy that we can be a dogged team who grind results out, a bit like Everton in the Premiership. Some people say he should select Andy Reid, but whilst Reid has great creative flair, he doesn’t work hard enough when he hasn’t got the ball. Trappatoni’s priority will be to make sure that we are watertight defensively, and hope that one of our front players will produce the goods and get us a goal.

One of those forwards, of course, is Damien Duff, who endured a disappointing end to the season thanks to Newcastle’s relegation. Damien has mentioned staying at Newcastle next year, which I think is a mark of the man’s character – he’s not the type to take the money and run. If I could give some advice to Damien, I’d tell him to put in his hardest ever pre-season, get himself to peak fitness and set himself up for a great year. Damien is still young enough to come back in a major way and re-establish himself as a top class player.

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