Sir Alex Ferguson’s plan to stop Lionel Messi if Manchester United faced Barcelona again

Barcelona's Lionel Messi (2nd R) vies wi

Like most clubs, Manchester United have usually come off worse after going head-to-head against Lionel Messi.

They managed to prevent Messi from scoring or assisting a goal on the first two occasions they faced the Argentine forward - in the 2008 Champions League semi-finals - but were unable to stop him in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.

Messi scored in Rome and then again two years later at Wembley, condemning Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to two Champions League final defeats in the space of three seasons.

Ferguson could do nothing but hold his hands up and admit United had been beaten by a superior team after the 2011 final.

"We were beaten, there is no other way to address the situation, by the best team," Ferguson told ITV after his side’s 3-1 defeat in London.

"I expected us to do better but at the end of the day we were beaten by the better team. They are the best team we have ever played, they are at the peak in this cycle of their team.

"There was good evidence we are a consistently good European team but we were beaten by the best team in Europe and there is no shame in that. Sometimes you come up against a far better team and tonight was one of those nights."

Barcelona v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Final

However, the defeat left a bitter taste in the mouth of Ferguson, who knows he could have ended his managerial career with more than two European Cups had his side not met Pep Guardiola’s legendary team in those two finals.

In his 2013 autobiography, Ferguson revealed that he had devised a plan to try and stop Messi if United faced Barcelona again under his management.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel M

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might want to listen up, considering United are about to face Barcelona over two legs in the Champions League quarter-finals.

“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, per Goal. “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.”

Barcelona v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Final

Now, Ferguson is arguably the greatest football manager of all time, but he probably bowed out at the right time if he genuinely felt Jones and Smalling could have stopped Messi from weaving his magic.

Then again, had Fergie deployed two man-markers on Messi, it probably would have limited the South American’s influence.

And as so much goes through Messi, Barça may well have ended up struggling - who knows.

Fergie clearly had more faith in Smalling and Jones than the rest of us.

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