Champions League Final Preview: ManU vs Barca
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This is the most coveted trophy in club football. The Champions League is a battle between the elite clubs in Europe and the entire season revolves around this one game. This year’s final pits Manchester United of England versus Barcelona of Spain in a repeat of the 2009 final and takes place at Wembley, located in London, England. This year, it truly is a Champion’s League final because both sides are champions of their country. Man United won the title after securing an away point at Blackburn while Barcelona secured their title last week with an away point at Levante. This means that both sides effectively have two weeks to prepare for what should be an epic final.
Man United: Road To Wembley
Group Stage: United made light work of their group which contained Valencia, Glasgow Rangers and Bursaspor. After a surprise home draw against Rangers, United won their next 4 and cruised through undefeated as group winners with 14 points.
Knockout Stage: A last 16 meeting with Marseille gave United unexpected difficulty. After a 0-0 away leg, United took a 2-0 lead and were coasting before a late goal from the French side ensured a nervy end.
The quarter-final affair with English league rivals ended with United winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. They took the lead at Old Trafford too before a late Didier Drogba goal caused consternation that was to last for all of 60 seconds when Ji-Sung Park scored to seal a 3-1 aggregate win.
The semi-final against surprise packages Schalke 04 was an easy win in the end. The job was done in Germany with a 2-0 win. A 4-1 thumping at Old Trafford saw the Red Devils enter their third final in 4 years in style.
Barcelona: Road To Wembley
Group Stage: Barcelona also cruised through their group as winners with 14 points. The group contained Rubin Kazan, FC Copenhagen and Panathinaikos with the Spanish giants encountering no difficulties whatsoever.
Knockout Stage: Arsenal awaited Barcelona in the last 16 and stunned them 2-1 at the Emirates despite the Spaniards dominating the entire game. Barcelona also dominated the second leg with Robin Van Persie controversially getting sent off halfway through the second half. The score was 1-1 before the incident which had Arsenal ahead 3-2 overall. Barcelona hit back with two goals to emerge 3-1 winners on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.
The quarter final was straight forward with a 5-1 thrashing of Shaktar Donetsk at the Nou Camp paving the way to a 6-1 overall success.
The titanic semi-final with Real Madrid was an ill-tempered affair with Barcelona getting the better of the 9-time European Cup winners with a 2-0 win at the Bernabeu. Madrid salvaged pride with a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp but it wasn’t enough.
This could be the case of a very good side coming up against a great side and falling short. United have been impressive with their consistency though their critics will suggest they have avoided a stiff challenge. Their poor away form in the Premier League (5 wins in 19) coupled with defeats at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and The Emirates suggests that they do not deliver when faced with adversity against top sides. That being said, they have an extraordinary capacity to win games when not playing well and a self-belief that is the envy of world football.
Barcelona have been immense this season but there are signs of them slowing down. Whether they have slowed to the extent where United can punish them is open for debate but they are not the force they were 3 months ago. Playing at Wembley should not be much of an issue for this side that is well traveled however. In fact, the wide Wembley pitch and the slick surface is perfect for their brand of passing football.
Tactics will play a huge role in this game with United likely to be on the back foot for the majority of it. Their manager, Alex Ferguson, has a real dilemma. Does he play 5 in midfield in an effort to keep Barcelona’s midfield maestros at bay or does he play 2 up top in a bold move to force Barcelona to defend more often than they are used to? He will probably go for the former option with Rooney on the wing and Hernandez up front. The little Mexican is adept at finishing whatever chances comes his way so Barcelona will need to be wary.
Barcelona play one way and that is to pass the football until an opening presents itself. They will have 65% or so possession but can they penetrate United’s backline? Vidic and Ferdinand are terrific defenders but Vidic in particular has a weakness when players run at him due to his slow turning speed. The duo will have to be at their absolute best to keep Barcelona at bay. The Catalans will attack and make runs all night. A momentary lapse will cost United dear.
The first goal is always crucial at the highest level and this match is no different. If United can snatch the lead, they have the ability to attack swiftly on the counter and expose any gaps Barcelona leave behind. On the other hand, a Barcelona opening goal could lead to a very long night for United who will be chasing shadows as the Catalonian outfit keep the ball for long spells. Indeed, there is no side in world football better at keeping a lead.
As already mentioned, United are a very good side but Barcelona are a great one and this will be the difference. Barcelona’s class will ultimately tell but they will be made work for it. United may tire in the last 20 minutes after chasing the ball all evening and this is where they will pay.
Champions League Prediction: Barcelona To Win 2-1