With less than a week to go until the Champions League Final on May 28th, newly crowned English champions Manchester United meet Spanish champions Barcelona in a mouth watering finale to Europe’s premier competition.
Having met in the 2009 final in Rome, in which Barcelona emerged victorious with goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi, Manchester United will be looking for revenge when the two teams take to the field come Saturday evening.
United have already visited Wembley twice this season beating Chelsea in early August to win the community shield for a record 18th time, and then again in April narrowly losing to neighbours Manchester City after a late Yaya Toure goal, United will be looking to make home advantage count in front of an expectant 80,000 capacity crowd. Meanwhile the Catalan fans following Barca will be looking to emulate the success of the 1992 side that beat Sampdoria 2-1 at Wembley, the last time a Barcelona side won a European crown on English soil. A side which nonetheless included a young Pep Guardiola. The charismatic, youthful and energetic Barca head coach has already lead his side to 9 major honours in the last three years, so it will be of no surprise if we see the Spaniard dancing down the touchline at the end of full time, adding more silverware to the Nou Camp trophy cabinet.
On the other hand in Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have the most successful manager in English football. The fiery Scot, who has just celebrated 25 years in charge of the club, will most definitely be looking to add to his growing list of honours at Old Trafford. You certainly wouldn’t put it past “Fergie” to be joining in with the “glory, glory Man Utd” chants should they emerge victorious.
On the playing side, United will look to the experience of born again midfield maestro Ryan Giggs, who at 37 is showing no signs of slowing down. Coupled with the reliability of Carrick and Fletcher in the centre of the park, either Nani or Valencia will inject pace on the flank. Park is almost certain to start on the other flank as he does in so many of the big games. Wayne Rooney’s timely return to goal scoring form will see him partner reported £6 million snip Javier Hernandez, United’s player of the season upfront, with both looking to dance through the Barca defence. Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov only warming the bench.
And what of veteran goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar, a fitting way perhaps for the 40 year old Dutchman to retire with a 4th Champions League winners medal. In front of him a rock solid defence that includes tough tackling captain Nemanja Vidic and partner Rio Ferdinand at the heart of it. United only conceding four goals on route to the final.
Having conquered all before them with relative ease Barcelona’s Champions League success owes much to the presence of Argentina’s Lionel Messi. The 2010 World Player of the Year has been in devastating form this season notching up 11 goals on route to the final. Add to the mix a combination of Xavi, Villa, Pedro and Iniesta, World Cup winners themselves, Barcelona certainly have the hunger and knowhow to win more than most.
Guardiola’s only selection dilemma will be whether or not to include fit again full back Eric Abidal at left back to compliment the attack minded right back Dani Alves, or continue to use Javier Mascherano as a makeshift to give cover to the colossal partnership of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol at the centre of the Barcelona defence.
That aside, the two best teams on paper have reached the final, which will please UEFA and more so president Michel Platini. What remains to be seen however is who will be heading up the famous Wembley stairs to lift the trophy. Either way it promises to be a spectacle for the neutral as both teams chase a domestic and European double. A rollercoaster journey that for one of Europe’s two heavyweights will end in champagne success in the showcase Wembley final.
Verdict: 2-1 Barcelona