Most had anticipated it would be straight-forward, perhaps not as much as it turned out to be, but straight-forward nonetheless. After the champagne was put on ice following Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over Schalke in Germany was more than enough to prove that sir Alex Ferguson’s side were worthy of their place in the final, even before a ball had been kicked at Old Trafford.
Now comes the reality of their achievement. Barcelona, a team that has so far proved itself as good at tarnishing reputations – Jose Mourinho and those in a Real Madrid shirt more than most – as they are at caressing a football.
The 2009 Champions League final was a low point for Ferguson. United rarely lose, and even more rarely do they get so comprehensively beaten that the Scot compared Barca’s style as similar to being on a “carousel” – dizzying, confusing, and ultimately as it proved, unable to stop.
Will anything change at Wembley in 2011? Ferguson has been full of bravado ever since the 2-0 defeat in Rome, insisting he knows what it will take to beat Pep Guardiola’s men, and now he has his chance to right the wrongs of perhaps the lowest point of his time in charge at Old Trafford.
The old stager for his part, remains obdurate in the face of his task.
"I don't think we should be going there lacking in confidence," Ferguson said.
"We are playing a fantastic team but we can't be frightened out of our skins. Their form is there for everyone to see. Our job is to find a solution." He added.
What he will be confident of is at least nullifying some of Barcelona’s attacking intent. The United defensive unite has been outstanding so far this season and no more so than in the Champions League. The red back line have shipped just four goals all tournament, an outstanding effort, while Barcelona double that total with eight goals.
Success in that department will likely be the reason United triumph if they can keep their poise to offer their own attacking intent and not fall into the trap most teams do against Barca and give the ball away too easily. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic must remain as water tight as they have all tournament, and frustrate Barca who are often accused of having no plan b.
Of course it is easy to theorise about how to beat Barcelona and less easy to put those plans into action, and Lionel Messi’s 52 goals this season are an homage to his unplayable nature, but if United are to continue their love affair with the European competition (driven incessantly by their past) then they must overcome the monster that stands before them at Wembely. If they do, it will be far and away Ferguson’s greatest achievement.