Thursday, May 26, 2011

The two best teams in Europe, no they really are!

By Paul Frederickson

Manchester United and Barcelona meet this Saturday night at Wembley in the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final. Deservedly so as these two teams were the best in all stages of the competition thus far.

You cannot truly avenge previous defeats but the players from Manchester United who felt the pain of the 2009 loss to Barcelona in the same final will be doing everything in their power to make sure that there is no repeat. Barcelona on the other hand will take confidence in the fact that in 2009 no one could handle the brilliance of Lionel Messi which has been further enhanced in the two years that have passed.
Barcelona's Champions League campaign has been close to perfect with a hint of a scare in their Round of 16 game against Arsenal. The 2-1 home win for Arsenal never seemed enough against an Barcelona team returning to their fortress, the Bernabe'u.

Manchester United had a very similar progression from the group phase to that of Barcelona. The goals started to flow in the knockout phase of the competition and besides a scoreless draw away in Marseille they were never challenged in the path to the UEFA Champions League final.

The managers

Undoubtedly two of the best managers in world football. At a base level it could be suggested that it is the master and his student in battle. Pep Guardiola is a student of the Barcelona school of football though and not that of the most winning football manager in British football, Sir Alex Ferguson. All the talk in the lead up to this game has been about the tactics that Ferguson will need to nullify the brilliant of Iniesta and Messi. Ferguson is too experienced to focus primarily on the opposition and will have plans of his own in relation to how United will play their game as opposed to stopping the stars of Barca.

Which manager will create the best midfield match-ups will go a long way to winning this game. If the obvious midfield paring Iniesta and Xavi is giving to much latitude by Carrick and Fletcher then their pin-point passes will give Messi and Villa too many opportunities to spurn. If Ferguson can get the combination right and break even with the Barcelona midfield then the game will be well and truly on.

Ferguson will have his team extremely organised whilst Guardiola will give his team the freedom to express their creativity. The talk of the EPL this season has been about the lack of quality in the United team. Others have stated that they are the 'worst' Manchester United team to have ever won the league title. But I believe that a champion team will always beat a team of champions. Unfortunately for United fans it appears that Barcelona is both.

Barcelona's main player:

Lionel Messi: His unbelievable close ball skills, swerving dribbling and move to a more central role will worry United all night. His finishing this season has been exemplary and he finished just shy of 50 goals in La Liga.

United's main player:

Wayne Rooney: Finally free of injuries and free of the goal drought that worried him for most of this season's EPL Rooney is as confident, arrogant and angry as ever. Where he may be able to win the game is not just his goal scoring but the ability to set up goals and bring others into the game.

This is not to say that Messi and Rooney are the only stars for these two teams. Xavi, Iniesta and Villa are out and out stars of the world stage and will have pivotal moments in the match for Barcelona. Likewise Hernandez and Giggs are able to set the field alight in Europe's biggest club game. How recent disclosures of Giggs' off-field indiscretions will affect his and Manchester United's chances may also be a factor.

Finally, can Wembley and the home ground advantage get Manchester United over the line on Saturday night. Perhaps, but if the game is close then the pro-England crowd's noise will lift United.

My opinion is that the best team in Europe this year will win the title. I will let you decide which team that is!

(1) ESPN Soccernet. UEFA Champions League Fixtures and Tables.