Teams: Barcelona v Manchester United @ Wembley Stadium Competition: UEFA Champions League Final Last Match: Malaga 1 3 Barcelona & Man United 4 2 Blackpool Kick Off: 19 45 on TV @ ITV 1 HD & Sky Sports HD
Having both won their first European Cups, at Wembley, in 1968 and 1992 respectively, both teams have the opportunity to win their 4th European Cup on the 28th May 2011, at Wembley, this Saturday.
Both league champions domestically, with games to spare, Sir Alex & Guardiola have had ample time to think and prepare for this massive fixture, which will see two of the heavy-weights of European football collide in what is sure to be an enthralling match of unparalleled proportions. After the hurt of defeat in Rome, in 2009, Sir Alex is more prepared than ever to get one over his Catalan counterpart.
Bowing out at the pinnacle of club football, Edwin Van Der Sar will be retiring at the end of the match, regardless of the outcome. Considering his illustrious career, it would only be fitting if he could leave with a European medal around his neck. Making his 5th appearance in this premier event, it’s nice to see he has won, lost, won, lost… Win?
As the one truly debatable position, the right-back slot is anyone’s guess from Rafael, Fabio or O’Shea. All blessed with their individual strengths and weaknesses, I personally think Sir Alex will choose Fabio, who offers a compromise between the two. Rafael is the best going forward (but is prone to the odd sending off) and O’Shea has the most experience (but it is of limited effect going forward) but I feel Fabio is a good compromise between the two.
I think the rest of the defence will remain unchanged from Rome, with Rio, Vidic & Evra lining up together but I feel we will be much stronger due to Ferdinand’s flurry of recent games. Going into the match in 2009, Rio had not played for a month and was very rusty, and thus caught out by Messi, but I don’t expect that to happen this time.
Having performed so well together, against Chelsea & Schalke, I expect Michael Carrick to partner Ryan Giggs in the middle of the field, even though they will be up against the imposing trio of Busquets, Xavi & Iniesta. I don’t think any of our other midfielders have done enough to warrant a place, despite Anderson’s recent goal-rush, and it looks like Darren Fletcher will only be fit enough for a place on the bench.
On the attacking front, I would be very surprised to see anything other than Valencia, Park, Rooney & Hernandez leading the line. All four of them would work hard for the team, when we find ourselves defending, while providing a potent attacking threat on the counter.
The Fight for the Bench
#1 -Anders Lindegaard – I think the Dane will get the nod because of Tomasz Kuszczak’s instability in recent games. If Van Der Sar were to come off, I think Rio and Nemanja would prefer the relatively unknown quantity of Lindegaard behind them, rather than the indifferent Polish stopper.
#2 – John O’Shea – Experienced, hard-working, versatile – 3 factors which guarantee him a place on the bench ahead of Rafael (or Fabio if Rafael plays)
#3 – Chris Smalling – Despite being a relatively unknown quantity at the start of the season, Smalling has excelled this season and comfortably made himself 3rd choice CB, ahead of Jonny Evans. The only thing that may go against him however, is Evans’ ability to play LB if Evra was to get injured.
#4 – Darren Fletcher – Lacking the match fitness to play 90 minutes (in my opinion), I think Sir Alex will be desperate to include the Scot in his match day squad, even at the expense of a fully fit player.
#5 – Paul Scholes – I must admit I chose him on sentiment, ahead of Anderson. I would love to see him score the winner on Saturday, it would be incredible, magical, perfect! A fitting end to an incredible career!
#6 – Nani – Likely to miss out on his 3rd Champions League Final, Nani could well be the difference if the match looks like it is heading for a stalemate, after 70 minutes. The best impact sub we have.
#7 – Dimitar Berbatov – Very unconvincing on Sunday, I think Owen’s goal gave Sir Alex food for thought about his place on the bench on Saturday. However, I think Owen’s missed chances in Neville’s testimonial saved him from losing his place on the bench.
One to Watch- Andres Iniesta
The most attacking player from Barcelona’s impressive midfield triumvirate, Iniesta is an intelligent and skilful attacking midfielder, at the height of his powers. An experienced performer, he has already excelled on the world’s biggest stage and he is sure to pose United many threats with his clever movement and and generally inspired passing. Blessed with the ability to change games at will, Giggs & Carrick will have to do their best to stop the Spaniard feeding the likes of Messi & Co ahead of him.
A Big Match Player…
Key Clash- Javier Hernandez v Gerard Pique
With Barcelona liking to press high up the pitch, their defence can be exposed by quick counter-attacks, as seen at The Emirates, and as such I think they will be petrified of Hernandez; just like they were of the technically inferior Theo Walcott.
With his blistering pace and prodigious finishing ability, Hernandez has the ability to tear apart any defence so United should be very optimistic about their chances, especially if Carlos Puyol plays at LB (ahead of Eric Abidal), because despite being hailed by some as one of the world’s predominant CBs, Pique often struggles without the commanding Puyol by his side. Prone to the odd lapse of concentration, as shown in his time at United, Pique is the weak-link that Sir Alex should be targeting.
Hopefully He Won’t Be Celebrating on Saturday…
My Prediction- Barcelona 1 2 Manchester United
Throughout the course of the season, I have always been very optimistic with my predictions, even in the face of the toughest opposition or darkest run, but I believe my faith has been vindicated looking back. Unsurprisingly, I’m not going to predict anything other than a United win because winning games – regardless of who it is we’re playing, when it is we’re playing or where it is we’re playing – is what United do best. Come on the Reds!
Want More Champions League Build Up?
Be sure to check out our CL Final Interview with Guillem Balague here, the history of Wembley Stadium here and the 5 Key Things We Need to Do to Winhere.