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Champions League Final Preview: Barcelona v Manchester United

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The original Wembley stadium has seen FIVE European Cup Finals, TWO European Cup Winners Cup Finals, ONE World Cup Final and a European Championship Final. But it will be the first time that the reincarnation of the famous stadium will hold European Football’s Richest Prize, as Barcelona and Manchester United battle it out for the trophy nicknamed as ‘Big Ears’.

Both teams have won the famous trophy three teams each, and the head to heads are equal also. In all the teams have faced one another ten times, with a record of 3 games won each, 4 games drawn and three defeats. They have met only TWICE in a European Final – the 1991 European Cup Winner’s Cup in Rotterdam, with United winning 2-1 thanks to a brace from Mark Hughes – and in 2009 when the two sides battled it out like Gladiators in Rome, with Barcelona victorious, thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi.

It was beneath Wembley’s old Twin Towers that Barcelona and Manchester United both won their first European Cup, but tomorrow’s game will see one side lift their fourth title, while the defeated side look on with regrets washed down with tears from their fans.

Tomorrow’s final will be a repeat of the 2009 Cup Final clash between the two sides, with Sir Alex Ferguson looking to get revenge over Pep Guardiola. The gulf between the two managers is huge. Ferguson has won 47 trophies in his 37 years of management, while Guardiola has won eight trophies within his three years of management.

But with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Rooney, Giggs and Scotland’s very own Darren Fletcher set to do battle, it will be another close but tantalising encounter on a pitch, that hasn’t been ripped up by the Tartan Army – yet.

The fans have travelled from all over the world to see this, the greatest spectacle of Club Football. Tickets officially bought ranged from £80 to £338, while those on the black market have fetched up to around £1000 [that we have heard of], with one Man United fan failing to realise he paid £1000 for a ticket for the Women’s Champions League Final. Yes we couldn’t help but laugh also.

Last season’s final saw Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Bernabeu, with 145.1 million people watching on. Tomorrow’s game is sure to see that number increase given Barcelona and Manchester United’s following worldwide.

The winner’s will take home not only ‘Big Ears’ but also €9 million in prize money, in total prize money €30.7 million will be handed to the eventual winners, while the runners-up will receive €5.6 million for coming second and €25 million in overall prize money.

Scotzine Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Manchester United

Barcelona Preview

By Jamie McGregor | Spanishfootball.info

Ever since the conclusion of their fiery semi-final with bitter rivals Real Madrid, almost all Barcelona’s attention has been on this match. Since securing the league title two weeks ago, Guardiola has wrapped his major stars up in cotton wool so as to be at full strength for tomorrow’s final. Some have argued that the break may have led to some of Barça’s players losing their edge, however, for others the rest has been necessary. This is particularly true for club captain Carlos Puyol and midfield maestro Xavi. Both players have been struggling with recurring injuries all season and the short break before one final push may just see Barcelona lift the trophy tomorrow evening. As well as being excellent football players, Puyol and Xavi’s presence is essential for the experience they bring to the team. Both players have played two Champions League finals before and won on both occasions. That Puyol will play and captain the side tomorrow evening seems certain but where exactly he’ll play is less clear. Normally, Puyol would play centre-half with Gerard Piqué but injuries in the left-back position may force Guardiola to shift his defence a little with Mascherano coming in at centre-half and Puyol going out to left-back. While not the ideal scenario, Guardiola has done this before and may risk it again in order to have his strongest midfield available.

It’s often said that football games are won and lost in the midfield and there are few team this applies to more than Barcelona. Leo Messi often gets the plaudits when Barcelona win but even he would struggle without the support of Barcelona’s midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. While Busquets has filled in at centre-half on several occasion this season, having him in the middle of the park with Xavi and Iniesta is essential tomorrow evening. Unfortunately, Busquets’ build up to the final has been overshadowed by allegations, eminating from Madrid, that he racially abused Real Madrid defender Marcelo in the semi-final. There was even a suggestion that UEFA might ban Busquets for the final but in the end the governing body decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence and much to Guardiola’s relief he will be available for selection.

On a pitch the size of Wembley, Guardiola will be hoping Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta will be able to exploit the space that will inevitably become available and pick out the runs of Villa, Pedro and of course, Messi. Despite Andy Gray’s doubts about Messi being able to hack it against Stoke, the Argentine was voted the best player on the planet, an award he fully deserves. As he showed against Arsenal in last year’s quarter-final, he can single handily destroy a team and if Manchester United need reminding of how dangerous he is, they only need to look back at the 2009 Champions League final. Predictably, there will be a huge amount of expectation and pressure put on Messi’s shoulders but as he has shown time and time again, he can handle it and he’s a player for the big occasion.

So those are Barcelona’s key players and we all know how they will play. They’ll be happy to have possession and knock it around until a space appears or until Messi decides it’s time to go past two or three defenders. This is the Catalan’s style and they won’t change it for anyone or any match. Of course all of this doesn’t mean they’re going to win. Manchester United are a top side who like Barcelona have won their domestic championship and knocked out some strong opposition on the way to the final. Like Barcelona, United have a number of match winners in their team and others who have been over the course many times.

Sometimes the Champions League doesn’t live up to its name, however, that argument can’t be levelled at the tournament this year as the champions of England and Spain battle it out to be crowned Europe’s top side.

Prediction: Barcelona 1-0 Manchester United

Manchester United Preview

By Ed Barker | www.unitedrant.co.uk

Much will depend on whether United can retain enough of the ball to hurt Barcelona, whose ability to dominate games has, if anything, increased in the two years since these sides last met. The Catalan giants have managed more than 70 per cent possession on average this season, meaning United will almost certainly be on the back foot most of the night.

Yet, it is easy to forget United’s positive start in Rome, where Park Ji-Sung would surely have scored in the opening seconds but for former Red Gerard Piqué’s last-ditch tackle. It is that positive outlook that Ferguson has instilled in his troops over the past fortnight.

This should reflect in the Scot’s team, whose natural instincts against big European opposition is to pack midfield. However, with Darren Fletcher unlikely to make the United 18-man squad, let alone the starting team, Ferguson’s hand is somewhat forced. Wayne Rooney is likely to partner Javier Hernández in attack, with the former Evertonian dropping deep into midfield when needed.

With Ferguson’s selection dilemma solved, the rest of the Scot’s team almost picks itself. Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs will form the heart of United’s midfield, Antonio Valencia will edge out Nani for the right-wing berth, while Fabio da Silva is expected to play at right-back ahead of his brother Rafael.

Tactically Ferguson’s team has worked on pressing high up the pitch where United will attempt to cut of the supply to Andreas Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Lionel Messi by suffocating Barça’s starters – Piqué and Sergio Busquets.

It is a tactical flexibility that owes much to Ferguson’s respect for Guardiola. While the men are no friends – Ferguson retains far more affection for José Mourinho – the elder man recognises the outstanding team Guardiola has built.

Guardiola has few selection worries save for left-back where captain Carles Puyol is expected to play out of position. Eric Abidal, now fit after undergoing surgery for a kidney tumour, is not thought to be match-ready, while Maxwell is out-of-favour. The selection may offer United a glimmer of hope, especially after Antonio Valencia’s outstanding performance against Ashley Cole in the recent victory over Chelsea.

Yet, if that sentiment is essentially pessimistic in tone, then Ferguson is having none of it. It’s a belief that few fans – United or otherwise – would be wise to bet against in this most unpredictable of campaigns.

Prediction: Barcelona 1-2 Manchester United

Tactical Outlook

For a more in-depth Tactical outlook on the game take a gander at the guys over at Zonal Marking who break down Saturday’s game brilliantly.

Match Information

Date: 28/05/2011
Stadium: Wembley Stadium
Venue: London (ENG)

Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
Assistant referees: Gabor Erös (HUN), György Ring (HUN)
Additional assistant referees: Mihaly Fabian (HUN), Tamás Bognar (HUN)
Fourth official: Istvan Vad (HUN)

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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