UEFA Champions League Final Preview: Manchester United Vs. Barcelona

UEFA Champions League Final Preview: Manchester United Vs. Barcelona

  • Posted by Geoff Reid
  • On May 28, 2011
  • 2010/11 UCL, FC Barcelona, Geoff Reid, Manchester United

By Geoff Reid

The time has finally come for the biggest sporting event in 2011. We couldn’t have asked for two better teams in this final with the best of Spain going up against the best of England. Both sides won their first European Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, Manchester United back in 1968 under the late Sir Matt Busby, and Barcelona back in 1992 under Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. Since both clubs have achieved their first triumphs, both clubs have come a very long way in the last 20 years, and turned into two of the most powerful football clubs on the planet. Back in the 2009 final in Rome, the English Champions were heavily favored to defend their title they won in Moscow in 2008, and Barcelona were the underdog. That day, the Catalan giants came out on top and won 2-0 while going from strength to strength after that by winning six trophies in one year. Fast forward to today, it’s Barcelona who are the favorites and rightly so, but their form hasn’t been at where we are used to seeing from Pep Guardiola’s men. Guardiola’s opposite number, Sir Alex Ferguson has his boys on a nice run at the end of season, and wrapping up their record 19th English league title overtaking bitter rival Liverpool in the process.

If we take a look at both teams and how they’ll lineup it should be a very interesting tactical match up. Starting with Barcelona, it doesn’t take a genus to figure out that Guardiola will go for his usual 4-3-3 formation that has been tried and trusted with this group of players for so long. Every player in the squad knows their roles to perfection, and are all firm believers in the team cause. In other words, the team is the superstar is the motto at Barcelona. Victor Valdes will be in goal as always, and is the one possible weak link in this lineup for the Spanish giants. Sitting in front of Valdes will be Brazilian fullback Dani Alves on the right, with maybe captain Carles Puyol playing at left back. If that’s the case, the two center backs will be former United player Gerard Pique and Argentinean captain Javier Mascherano. While his position is defensive midfield, Mascherano has proven a very good option at the center of defense for Guardiola if needed. Eric Abidal is also available if need be.

In the midfield, Two of the best footballers in the world aim to control the tempo of the game as always, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta. Usually sitting beside them is Sergio Busquets who is the perfect compliment to both Xavi and Iniesta. Mascherano is also another option if needed. It’s hard to say who’s the better player between Xavi and Iniesta. Xavi’s passing ability makes the side tick, but with Iniesta’s magnificent movement off the ball, it gives Xavi that much more options to do what he does best.

The three front players are also top draw. Pedro Rodriguez should get the start on the left, with the world’s best player (Xavi and Iniesta should also be rightly included in this conversation) Lionel Messi on the right, with Spain hitman David Villa in the middle. Messi will get the most attention, and rightly so, but he wouldn’t be as good if it were not for the players around him. Villa, and Rodriguez are also great at moving off the ball and creating space for Messi to dribble into, and unleash his pure magic.

If we look at Manchester United, it’s pretty much a formality of how they’ll lineup in a 4-4-2, or 4-4-1-1 formation depending on what Sir Alex Ferguson goes with. Dutch stopper van der Sar will be in goal for the last time, while in front of him will see Patrice Evra at left back, and one of three out of Rafael, Fabio, or Irishman John O’Shea. O’Shea has been starting there of late, while Rafael was there most of the season until recent games. In the middle it’s always going to be Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Vidic is a very solid defender who rarely puts a foot wrong, while Ferdinand has had a stop/start season. Vidic has had trouble against Fernando Torres in the past, and with Villa playing as a similar striker to Torres, one wonders whether Vidic can be exposed?

A flat midfield is expected from Ferguson to keep that area of the pitch tight so Barcelona struggle to find their rhythm and passing game. Veteran Ryan Giggs is expected to start in the center, even after all the bad news that has surfaced around him this past week from a usually great role model for the game. Next to him should be Michael Carrick, who can be exposed, so tactical discipline will be very important. On the flanks, Nani will provide flair United will need, while South Korean workhorse Park Ji-Sung will be on the other. Park is a very important player for United, and more important then most fans and pundits realize. A very similar style to Dirk Kuyt, Park will run all day on both ends of the ball for the cause.

Up front, withdrawn striker will be England striker Wayne Rooney and will likely be given a free role to roam where he likes and be the link between the midfield and the main striker. That main striker will be Mexican superstar Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez who has had an excellent debut season for United. For him to be successful, it’s crucial he’ll need service from the midfield, and front he full backs on the flanks. United will probably play on the counter attack today, so as mentioned with some players, it’s very important for the whole team to have tactical discipline, which was lacking two years ago in Rome.

Both sides will go into this one very confident, and rightly deserve to be there. We know who the favorites are in this one, but these finals are never won on paper, as the final in 2009 has already shown us.

Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Manchester United (Pedro and Messi for Barcelona, Hernandez for United)