Uzair Rizvi BeyondHeadlines
Manchester United vs Barcelona: The stage is set for the Wembley Stadium to host the two best clubs in the footballing history as they lock on horns on Saturday May 28th 2011.
Their record is astonishing. Five league titles in seven years for Barcelona, four league titles in five years for Manchester United. The third Champions league final for Barcelona in last six years, the third Champions league final for Manchester United in last four years.
If anyone would ever have to watch the best football among two gigantic teams with classy players, it’ll be for sure between Barca and United. Barca is known for their passing and possession whereas United are the best known for their counter attack.
Both sides have clinched their domestic titles and would like to add Europe’s most coveted trophy to their list before wrapping up the season.
The two sides have met 10 times with 3 wins each and 4 draws. United triumphed in their 2008 semis where the veteran Paul Scholes fired in a spectacular shot which lead them to victory. In 2009, the ‘Catalans’ as Barca are popularly known as revenged it in Rome finale by braces from Eto and Messi against the ‘Red Devils’ Man United.
Man United’s road to Wembley:
United topped their group easily, with four wins and two draws without losing any game; in fact they only conceded one goal in their draw against Valencia at home.
They started the round of 16 with a goalless draw in Marseille, but overcame them easily at home with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez powered in two goals helping his side to progress into the quarters. In QF’s they were pitched against their English rivals Chelsea, whom they saw off in both away and home legs. Then it was a difficult trip to Germany, where United haven’t really achieved much before and coming in was FC Schalke who routed out last year Champions Inter Milan. Man United’s hard work paid off by winning 2-0 in Germany. Then they took a gamble by fielding a second string side in the home leg in view of tough games ahead, but even then it was a cakewalk for them as they pushed them aside 4-1 to storm in the Finals.
Barcelona’s Road to Wembley:
Barca did the same like United winning their four group games with two draws and no defeat, scoring 14 goals and conceding 3.
In round of 16 the Catalans suffered an early setback against English side Arsenal, who came back from behind to make it 2-1 at the Emirates. But the Spaniards bounced back at Camp Nou in home leg to win the 4-3 on aggregate. They had an easier time in the quarters where they demolished Turkish champions Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1 at home and 1-0 at away game.
The semi-final battle was the El Clasico where Barca shrugged off their Spanish rivals Real Madrid 2-0 in Madrid before the coming back and settling for a 1-1 draw in the home leg to make their way to the finals in Wembley.
The Spanish side goes into the game as favourites. Their brand of attacking football is unmatched and their ability to keep the possession has not been counter attacked by any team. And adding to opponent woes is the presence of FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who has been in top form this season netting 52 goals in the season and is currently the leading goal scorer in this year’s Champions league.
Only one side that can stop the Catalans from winning the title is the team from Old Trafford. Despite having an imperfect season, the Red Devils still managed to knock Liverpool off their perch to claim a record 19th English League Title under an inspiring manager.
On Field Battle:
On the playing side, United will look to the experience of midfield maestros like Scholes and Giggs both 37 are showing no signs of slowing down. The centre mid-field heavily banks on Fletcher and Carrick who are capable of breaking the Xavi-Iniesta circus and presence of Darren Gibson may also allow the Reds to cash in some chances from centre half with his long range efforts. With either Nani or Valencia injecting the pace on the right flank and Park Ji Sung’s quick runs and immense stamina will sure guarantee him a place in playing 11.
Wayne Rooney has hit back his form and provides a lethal combo with his new upfront partner,Chicharito,with both looking to break in the Barca’s defence. League’s top scorer Berbatov though is only warming the bench, but he has the experience which might prove handy for United if he comes on. The defensive wall is formed by strong force of Vidic and Ferdinand with Smalling in the bench and Rafael and Evra playing the lefts and the rights emphasize more on the quick runs ahead.
And what a veteran Goalkeeper, Edwin Van Der Sar is not a barrier for him, still fit, agile and rock solid at 40, it’ll be a perfect occasion for the Dutchman to sign off with his 4th Champions league winners medal.
Having conquered everything Barcelona owes much of their success to maverick Messi. He has notched up 11 goals on route to the finals. With the Spaniard magician Villa, the duo for sure will give headaches to United’s centre back. Add to the mix combo of prominent mi-fielders like Xavi and Iniesta will create their own magic with the support of Busquets and Keita. The way they keep the possession and pass the ball frustrates the opponents and hit them badly. They have the hunger and the temperament to tackle the pressure situations.
The Colossal partnership of Puyol and Pique is very hard to crack, United’s upfront needs to be on their toes to sneak in from where ever they can as to beat this partnership with additional support of Abidal and of course the lethal Dani Alves, who can run into opponents penalty area and can score easily.
Vidic vs Messi
Fletcher vs Xavi
Rooney vs Puyol
The Venue: Wembley itself cries out the glorious history of these two great clubs, where both Man Utd and Barca lifted their first European trophies in 1968 and 1992 respectively. After 19 years Catalans come back to the same venue hoping to repeat the history whereas the Red Devils will make sure to repeat the heroics inspired by legends like Sir Bobby Charlton and their manager Sir Matt Busby.
Barcelona is most visibly the favourite to win the match. Yet, Manchester United clearly has the ability to pull off the upset, and a big one at that. The wound of the Rome finale is still fresh in the minds of the Red Devils and they would for sure look for a perfect revenge. While Barcelona is made up of flash and creative intrigue, Manchester United has proven to be more fundamentally sound with their crisp passing and unflappable chemistry. As for me being a MANCUNIAN my pick is for Manchester United defeating Barcelona in a tight match.