Wembley will be the venue of a Champions League title clash between Manchester United and Barcelona, on May 28.
Barcelona are overwhelming favourites to retain the trophy they won in 2009, beating the same rivals, in Rome. Bookies have made up their minds about the result of this year’s final, with most of them offering odds of 10/11, on a Barcelona victory. The odds on United lifting the trophy range from 5/2 to 10/3. Can Manchester United trump the odds and beat Barcelona, on May 28?
Interestingly, the Old Trafford squad have yet to lose a game, in this year’s Champion’s League, unlike Barcelona who lost to Arsenal, at the Emirates, in February 2011, in the first-leg of a round of 16 encounter. Arsenal prevailed 2-1, in a game that holds a clue as to how United could go about beating Barcelona, and confounding the naysayers, in the process.
Arsenal trailed as early as the 27th minute, on the back of David Villa’s strike that put Guardiola’s wards ahead. The come from behind win transpired in the last 12 minutes of the game when Barcelona’s human fallibility was laid bare, first by a Van Persie shot from a narrow angle that Valdes in the Barca goal was unable to keep out, and then by Arshavan who latched on to a cut back from Nasri on the right flank, who was himself set up by Fabregas. In their Premier League game against Chelsea, on May 8, Park Ji-Sung, with his sheer pace, proved more than a handful to the Chelsea midfield comprising the likes of Lampard, Mikel amnd Essien, though admittedly these men are not a patch on Barca’s midfield that has Xavi and Iniesta.
With a couple of brilliant runs, Arsenal’s Theo Walcott proved how Barcelona’s back four could come unpeeled. Giggs and Valencia are what the doctor ordered for United to be able to do the same, as they proved against Chelsea. Ashley Cole, touted as the world’s best left back, found Valencia too hot to handle. A similar contest at the other end should feature Messi against Vidic, and the Manchester United skipper needs to look no farther than the 2010 FIFA World Cup, for inspiration, where rival defences neutralized Messi.
But where Arsenal failed to spring Barcelona’s off-side trap, United have just the man in Chicharito Hernandez to poach the ball, at the shoulder of the last defender, as he proved in his 37th second opener against Chelsea. Barcelona will want skipper Puyol fully fit on the day. Puyol’s absence from the field, on the back of a knee injury, in the Arsenal game, revealed just how much the Barca defence depends on the man.
Barcelona are likely to overwhelm Manchester United with their technique and imagination. So an early strike would serve United’s cause, like nothing else. And to be able to achieve that, Sir Alex’s squad will need to come out firing on all cylinders, as they did against Chelsea. Ancelotti’s men lost the game, in the first 15 minutes, when they were not given as much as a toe-hold, by the Old Trafford side.
That dominance was made possible by a United squad that looked rested and raring to go, after Sir Alex had fielded a second string side in the second leg of the semi-final against Schalke, thereby allowing his key players to stay fresh. With The Premier League title likely to be secured next week agaisnt Blackburn, the Unied manager will have a similar luxury of resting his best men, in his side’s last Premiership game, against Blackpool, on May 22.
Finally, United will hope for competent refereeing in the final. Regardless of their superior ball skills, Barcelona have earned a reputation for on-field histrionics, and consequently, incidents in the first leg semi-final have left Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho frothing at the mouth.
The Manchester United eleven for the Wembley game is likely to feature most of the players that did duty against Chelsea, with Van der Sar, Ferdinand, Vidic, Park, Giggs, Valencia, Rooney and Hernandez looking certain to play.
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Jinxatious is the Chief Editor of SportingAttitude.com
An avid writer, on an eclectic range of subjects, he brings to bear editorial experience garnered with a national newspaper in South-East Asia. He also has sportscasting experience, as a cricket commentator, and his passion for sport extends beyond Cricket, to Football, Tennis, and Olympic Sports.