Kick Off: Wednesday May 27, 2009. 20:45 CET. Stadio Olimpico, Rome
The champions of Spain meet the champions of England as Barcelona take on Manchester United in the Champions League final this Wednesday evening. Current holders United will be looking to become the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the trophy whilst Barca can become the first Spanish side to ever win the treble if they triumph in Rome…
Pep Guardiola has already admitted that when this season began he couldn’t have imagined it would go this well, and it is fair to say that even the most passionate Barcelona supporter would not have predicted the success they would have this year. Not only have they won trophies, two of them to date, but they have won plenty of plaudits for their attractive brand of free-flowing football, and, to some, that is nearly as important as the silverware.
While arch-rivals Real Madrid have been making a habit out of winning however they can, Barca have been blitzing all-comers, both in Spain and in Europe. They might have needed some last minute magic from Andres Iniesta against Chelsea in the previous round but both Bayern Munich and Lyon can testify that the Catalans have more than matched their hype this year.
Naturally there is no guarantee that they will light up Rome as they have done the Camp Nou so many times this season but they certainly have the quality to put on a spectacle. The front three of Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi has been simply unstoppable this season and should they click against United then the Red Devils will be in trouble. Many of those in the famous blaugrana colours have stated already that they believe they deserve to lift the Champions League on Wednesday and, whilst few would deny them the glory, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will be no pushovers.
Magical Manchester United
Indeed, whilst Barca have taken apart most of the competition in La Primera this year, United have done the same thing in England, romping to their third straight Premier League and hitting the 90 point mark in the process. As well as being domestic champions they are also the current holders of the Club World Cup and are defending League Cup champions, meaning they head into this encounter looking to win an amazing quadruple.
Like their opponents on Wednesday they have undoubtedly played some of the best football on the continent this season and their victory over Italian champions Inter Milan in the last sixteen was a demonstration of just how strong they are. Still undefeated in the competition this year they will be looking to add a fourth European Cup to their trophy cabinet and there is no doubt that there is history between these two superpowers.
Just last season the Catalans found themselves knocked out of the competition at the semi-final stage by United and even more memorably they were defeated in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup back in 1991 as Sir Alex won his first European silverware with the English club. The 67-year-old will become the second oldest coach in history should his team win on Wednesday and bearing in mind the season that the Red Devils have had, this one could be the icing on the cake.
May 23 Barcelona 0-1 Osasuna (La Liga)
May 17 Real Mallorca 2-1 Barcelona (La Liga)
May 13 Athletic Bilbao 1-4 Barcelona (Copa del Rey)
May 10 Barcelona 3-3 Villarreal (La Liga)
May 06 Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona (Champions League)
May 24 Hull City 0-1 Manchester United (Premier League)
May 16 Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal (Premier League)
May 13 Wigan Athletic 1-2 Manchester United (Premier League)
May 10 Manchester United 2-0 Manchester City (Premier League)
May 05 Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United (Champions League)
The big problems for Barcelona are in defence where they will be without three first-choice players and will have to shuffle their pack.
Eric Abidal and Daniel Alves both picked up suspensions in the last round, whilst Rafael Marquez is injured and will be replaced by former Manchester United player Gerard Pique.
Seydou Keita has already denied that he will be the one to fill in at left-back so it seems like that Sylvinho will be chosen, whilst Carles Puyol could be shifted to right-back, with Yaya Toure in the middle.
Elsewhere, Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry are both fighting to be fit and they are expected to start the match.
Probable Line-Up (4-3-3): Valdes – Puyol, Toure, Pique, Sylvinho – Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta – Messi, Eto’o, Henry
Whilst Barcelona have a few key absences, Manchester United only have one; that of suspended midfielder Darren Fletcher.
Brazilian Anderson seems likely to be the one to replace the Scotsman in the centre of the pitch whilst the experienced pair of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs battle it out for a spot in the starting XI.
Rio Ferdinand is confident that he will be fit to start but if he can’t then Johnny Evans will play at centre-back with Nemanja Vidic.
Probable Line-Up (4-5-1): Van Der Sar – O’Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra – Giggs, Carrick, Anderson, Rooney, Park – Ronaldo
PLAYER TO WATCH
All the headlines have been about the battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but Barcelona’s key area could be in defence rather than attack in Rome. Sylvinho might be consistent at left-back but at the age of 35 he has lost some of his pace, and even though Yaya Toure has played at centre-back before, it is not his favoured position. If these two, along with the rest of the backline, can hold firm and keep United out, then Barcelona will surely have the upper hand on the night.
Unlike Barcelona, United only have Ferdinand’s fitness to worry about in defence and their key player could well be Michael Carrick in midfield. Similar to Xavi for Barcelona, the former Tottenham Hotspur man goes about his business quietly but effectively, and if he can dominate the middle of the pitch in the Stadio Olimpico then his team will have a great platform to build on.
With two world-class sides lining up against each other it is almost impossible to pick a winner and it could well be decided by a moment of magic from one of the many stars on show. Both Messi and Ronaldo are capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and leading their sides to victory but whatever happens, there is unlikely to be much separating Manchester United and Barcelona on the night.
Barcelona 1-0 Manchester United
James Walker-Roberts, Goal.com