Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Champions League final preview : FC Barcelona vs Manchester United

On Saturday, May 28th, two European giants will face one another in the final of Europe’s most prestigious Football competition. The Champions League final, where heroes are made and legends are written, is a game that very few football fans miss around the world. This season, just like in the final of 2009, The Champions of Spain, FC Barcelona, will go head-to-head with the Champions of England, Manchester United. A game that is huge for so many reasons, but when going into the fine details of both sides, one can find that there are some similarities between these two clubs.

The showpiece this season is being held at Wembley (first time ever at the newly built version of the mythical stadium), and this is where the similarities begin. Both Manchester United and FC Barcelona won their first European cup titles at Wembley Stadium. United’s first win (first time a team won it at Wembley) was in 1968 with their 4-1 triumph over Benfica, whereas Barca’s first win was in 1992 with Ronald Koeman’s legendary free-kick allowing them to be 1-0 victors vs Sampdoria (last time a team won it at Wembley). With such history and tradition between both clubs, it is sometimes surprising how little these two giants have won the most coveted trophy in European Football. Both teams have won the Champions League only 3 times each and are both looking to make it a fourth title. In addition to that similarity, the official record of competitive games between both teams is also surprisingly even; this will be the 11th official meeting between the two sides, and the record stands at Barcelona 3 wins, Manchester United 3 wins, and 4 draws – even history has put these two sides at exact evens. But all that will count for nothing on Saturday.

Barcelona are the more flamboyant side of the two sides. Always looking to attack and penetrate teams at will, their passing game has become a joy to watch for most of the footballing world and this Barcelona side in particular are on the verge (and already considered by some) of becoming the greatest club side to ever play the game. They’ve beaten pretty much everything that has stood in their way by playing football in its most simplistic form. Their passing and movement on the ball, as well as off it, has caused teams to “turn around like a carousel” as Sir Alex Ferguson put it following the 2009 final. Barcelona are the best scorers of this year’s competition with 27 goals and have only been defeated once in the competition (vs Arsenal in the quarter-finals).  Manchester United are the more conservative of both sides. Unbeaten in the competition this season, as well as holding the best defensive record (4 goals conceded), defense is the best form of attack for United. Their overall play has been criticized in some corners of the media and the football world this season for being unable to produce the entertainment that people have previously associated with United, but I doubt very much that Sir Alex Ferguson and his troops would worry about that. Counter-attack, determination and organization has gotten them this far and they will use that same mentality against Barcelona on Saturday.

A Champions League final is never a game that produces large chunks of entertainment. Usually teams are unadventurous and unwilling to take the risk of attacking in full flow because of the importance of the game and what is at stake. Barcelona don’t fit in that aspect, it’s not in their philosophy. They will be going for it from the first minute, whereas United will most probably sit back and wait for the opportunity to counter-attack. I will speak on behalf of United fans (obviously) by saying that if Barcelona win, there should be no shame in losing to such a great team. They are probably the only team any supporter could accept losing against and can simply say “it’s ok, it is Barcelona”; whereas Barcelona fans, I’d imagine, should probably begin realizing that this particular side of theirs, living off Cruyff’s philosophy, is going to be marked down as the greatest ever Barcelona side in its illustrious history if they win on Saturday under the guidance of the majestic Pep Guardiola. If United win, it will be a fitting tribute to the soon-to-be retired goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar, as well as the potentially-retired Paul Scholes (unknown about his retirement plans as yet but could be his last game). It will also be surpassing all of United fans expectations at the beginning of the season, because not a single United fan that I know of was convinced that this side would go this far. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to it and I’m hoping for one thing in particular: Rain. Superstition will get the better of me on that one because of what it’s done to United in finals on previous occasions.

(Come on United!)

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