LONDON - Barcelona must beware the artful
dodgers of the Champions League in Saturday's final at Wembley
where Manchester United will get a second chance to pick the
pocket of Europe's classiest team.
United, who have snatched two Champions League final wins
from what appeared to be certain defeats, were overwhelmed by
Barca's precision passing game when the teams met in Rome in
2009, surrendering in a one-sided 2-0 defeat.
Two years on, the only certainty on the vast Wembley pitch
is that the Spanish champions, boasting the world's best player
in Lionel Messi, will again enjoy the bulk of possession.
But while Barcelona remain technically superior, no one
could ever accuse wily United manager Sir Alex Ferguson of failing
to learn from his mistakes.
With England striker Wayne Rooney and the exciting Mexico
forward Javier Hernandez among the talent at his disposal, an
upset is far from beyond their grasp.
"We are not scared of Barcelona," South Korean midfielder
Park Ji-sung, part of the team that lost to Barcelona two years
ago, told reporters this week. "They are one of the best teams
in the world, but we have our own quality."
United clearly do have quality but it will need temperament
as well as talent to prevail in a battle between two clubs who
each have three European Cup wins, and curiously enough won the
first of them at the old Wembley Stadium.
Guardiola was part of the Barca side that triumphed at last
in 1992, with a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria under the venue's
famous Twin Towers.
It was back in 1968 when United won their first European Cup
with a 4-1 Wembley victory, also in extra-time, against Benfica.
The two subsequent wins for the English side have been a
case of victories conjured from seemingly hopeless situations.
The first came at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium in 1999, when
two last-gasp goals earned them a sensational 2-1 win over
Bayern Munich in a match that had appeared lost.
In 2008, they were staring at defeat again when Chelsea
captain John Terry had a chance to win the title in a penalty
shootout in Moscow only to slip, miss and gift United the
opportunity to win their third European Cup.
There was no such escape against Barca in Rome the following
year, as Guardiola capped a perfect first season in charge by
masterminding a comprehensive win over United that completed a
treble of league, cup and Champions League.
If Barcelona are to be denied a third European title in six
seasons - they also beat Arsenal in 2006 under Frank Rijkaard - United will have to be ruthless when chances come their way.
The quality of midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the
beating heart of the Spain team that won the World Cup in South
Africa, ensures Barca rarely cede control.
With Messi marauding through the middle it is inconceivable
that United's defenders will have a carefree night.
The English side will rely on a rearguard built around the
formidable central defensive pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio
Ferdinand, while 39-year-old Edwin van der Sar, who will retire
after the match, will need to bow out on a high.
The Dutch keeper will certainly have work to do against a
side that look irresistible in attack and reached the final via
the toughest of routes, beating arch-rivals Real Madrid over two
bruising semi-final legs while United strolled past Schalke 04.
Messi has scored 52 goals this season in all competitions
and is top scorer in the Champions League with 11 in 12 games.
The Argentine maestro will play as part of a three-man
attack alongside Pedro and David Villa, both members of the
Spain team that enjoyed World Cup glory last year.
United's hopes of avenging the 2009 defeat will rest on
their ability to pick holes in a Barcelona defence that does
occasionally have a threadbare look about it.
Rooney has played himself into form following a very public
wobble in his enthusiasm for playing for Manchester United and
Hernandez, nicknamed 'Chicharito', or 'Little Pea', has enjoyed
a superb first season at the Old Trafford club.
With Welsh midfielder Ryan Giggs playing as well as ever,
despite the tide of newspaper stories about his private life,
United will rightly feel from overwhelmed going into Saturday's
rematch, where they enjoy home country advantage.
The winners will lift their fourth European Cup in total and
join Real Madrid and AC Milan as three-times winners in the
Champions League era starting in 1992/93.
A United victory would take Ferguson level with Bob Paisley
of Liverpool as the only manager to win the competition three
For Guardiola, it would be a second Champions League title
in just three seasons as a coach while confirming Barcelona as
one of the great sides of this or any era.
Manchester United: 1-Edwin van der Sar; 20-Fabio, 5-Rio
Ferdinand, 15-Nemanja Vidic (captain), 3-Patrice Evra;
25-Antonio Valencia, 16-Michael Carrick, 11-Ryan Giggs, 13-Park
Ji-Sung; 10-Wayne Rooney, 14-Javier Hernandez.
Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Daniel Alves, 3-Gerard Pique,
5-Carles Puyol, 22-Eric Abidal; 16-Sergio Busquets, 6-Xavi,
8-Andres Iniesta; 17-Pedro, 10-Lionel Messi, 7-David Villa.
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
Berlin will stage Champions League final for the first time in 2015
Borussia Dortmund's Mario Gotze ruled out of Champions League final against Bayern Munich
Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand signs one-year contract
Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini will leave the La Liga club at the end of the current season
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010