In The Stands’ Rolly Pelovangu looks ahead to the 2011 UEFA Champions League final between Spanish champions Barcelona and English champions Manchester United at Wembley.
Manchester United will not want to see this sight again. (2009 Final)
Well, these are the champions. When the bigwigs over at UEFA HQ first conceived their idea of having an elite European club cup competition spanning a full season and incorporating the finest teams across the continent this was exactly the type of match the spectacle demanded.
They say sequels are never quite as good as the first in which case maybe Saturday’s final at Wembley will be a damp squib. Of course that is a very big ‘maybe’ given the ammunition ready to be locked and loaded into the proverbial canon.
Just like the arch hovering over that fine stadium situated in North West London, the calibre and quality of talent which shall be on show oozes pure class. So where do you begin? Lionel Messi vs Wayne Rooney. Xavi vs Ryan Giggs. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic vs Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Victor Valdes vs Edwin Van der Sar. Perhaps more importantly, coaches Pep Guardiola vs Sir Alex Ferguson.
Two years ago in the heart of the eternal city it was each of the former who emerged victorious as the Catalans ran out comfortable 2-0 winners courtesy of goals from Samuel Eto’o and a superb header by Lionel Messi.
The defeat somewhat enshrined this current Barcelona side – one of the best ever – into footballing folklore from which another Champions League triumph will cement it for good. Make no mistake about it, they are formidable.
The road to Wembley has not been easy for La Blaugrana. They had to topple free-flowing Arsenal in the last 16, a rumbustious Shakhtar Donetsk in the last four, and then navigated their way past Jose Mourinho’s bullish Real Madrid side in the semi-finals.
One man has stood out head and shoulder above the rest, albeit not literally, and that is Lionel Messi. The top scorer in this season’s Champions League, the little Argentine is baying for blood and has the conviction of a killer as he seeks to round off another great season by lifting the famous jug-eared trophy for a third time.
Nevertheless, discount Manchester United at your peril. As the saying goes, ‘if anybody can, United can’. Having eased their way to the Premier League finish line, Fergie’s men find themselves in a third European Cup final in 4 seasons. Impressive stuff it would seem and along the way, the blue-boys of Schalke, Chelsea and Marseille will all written-off by the Red Devils who incidentally will don their away strip come Saturday.
Some say they are not and indeed have not been playing well; some may be right. But when the likes of Rooney, Hernandez, Park Ji-Sung and Rio Ferdinand are looking pretty punchy and with an eye for a trophy, only a fool puts down the United threat. They are after all undefeated in this season’s competition.
So what type of final are we in for? That remains to be seen. For the winner there stands the glorious chance of completing a league and European Cup double and inscribing their name into folklore.
It will go down in the annuals we hope so grab a beer, lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, cancel dinner with the Mrs and tune in to the 2011 UEFA Champions League final with ravenous fascination. You will not regret it.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes, Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves, Adriano Corr, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Pedro, David Villa, Lionel Messi.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Fabio, Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Park Ji-Sung, Antonio Valencia; Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Manchester United.
In The Stands shall produce a more thorough article explaining our prediction. But like the experts we feel Barcelona are just one step ahead of United and barring bad luck or failure to perform, we tip the match in favour of Pep Guardiola’s men…just.