I have heard doubts over whether United can do what Real Madrid could not and stop Barcelona. I do not share these doubts.
Manchester United have arguably hit their best form of the season in the last stretch, with notable highlights being convincing wins over Schalke to reach this point and a win over Chelsea to put them on the brink of the title. Many people may make the Spanish champions their favourites to enjoy Champions League glory due to their ability to rip a defence open on a whim, because they can pass a team to death, or maybe just because of the majestic Messi.
However I believe Barcelona actually have more to worry about than United and this Saturday should see a very different encounter to that of two years ago which saw Barcelona ease their way to the trophy
One key to United’s chances will be the strength of captain Vidic at the back. As Madrid’s Pepe found out, Barcelona have a knack for being able to get players sent off. I cannot see many ways of beating Barcelona with one less man as they look to outnumber teams with a full eleven men on the pitch, never mind ten. Therefore Vidic will have to keep his cool and not allow the pace and skill of Barcelona’s attack to get the better of him. With Vidic on the pitch keeping arguably Europe’s best defence organised and whole there is no reason why they can’t stop Mr Messi.
Throughout the season I have questioned whether young Rafael is a wise choice for big matches. His inexperience can sometimes see him losing his head and lunging in to rash challenges. He also seems to be more of an attacking wing back than a full back sometimes seeing him leave a gap at the back. However as the season has gone on the lad has matured and quashed any doubts. The Brazilian’s pace should be enough to see him help in attack and still cover his ground at the back. Therefore I think Rafael would be a solid choice for the final being able to help at both ends of the pitch.
Two years ago United’s side seemed to be missing something like a hole in the head or rather more a consistently strong Scotsman. Winning the midfield game will be key against Barcelona. Darren Fletcher’s suspension for the 2009 final saw the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets ruling the middle of the park without too much difficulty. A mystery virus has made Fletcher unavailable recently but he played a full 90 minutes against Blackpool and will hopefully be fully fit to face Barcelona this time around.
With his fantastic ability to break attacks up, win the ball and then move it forward Fletcher plays a vital part in the centre and will have a big say in who wins the battle of the midfield if fully fit on Saturday night.
Michael Carrick has shown vast improvement in the recent games, compared with his very much below average overall season. In the first leg against Schalke he broke play after play down from Schalke. Carrick is also a great passer of the ball and has the vision to bring others in to play, starting attacking moves. If Carrick plays with the same tenacity he has been of late he could match up perfectly with Fletcher to break the Barcelona midfield down and move the ball in United’s favour.
Park Ji-Sung should be a definite starter for the final. Anyone who knows anything about Manchester United knows Park will give 90 minutes of running and hard work. This could be crucial on Saturday night. Park plays a pivotal role in that he can run at defences and look for an opening to play a ball, he will often be there to receive the ball, he gets himself in the box looking for the slightest chance to snap at, and with all that he is also a defender.
One of the best qualities of the nifty South Korean is that he will get back and help the full back more so than any other attacker. This may be a major factor when the opposition attacking is Barcelona, and more specifically when the attacker giving the full back a handful is Lionel Messi.