The Champions League final is fast approaching. Saturday does not seem so far away however time has been moving excrutiatingly slow for all Manchester United fans hasn’t it?
The nervousness and the excitement are both kicking in finally. Could it be one of the greatest days of your life or could it be a repeat of 2009? Well we will have to wait until Saturday night 19:45BST to find out but until then you can enjoy reading my match preview.
The team that is expected to play for Manchester United in the final against Barcelona is expected to be similar to the same teams that have played in the bigger games at the back end of Manchester United’s title winning campaign and progress to the final of the Champions League.
My Predicted Barcelona XI: Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta; Lionel Messi, David Villa, Pedro. – Formation 4-3-3
I believe it will be this team that will start in the final for Manchester United. The main talking points will be the exclusion of both Nani and Dimitar Berbatov. Manchester United’s top assister and top goalscorer for the season. I will firstly start by talking about these two. It is expected by most because of their lack of game time and form lately and personally I feel it is the right decision.
Nani has had a superb season and was named Manchester United’s player’s player of the year however he, like “the best player in the world” Gareth Bale, has seen a dip in his form. Dimitar Berbatov is a confidence player and as he has not played in the big games this season, he will of course not start.
For the predicted Barcelona XI, I have it on good authority that this will actually be the team. The Barcelona team is extremely predictable because they lack strength in depth however we all know the strength’s of their first team. There has been a lot of chatter in the Spanish press today that Eric Abidal will not be playing in the final and so it is expected that Carlos Puyol will be playing at left back with Javier Mascherano coming in at centre back to partner Gerard Pique.
It will be these battles where I believe that the match will be won or lost. These are the players who will impact on the game the most in my opinion.
Hernandez vs Mascherano – Hernandez could prove to be one of the key players in the game stretching the play and testing this rather unfamiliar centre back pairing of both Masherano and Pique. He likes to play on the shoulder of the defenders and his speed and movement will most probably force this makeshift centre back pairing to sit deeper than usual. I really think that Hernandez can really unsettle the Barcelona backline.
Rooney vs Busquets – For me Sergio Busquets is the most influencial player in the Barcelona team. Given the freedom he will be the one running the show from deep spraying the passes. Against Panathinaikos in Barcelona’s 5-1 victory in the Champions League this season he had 100% pass completition rate and made well over 100 successful passes. He is key to the way that Barcelona play. Wayne Rooney will be playing in the “hole” in between the defence and the midfield, the same “hole” that Sergio Busquets occupies. He will have to close Busquets down and hassle him as much as possible for us to have a chance of winning on Saturday.
Valencia vs Puyol – Antonio Valencia is the modern day winger. He is very quick, very strong. All he needs is a yard of space and he will put an excrutiatingly good ball into dangerous areas for strikers like Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney to attack. Valencia is great at tracking back and will of course help out his right back but he also makes himself available for the long balls whilst hugging the touchline. I believe if Antonio Valencia is given the chance to take on Puyol, he could really exploit this area of the pitch and the product could quite possibly be a goal.
Fabio vs Villa – Our right back Fabio is inexperienced but enthusiastic. He could be a cause for concern or the occasion could bring out the best in him. I really do think it could be the latter. He has so much energy that I think he will close down the players in his vicinity quickly and cleanly. I’m quite sure Rio Ferdinand will be whispering into his ear before the game to stay on his feet to avoid being booked needlessly. Both Villa or Pedro usually pop up in Fabio Da Silva’s area of the pitch so he will need to be aware.
Key Man: Xavi Hernandez.
Xavi is the heartbeat of the creative side of the team. He is absolutely brilliant. A genius. It might be surprising to everyone that I have not mentioned Lionel Messi too often. He is probably the best player in the world but the fact that his threat is highlighted so often indicates to me that Sir Alex Ferguson will have some kind of plan for him. Xavi on the hand is one of the best passers of the ball. A player that models himself on Paul Scholes, the midfielder who he holds in the highest of regards. Pretty much every goal comes through that man Xavi Hernandez. He is definitely their most important player and so it will be up to Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick to do a job on him and his fellow central midfield partner Andres Iniesta.
I have missed out key battles between most of the Barcelona front men and the Manchester United defence mainly for the reason that the Barcelona attack is very interchangeable. I can forsee Park Ji-Sung playing more centrally when Manchester United have not got the ball to help to neutralise the threat that Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta pose. His energy will be important to defend against this Barcelona side. I also think Michael Carrick will be important to this Manchester United side. In European football the name of the game is possession and I really think Michael Carrick is the best at keeping possession and controlling the tempo in our team. He has played in virtually every single big game this season and has been quite an integral part in our successes so far this year. If we do manage to control the play I believe that a large part of this will be due to Carrick. A lot of people doesn’t realise the simple things he does, for me he is our equivalent to Sergio Busquets, even if he is underrated by some sections of the supporters.
This is going to be one of the greatest matches in the history of football. A fantasy match where the top two sides in Europe meet. Manchester United vs Barcelona at the home of football. It is too close to call but I hope it is a great match and of course I hope that Nemanja Vidic will be lifting our 4th European Cup come the final whistle.