Will Manchester United stop the best of Barcelona?

by Michael Healey

Friday, May 27th, 2011
 

The final of the Champions League at Wembley Stadium is almost upon us. The iconic twin towers of the old Wembley may be gone but the arch of the latest, rejuvenated and reinvigorated Wembley Stadium is all set to become just as famous.

Saturday 28th May 2011 will the biggest day in the new stadium’s life to date. The newer version of Wembley has played host too many big games to date with World Cup qualifiers and domestic cup finals, but this Saturday will be the biggest one yet.

The Champions League final is finally back. Back at home. Memories of Kenny Dalglish calmly lifting the ball over the on rushing Birger Jensen, the Club Brugge goalkeeper, are legendary. As is the image of Ronald Koeman firing the game winning free kick in past a flailing Sampdoria keeper, with Koeman wheeling away in pure ecstasy at, having led Barcelona to their first European Cup in their history.

So this coming weekend Barcelona are back to where it all began, back at Wembley. Back to the same site, but an updated version of the stadium. Their opponents this weekend are a familiar foe.

Only two years ago in the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Barcelona overcame Manchester United. Goals from Samuel Etoo and the mesmerising Lionel Messi making the difference on the night. This weekend they meet again.

Everything sounds very familiar for the Catalans. So how do they approach the upcoming game?

This answer is simple. The same way they approach every single game they play. The same way the youngsters of La Masia approach each game. With the same passing and movement that destroys the will and drains the energy of even the most powerful and prepared of teams. Barcelona’s tic-tac football, as it has commonly been known, is as enterprising and magical as can be on a football field.

The way the players, from Victor Valdes in goal, through Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique in defence onto Andres Iniesta and Xavi in midfield and, finally, through to Messi in any attacking role he decides to take up, retain the ball is a frightening reality opposing teams must figure out. There is a mystical understanding between the players that other teams cannot fathom.

Can Manchester United stop them?

Despite United winning the Premier League almost at a canter in the end, it is common knowledge they do not have the same attacking prowess as in 2009, with notable stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, now departed. But what United do have for them is a strong will to win.

Often at times this season, when the need for inspiration was required, a United player would step up and be counted for. Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez, newly signed this summer from Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara, has scored 20 goals in his first season in English football. Hernandez has increasingly become United’s go to guy in the run in to the Premier League title. He shows a distinct knack of being in the right place at the right time with an unnerving amount of composure in front of goal.

In the final Pique and Puyol will need to have eyes in the back of their heads to keep track of Hernandez. The defenders of Barcelona will also have to keep their full attention to the in form Wayne Rooney. Rooney had struggled for much of the season due to a poor World Cup and allegations about his private life. He managed to come back into form at the right time for United to push them through to the domestic title and also to get into the Wembley Final. Rooney will at all times look to drop deep and receive the ball from the midfielders to turn and run at the Catalan defence.

Probable line-ups:
Valdes

Dani Alves Puyol Pique Abidal/Adriano

Busquets

Xavi Iniesta

Pedro Messi Villa

Hernandez

Rooney

Nani/Park Valencia

Giggs Carrick/Scholes/Flethcer

Evra Vidic Ferdinand Rafael

Van Der Sar

Looking at how both teams will probably line up for the match it’s important to look at where the game shall be won. The central midfield positions are crucial. Although most people, and rightly so, will look at the movement of Messi as the vital component of the Barcelona attack, it is more likely to come from the fantastic movement and passing ability of Xavi and Iniesta.

The United midfielders will need to press the Barcelona midfield at all times to stop them from finding the vital passes in the dangerous positions to Messi and co.

If United can do this then they will always have the threat of Rooney and the predatory Hernandez to aide them in attack.

So score against Barcelona is one thing but to expect them NOT to score is an altogether different prospect.

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