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May 24, 2011

Champions League grand finale countdown

Manchester United and Barcelona will be disputing the crown of Europe this Saturday at the legendary Wembley stadium.

By Andrew Hill

Barcelona faces its third UEFA Champions League final in six years, and the first one without striker Samuel Eto’o, who played a vital role in conquering the title in those two previous occasions by opening the score for the Catalonians. In the 2006 final against Arsenal he scored the equalizer that made it possible for them to come from behind and win the championship. And in the second one disputed in 2009 versus Manchester United he gave his team the lead during a first half that the Red Devils had dominated. With Eto’o gone it is Lionel Messi who is called to make the difference this Saturday at Wembley, when Barcelona will defy Manchester United once again.

The Red Devils already suffered him once in 2009, when Messi scored the second goal in Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over them. In an effort to stop him, Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson is carefully working in his starting 11 for Saturday, and claims to have five or six effective line ups to neutralize Messi and company.

It is known that there are only two ways to neutralize Barcelona: through constant fouls that prevents their game from being fluid, or by keeping the ball away from them. And Man U has key players that can perform both roles effectively.

Guardiola is doubtful about whom the starter left defender will be.

It is in the midfield where this battle will be fought, as it is from here that Xavi and Iniesta control the rhythm of the game for Barcelona, and involve the rest of their teammates in the process by always being an option for them in case they can’t find who to pass the ball to. Not to forget Busquets’ silent role of recuperating the ball possession from the rival, and the intermittent associations of Messi with them participating in the playmaking.

One of the options that Ferguson is reviewing is whether to align a double pivot with Carrick and Scholes to stop Barcelona’s playmakers or to go sacrifice one of them, most likely Scholes, to give its place to South Korean Park Ji-Sung, who is more of a winger, and could exchange roles with Ryan Giggs on the left side.

From what we saw on Man U’s last games of the season in England, if Ferguson chooses a more offensive scheme the midfield would be composed of Park, Giggs, Carrick, Valencia, with Rooney in between them and Chicharito, who would be the reference in attack.

While Ferguson decides how to confront this final -his third in four seasons- Barcelona’s coach Joseph Guardiola is doubtful about whom the starter left defender will be. He is working on two options: Carles Puyol or Eric Abidal, both recently recovered from their respective injuries.

Despite the two of them being part of the usual starters in the defense along Gerard Pique and Daniel Alves, the risk from them suffering a relapse from their injuries in such a big game is what keeps Guardiola from putting the two of them at the same time. And with Javier Mascherano doing a great defensive job along with Pique, Barcelona’s coach doesn’t even have the need to risk them.

Both teams are still uncertain about their starting eleven, but what there are no doubts about is regarding them being the best squads in Europe at press time, and a good example of that is not only that the two of them reached the Champions League final, but also that both won their respective domestic leagues: Man U the English Premier League and Barcelona Spanish La Liga.

These are the champions.

About the Author
When it comes to sports, Andrew Hill is more than just a passionate fan. Despite being in the early years of his career as a journalist, which began in 2006, he has proven that he can translate that passion into truthful and objective information of interest for the sports betting industry. As of today he specializes in the coverage of European soccer and NCAA basketball for BetIAS’ website.

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