It's almost time for the UEFA Champions League final in Rome between the giants from Catalonia and Manchester. Many have said that this would be the perfect final in years.
Not just that, many on this site have already written previews and their opinions on what to expect from a match which promises free-flowing football. So I won't blabber on and on about who is going to play, who is suspended and what might happen.
Instead of writing a preview, which many have already done, I write on the individual key battles that will be fought out at different positions on the field as all players aim to sway the tie in their team's favour and help their team in winning the prestigious Champions League trophy.
Barca's front three v. United defense and Van Der Sar
How the United defense will deal with Barca's formidable front trio of Messi, Henry, and Eto'o will be highly decisive. If Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are rock solid at the centre and Van Der Sar is able to keep out the formidable three, then the tie is in favour of United.
In contrast, it is very hard to see all of Messi, Henry, and Eto'o being kept off the score sheet. And if they score once, they don't just stop there. The three create their own chances at times even without being supplied from midfield. Messi himself will be a handful for United's full backs. So things aren't so simple after all.
Ronaldo, Rooney etc v. Barca defense and Valdes
This too will be critical as Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, both regular choices at right and left back respectively, are suspended. Dani Alves also is a crucial part of the Barca attack during wing play. Ronaldo could come up against former Arsenal left back Sylvinho, who believes he is up for arguably his toughest task ever. Rooney will be a threat both at the centre and on the wing.
At central defense, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique won't have as difficult a task against Berbatov as they did in the semifinals against the irregularly energetic Didier Drogba. However, if Tevez plays, it would be a different ball game altogether. So once again, things are not so obvious.
This is possibly the most crucial factor in deciding who will win the tie and the trophy. Barca have Xavi and Andres Iniesta who are any day more creative than Anderson, Carrick and Scholes. But Scholes' and Giggs experience, Carrick's ability to read the game well and Park Ji Sung's energetic work, all add more features to an already strong United midfield.
This battle's result is also not so easy to predict. Both midfields have their own strengths and styles. So, I won't say what we can expect, but would say that Barca have a slight edge in this department.
This is one front where United are expected to dominate, given that Barcelona's weakness is set-pieces, both while attacking and defending.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Nemanja Vidic, and Rooney will all be dangerous in the air off United corners and crosses. Plus Barca don't even have their first choice defenders except Carles Puyol playing.
In contrast, Barca can't be expected to score much of air balls.
Some Crucial Individual Battles
Messi v. Ronaldo (For next World Player of the Year Award)
Sylvinho/Keita v. Ronaldo
Messi v. Patrice Evra
Eto'o v. Vidic and Ferdinand
Puyol v. Rooney
Xavi v. Carrick
My Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Man United (I don't see Ronaldo or Messi on the score sheet, though I might be wrong).
Do tell me what you think will happen.