As we approach the all-English Champion's League Final at Luzhniki Stadium this Wednesday, all of the footballing world waits with bated breath to see who will attain glory this year. Both teams are full of international superstars who will look to push the style of play away from the defensive-minded affair that English football was in the past. But just what factors will influence victory?
Both teams have experienced veterans leading the team, but is experience all that is necessary? Chelsea appear to be having many on-field struggles, particularly between Michael Ballack and the Ivorian Drogba. Skipper John Terry has recovered from an elbow injury and will take the field, but he hasn't been able to limit the feuding between the two.
A look on the other side shows a happy United squad in great form, having just won the league again. Theirs is a team of chemistry, and free kicks are taken by whoever feels up to it. The lads get along and win games. Even without leadership from their skipper, Gary Neville, United have managed to get along with other veterans such as Van Der Saar, Giggs, Ferdinand, Scholes, etc. Many Mancunians have also signed new contracts, showing their desire to remain with the club.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that both teams have great players. Roman Abramovich is able to supply Chelsea with whomever they want, and United's summer purchases have made quite an impact. Chelsea will be led by the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, etc. United has players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, and Rio Ferdinand to lead them.
However, talent alone will not win the game. As they say, "it is not the team with the best players, but the players with the best team that wins the game."
Chelsea's management has often been criticized; unnamed Chelsea players have said, "Chelsea deserve a bigger coach than him. Grant is not a quality coach for such a quality team. When we play big opponents we will suffer because of him." While he may have had some success this season, this might just have been the foundation lain by Mourinho.
Meanwhile, United will be lead by Sir Alex Ferguson, their manager of 21 years. Under his leadership, United have played some of their best football. He is the most successful manager in English football and has been in a game like this before in 1999. He managed to take home the treble. I believe United has players better equipped to the task than Chelsea, and Ferguson will keep them in line should they get overconfident and start to slip off.
Another good clue to see how the game will turn out is how the teams are spending the days leading up to it. Avram Grant and Co. have been trying to play mind games according to Ferguson, but the Chelsea boss is simply trying to prepare his team. He believes in their ability to achieve success: "I believe this is the strongest squad I have ever had. So much so I think I would be pushed to name my best overall team. This is a good young team coming together, they show great courage in their play and want to play right. They want to win something and I think they've got a good chance of doing that. They're playing well."
Celebrations for United's domestic victory are being put on hold while the players train. Players are speaking only of their desire to prove themselves by winning in Moscow. For some like Paul Scholes, it is the chance that they missed. Younger players wish to prove themselves to the world of football and to honor the Red Devil crest they wear on their jersey. Either way, Manchester United will come out ready to win, and Chelsea had better be prepared to stave off a fierce attack.
In conclusion, Manchester United have a great chance at repeating their European success from 1999. Their experienced players will give guidance to their explosive young talent and Sir Alex Ferguson's "team over player" policy will keep them together. They will surely create chances, but without finishers such as Sheringham and Solskjaer, United will rely more heavily on set pieces and individual sparks of brilliance to score goals.