UEFA Champions League Final: Barcelona vs. Manchester United Updates
The two best teams in the two best leagues in the world clashing in arguably the world's most famous football stage—is there really anything not to love about Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United?
Saturday's highly-anticipated final at Wembley in London should look somewhat familiar to most football observers, considering the match features the same sides that battled for Champions League glory two years ago in Rome, with Barcelona emerging victorious 2-0.
But plenty has changed since then.
Manchester United have transformed from a side that so heavily relied on the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo to a stout, resilient bunch that brushed aside English Premier League challenges from the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea en route to a domestic triumph.
Barcelona have a similar side to the 2009 group that triumphed in Europe, but replaced aging stars Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto with younger stars Pedro and David Villa to compliment the always-spectacular Lionel Messi up top. Pedro was on Barcelona's 2009 side, but was rarely featured.
Some consider this to be an even stronger Barcelona side than 2009's edition, but Manchester United have shown repeatedly that they are more than capable of comprehensively disposing any of Europe's top competition in their run to the final.
Check back here for all of the latest updates leading up to what will surely be an epic clash on Saturday and, of course, check in to Bleacher Report's world football section for even more coverage.
OK, let's get it out of the way: 2011's Barcelona side is one of the best of all time.
After Spaniard David Villa put Barcelona on top for good with a beautiful, curling strike to put Barcelona atop 3-1. Barcelona held on and captured European glory for the third time in a six-year span.
And yes, they're that good.
Barcelona showed the world at Wembley how complete they can be. Lionel Messi, Pedro and David Villa—all three of Barca's vaunted three-headed front line—found the back of the net.
Xavi and Andres Iniesta helped Barcelona control the midfield and initiate Barca's tiki-taka offense and, aside from an early 10-minute span, Barcelona comprehensively put aside a Manchester united team that had run rampant through Europe previously and coasted to a Premier League triumph.
Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez gave Barcelona's back line a bit of trouble, but Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique filled in admirably and filled the void for injured Carles Puyol to silence United's attack.
And even if not for some improved finishing prowess, the scoreline could have been much more dominant than Barcelona's 3-1 margin of victory.
Barcelona showed off how complete of a side they are, with world-class players featured at every different position.
Quickly, this Barcelona side is edging its way into the conversation of best of all time.
Barcelona are en route to another UEFA Champions League triumph.
Barcelona, firing on all cylinders, have Manchester United on their heels after David Villa fired a brilliant, curling strike to give Barcelona a commanding 3-1 advantage in the waning moments at Wembley.
After Lionel Messi (again) dribbled through Manchester United's entire defense, Villa caught a stray ball, trapped it, took a step back and launched a jaw-dropping shot into the upper left-hand corner of the net that Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar had no chance at saving.
For Villa, a European triumph would mark a momentous year-long campaign.
He won the World Cup as a member of Spain last summer in Africa, had a lucrative move from Valencia to Barcelona and then, finally, helped Barcelona triumph on Europe's grandest stage.
Twitter quickly responded to Villa's goal by starting to speculate if this Barcelona side is the best of all time. Certainly, Barca's 2009 side would have something to say about that, but Barcelona are on route to another European triumph.
Are they the best of all time? We'll soon find out.
Lionel Messi was by far the most talked about player heading into today's epic UEFA Champions League clash between Barcelona and Manchester United.
And in the 52nd minute, Messi delivered what seemed to be inevitable in the first half.
In a brilliant individual effort, the diminutive Argentine danced through Manchester United's defense and delivered a low left-footed strike that beat United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
Messi had a handful of breathtaking runs in the first half and it seemed that, eventually, he would have to have a strong chance on goal.
It marked the second time in the 23-year-old's career that he scored Barcelona's second goal in a UEFA Champions League final—he scored late in Barcelona's 2-0 triumph over Manchester United in the 2009 final.
If Barcelona can hold off United and capture their third Champions League trophy in the past six years, surely Messi will work himself into the discussion of best ever.
Josh Elliott—formerly of Sports Illustrated, ESPN and most importantly, UC Santa Barbara's Daily Nexus—tweeted the following after Messi's goal:
If it holds, he's a World Cup triumph for Argentina away....
The Barcelona-Manchester Untied UEFA Champions League final at Wembley has been one of the highest anticipated in recent memory, and rightfully so.
So far, the tilt has lived up to the billing.
In a very open, offensive-heavy first half, both sides have supplied plenty of fireworks.
Barcelona and Manchester United enter at the half tied 1-1.
United dominated the first 10 minutes with a handful of chances from Javier Hernandez (Chicharito).
Barcelona initially appeared off of their game and couldn't quite settle into their standard tiki-taka possession-heavy style of offensive flow. Shortly thereafter Barcelona resumed controlling the possession and were only stumped by a few timely defensive stops from Nemaja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Then what seemed inevitable became reality: Barcelona took an early 1-0 lead.
Xavi found Pedro along the right flank in front of the goal and the Spaniard beat Edwin van der Sar on the near post in the 27th minute.
A shocked Manchester United side didn't take long to strike back. Wayne Rooney playing at the home of his English National Team games, fired an absolute laser past Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes to get the Red Devils back into the game.
The game, so far, has more than lives up to its billing. Lionel Messi hasn't found the back of the net, but he has still made a handful of jaw-dropping runs through the middle of United's defense.
The second half promises to be a noteworthy one. Check back here for all the updates.
OK, that's the Barcelona we remember.
Manchester United came out firing on all cylinders against Barcelona but shortly thereafter Barcelona began playing the game we've all come to know and love.
It seemed inevitable that Barcelona was bound to score, with David Villa having several chances on goal, until Pedro fired home a beautiful goal to give Barcelona an early 1-0 lead at Wembley.
It's been said, time and time and again, that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world. Barcelona's Xavi, made his claim for that designation when setting up Pedro's 25th-minute strike.
Xavi, who is wearing Barcelona's captain's armband in place of the injured Carles Puyol, made a strong run through the middle of Manchester United's area and made a pinpoint pass through the heart of United's defense with the outside of his foot.
He found a streaking Pedro who easily beat United keeper Edwin van der Sar on the near post. There was little van der Sar could do to stop the Spaniard's strike in what will likely be his final professional game.
Wayne Rooney then answered in the 32nd minute with an amazing strike to give Manchester United a 1-1 tie. The pace so far has been breathtaking at Wembley. Stay tuned for more action.
Leave it to FOX to make the "beautiful game" exponentially less beautiful.
Many heads were turned when people realized that the world's Super Bowl—the UEFA Champions League final—would be broadcasted on FOX, not to be confused with Americans' go-to soccer/football source, Fox Soccer Channel.
Fittingly, FOX has already completely disillusioned viewers with its ver Americanized, sensationalized coverage.
First: You have Michael Strahan trying to talk football. With FOX's traditional let's-yell-something and cut a few images behind it.
Second: You have FOX treating London like it's some sort of foreign planet. Yes, we know what London looks like. You don't have to repeatedly show clips of it with terrible pop song "London Bridge" by pop-centric Fergie.
Grant Wahl, one of America's most respected soccer voices tweeted:
Why can't the Fox pregame figure out what ESPN did for its World Cup coverage? Please stop dumbing it down and comparing it to U.S. sports.
It doesn't help that FOX is already recycling its background music it uses for NFL coverage.
It's not tough. Give viewers a british accent, some subtle commentary and let the game speak for itself. The game is, after all, a beautiful one.
I'll give you a hint: There's not very many Manchester United believers out there (outside of Manchester, of course).
No matter how impressive perhaps England's most famous team in Manchester United has been this year, most pundits agree that Barcelona should be the favoured side considered entering Saturday's UEFA Champions League final at Wembley.
I would be remiss if I didn't first mention that some dolt (OK, me), predicted that Barcelona would be victorious tomorrow night shortly after the final was set. It's certainly not a bold prediction—many put this particular Barcelona side among the world's all-time elite.
And rightfully so. Barcelona are a side not only without any holes, but they feature at each position a world-class talent coupled with an uncanny chemistry to help perfect their tiki-taka, possession-heavy style of play.
Manchester United, on the other hand, are perceived perhaps without that game-changing player like, say, Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta that Barcelona posses. But the Red Devils have perhaps the world's best defender in Nemanja Vidic and, although Wayne Rooney lacks Messi's gaudy goal-scoring numbers, the Englishman has formed a dangerously effective pairing up top with Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). You can't discount the advantage United could have while playing in London's Wembley Stadium, where many of United's English players have already played under the bright lights as members of the Three Lions.
That said, the overwhelming majority of the media favours Barcelona.
Sports Illustrated published its expert picks for tomorrow's game and the numbers were staggering: of the 15 predictions, only one picked United.
Prediction: Iniesta, Messi and David Villa strike for Barca while Chicharito and Ryan Giggs' goals go for naught, as Barcelona wins a 3-2 thriller.
Whether you're a Manchester United fan, a Barcelona fan, a fan of (insert team name here) or simply a fan of football, the United tribute video that will be shown before the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley on Saturday will draw some sort of emotion or another.
Red Devil fans will likely watch with glee through the sharp, awe-inspiring seven-minute tribute. Others may cringe or find a wall to punch as United's triumphs and legends from throughout the team's history are glorified.
Full disclosure: yours truly is an Arsenal supporter. I grabbed the trash can and pulled it over next to my desk at the Bleacher Report office expecting today's breakfast would be exiting from my mouth at some point. Instead, I was left with an odd feeling of chills (I tried to avoid 'em like the plague).
The video starts with the team's early history and moves into a tribute to the seven Red Devils lost in the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. The video then chronicles United's other European triumphs (1968, 1999 and 2008) while paralleling important moments in history with clips old and new.
Naturally, many Manchester United legends are paid tribute throughout the video: Matt Busby, George Best, Paul Scholes, Edwin van der Sar, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex Ferguson and current Mexican starlet Javier Hernandez (Chicharito).
The final clip is current United skipper Nemanja Vidic lifting the Premier League trophy following by the ManU TV announcer rightfully quipping: "If that doesn't get you in the mood, nothing will."
Saturday's kickoff can't come soon enough.
Manchester United's Ryan Giggs is a rarity in the footballing world—or the realm of any professional sport, for that matter—the 37-year-old has managed to spend his entire professional career on the same club.
And a damn good one, at that.
When typically footballers resist overtures from bigger, richer clubs or simply get impatient for a change of scenery due to a lack of silverware, Giggs has been a steadying force on the left wing under Alex Ferguson.
Instead, the perpetually steady Giggs, has been trying to remain calm on the eve of his fourth Champions League Final as a member of the Red Devils while he struggles to keep the media from blowing the lid (entirely) off of an apparent affair Giggs was having with Imogen Thomas.
Giggs' attention has been apparently focused on fighting social website Twitter for identifying Giggs as filing a "superinjunction" with the courts to keep his name out of the press for his involvement in the matter.
In spite of Giggs' focus being on trying to keep his name clean as opposed to solely trying to figure out how to penetrate Barcelona's defense or a pivotal midfield battle with the likes of Xavi and Andres Inesta, United legend Ryan Stiles believes that Giggs will be perfectly fine when he takes the pitch at Wembley on Saturday.
“I'm sure Fergie can pick Giggs with the greatest confidence,” says Stiles.
“He's known him for 20 years, he knows what's inside him — and he knows what he can ask of him.
“Yes, it has been a difficult time these last few days, but Ryan will be asked to do only something that he has been trained to do over all these years. Would you want his talent and experience in a game like Saturday's? Yes. Can you believe he can handle the pressure of his situation? Yes.”
A UEFA Champions League final victory for Barcelona over Manchester Untied on Saturday at Wembley will unquestionably solidify Barca's claim of being the best side in the world this year.
But will it also make their case as being one of the best club sides of all time?
Surely, they should be in the conversation.
They dominated domestically and cruised to a La Liga triumph. Although Barcelona fell short in their Copa del Rey final against bitter rival Real Madrid, consider alone the amount of talent Barcelona boast and—with a win over United—they have to at least be mentioned among the all-time bests.
Lionel Messi is a once-in-a-generation striker in the prime of his career. David Villa and Pedro are both superb partners up top for the dangerous, diminutive Argentine.
Sergio Busquets and the seldom-used Javier Mascherano are considered two of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
Add a brick wall defensive pairing of Spaniards in Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique and 2011's Barcelona side is easily one of the most complete sides in recent memory.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl writes:
But winning the Spanish League and Champions League titles would be more than enough to make up for it, and the dominance of this Barcelona team sets it apart, both statistically (goals scored, time of possession, number of passes) and stylistically. (We'll be telling stories to our grandkids someday about watching the brilliance of Lionel Messi and Xavi and the gang.)
Will Barcelona vault into the discussion of best team of all time? They'll have to topple a similarly-complete Manchester United side, first.
Hardly a small task.
Let the lovefest between Barcelona and Manchester United continue.
As the highly-anticipated UEFA Champions League final approaches, there haven't been any jabs between the Spanish and English giants through the media. No guarantees, no disparaging remarks, nada.
In fact, both teams have made an effort to heap praise upon each other whenever given the opportunity. It could be a classic case of not wanting to poke the bear, but it hasn't stopped either side from lavishing each other with complimentary remarks.
The latest to do the dance was Manchester United stalwart defender Rio Ferdinand. Ferdinand, the onetime teammate of Barcelona's Gerard Pique, praised the Spaniard and figured that his ascent was prompted when the oft-used youngster left Manchester United for Barcelona in 2008.
Pique has since helped anchor Barcelona's back line along with Carles Puyol. Ferdinand told reporters:
“Everyone knew Pique had talent. But English football is different. If you asked him if he could have been where he is now if he had been playing for Manchester United, he would probably have said 'I don't know'.
"When you get a chance, you have to take it. He has gone to Spain, is winning trophies with Barcelona and is doing fantastically well, so you have to give him credit for that."
Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Real Madrid should have the Barcelona manager experiencing faint feelings of deja vu for two reasons.
First: The tilt's location, London's famed Wembley Stadium, is where a young Guardiola won the European Cup as a defensive midfielder in 1992 as a player for Barcelona. Second: It will be the second time in a three-year span Guardiola has matched wits against one of the world's best in Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson in a UEFA Champions League Final.
Many managers quiver at the thought of facing Ferguson. Guardola's Barcelona side topped Ferguson's Red Devils in the 2009 final, but the two share a mutual admiration as the two teams prepare for their Saturday night clash at Wembley.
For Guardiola, it must be a breath of fresh air to face United and Ferguson after a bickering, finger-pointing 18-day span where Barcelona faced hated rival Real Madrid and non-media shy Jose Mourinho four times in three different competitions.
Guardiola was quoted as saying of Ferguson on Manchester United's official website:
“Sadly I don’t know Sir Alex that well personally, even though we’ve met a couple of times,” says Guardiola. “I’m too green for there to be any comparison in ethos or playing style, but you can compare Sir Alex’s philosophy with that of Barcelona, perhaps best of all with that of Johan Cruyff.
“To go on winning over a long period of time, to go through two, three, four cycles of renewing a team and keep winning, that is greatness. It’s an honour to be facing him again.”
Rightfully, much of the best-striker-in-the-world debate has began with Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and—also rightfully—ended with Messi.
Messi will undoubtedly be the man who all will want to watch when Barcelona and Manchester Untied face each other in Saturday's UEFA Champions League final.
But perhaps the most important man on the pitch will not be the diminutive Argentine, but the bullish oft-forgotten English striker Wayne Rooney. OK, not forgotten, but he's certainly fallen off certain elite radars after a middling performance in last summer's World Cup and an oft-brilliant, oft-mediocre domestic season with United.
He didn't have poor season by any standards, but compared to the previous season dipped at times dramatically. In recent years, Messi and Ronaldo have separated themselves from Rooney in the world's elite striker conversation.
Were Rooney's heightened expectations the result of the British hype machine? After all, the then-16-year-old Rooney scored a wondergoal against the "Invincibles" of Arsenal in 2004 as a member of Everton to burst on the scene at a rapid rate.
Most are quick to anoint a freakishly talented youngster as "the next big thing"—American football/soccer fans, see: Adu, Freddy—so Rooney had an immediate burden placed upon him.
Rooney, however, has the talent to fulfill those expectations. Even if his lavish goal-scoring numbers dipped this season, he formed an immediate and fruitful partnership up top with Mexican sensation Javier Hernandez and his late-season form picked up and he, at times, showed brilliant vision and precision with his passing.
If Rooney can lead Manchester United to a second Champions League triumph in four years, certainly, he'd have to start nudging himself back into the same conversation as Messi and Ronaldo.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi has already conquered the UEFA Champions League.
In fact, he's already conquered Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final. He did so in 2009 when he scored Barcelona's 2-0 victory in a rain-soaked night in Rome.
But that, apparently, wasn't his dream. Saturday's match against a complete Manchester United side in perhaps the world's most famous football stadium is Messi's dream.
He told reporters that he's excited to play a United side that can only match Barcelona's talents on the pitch and that he respects the Alex Ferguson-coached Red Devils for their respect to the game.
“I actually think it’s kind of a dream final, meeting Manchester United. In my opinion, they’re the only team in the world that can match our level at the moment.
“They’re a very strong team and you won’t see them trying to destroy our game like Real Madrid did.
“Manchester will be looking to play their own game and I’m sure that will make it a very open and exciting final.
“There are lots of similarities between Barcelona and Manchester United, I would say. Like us, they are not afraid of playing with young players on the team.
“They keep their faith in their coach and not fire one each season. They like to focus on their own game and they try to find players that fit in the club.
“I see a lot of potential in the team we are meeting. They have done really well in England, where there are more teams battling for the league title than here in Spain.
“I have seen some of their games in the Champions League and the way they beat Schalke was very convincing.
“You have to bear in mind that Schalke beat both Valencia and Inter to reach the semi-final, but they didn’t stand a chance against Manchester.
“So, it says something about the strength of their team and squad.”
Messi, the 23-year-old Argentine striker, has scored 52 goals in 54 appearances this season including 11 in 12 Champions League performances.
There are plenty of storylines for fans of football to wrap their heads around leading into Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona.
You know, the battle between two of the world's best strikers (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) or the battle of wits between two of the world's best managers (Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola) to name just a couple of mouthwatering chapters.
And then there's the battle between man and supermodel.
Yeah, a recent poll by Champions League sponsor Heineken showed that 52 percent of the men polled answered that they would prefer to watch their favorite club play the world's most prestigious European competition than go on a date with a world famous supermodel.
There is, at least, a bit of silver lining. For the ladies, at least:
However, the international beauties can take comfort in the knowledge that despite this snub, even more men would find an excuse to skip their friend's all-important stag-party (62%), while an amazing 44% would actually hand over the ultimate honour of being the 'best-man' to someone else! It just goes to show how the tournament captures the imagination of men around the world and the lengths people would go to in order to see their favourite team triumph in Wembley and be crowned champions of Europe.
The same survey, which polled 5,638 legal drinking males in 15 different countries, concluded that one in five Spanish or Brazilian men would choose to watch their favorite side battle it out in the Champions League final over getting married.
The UEFA Champions League final: Where bizarre happens.