Barca vs. United: Grading All 22 Probable UEFA Champions League Final Starters
The Champions League final is upon us. And what a final it should be. This is the matchup that everyone wanted. Even if you are a fan of another team or one of these team's rivals (like yours truly), you still have to concede that the this years final involves the best two teams in all of Europe.
Barcelona has dominated La Liga and has hardly been challenged all season. Their squad is comprised of many players that lead Spain to recent World Cup glory. They are arguably one of the best squads in European club football history.
It is fitting that they are in the final, as almost everyone predicted at the beginning of the season that they would be here. It was practically the surest bet you could make.
But if any team can ruin Barcelona's parade, it's Manchester United. Most people would argue that the Premier League is the toughest league in the world right now. United wasn't flawless, but they were consistent throughout the entire season.
Other teams, like Chelsea and Arsenal, had their slumps and months of struggle. United may have had an off week here and there but never had any prolonged struggles. They weathered the storm that is the Premier League season and convincingly came out on top.
It thus seems appropriate that United, the best team from arguably the best league in the world, would be matched up against Barcelona, the team that has dominated and steamrolled through all competition this year.
Here's a preview of the final by forecasting the performance of all probable starters and giving grades based upon the predicted performance.
Edwin Van Der Sar: B
Van der Sar will have a solid game, just probably not the end result that he would want for what will likely be his last Champions League.
At 40 years old, van der Sar has proven that he is still one of the best keepers in the world. He'll have two or three brilliant saves during the game and keep United close.
Unfortunately, although for no fault of his own, Barcelona's attack will be relentless and the opportunities on goal will be too much and at least a couple will get past him.
Nemanja Vidic: A-
Vidic, as expected, will have a solid performance against Barcelona. Barcelona will have their chances on goal, but it won't be the fault of Vidic.
Barcelona will likely try and go right at United and down the center of the field, but Vidic will remain firm and thwart the attack.
Barcelona will have their opportunities, but again, it won't be the result of poor play from Vidic. Expect him to hold down the fort in the back and keep United in the game.
Rio Ferdinand: B-
Ferdinand remembers the last Champions League final against Barcelona and surely would like nothing more than redemption this time around.
But the aging defender will likely have to wait for a third chance for his redemption. Not that Ferdinand will play poorly. But the three pronged attack of Messi, Pedro and David Villa will be difficult for United's defense and cause Ferdinand to struggle.
Ferdinand won't have any major blunders that result in goals for Barcelona, but he won't play well enough to completely shut them down either.
Patrice Evra: B+
Evra will have a solid performance and will do his best to disrupt Pedro and the other forwards.
It won't take much to upset Pedro. Pedro will likely take a few dives and do his best to get a few favorable calls. Evra won't stand for it and the refs likely won't either. Pedro will eventually realize he will have to beat Evra on his feet, but that also won't bring much success.
Evra is claiming he was too complacent in Rome in 2009. He won't be complacent this time around and will have a solid game for United.
John O'Shea/Rafael/Fabio: C
It's uncertain who will start at right-back for United. Rafael started for a good portion of the season, but O'Shea has been in his place as of late.
The safer bet against United would likely be O'Shea. Rafael likes to attack and the last thing United needs is have their defenders out of position when Barcelona mounts their attack.
But no matter who starts, they would still be considered the weakness when compared to the other three United defenders. Barcelona possesses and builds their attack with their entire midfield and strikers.
Real Madrid tried to play five in the back and still couldn't stop Barcelona. All four defenders will need to have a complete game for United to win. I think three of the four will play well, but Barcelona will find and exploit any weaknesses, which will probably be at right-back.
Ryan Giggs: D
It would be nice to say that Giggs will come out and despite all of the personal turmoil have one of the best games of his career.
But history indicates that isn't the likely outcome for him. Athletes don't tend to perform well post personal scandals. Especially when those scandals involve their wives and families.
We have all seen Tiger Woods fall apart after his personal life fell apart. Right after the scandal, he almost won the Masters, but even he, arguably the most focused and intense athlete of our generation, couldn't quite pull off the victory. He's been a shell of himself since.
John Terry went through personal turmoil last year. As this article explains, if history is any indicator of the future, then Giggs will likely struggle in this match. Unlike Tiger, Terry eventually righted the ship and has been able to get back to the top of his game. But he wasn't there immediately following the scandal.
The Champions League final is the biggest game of the season, so hopefully for United fans, Giggs will still be focused and able to put his personal life aside for 90 minutes.
But even if he can put his personal life aside, he's still playing Barcelona and arguably the best midfield in the world. This isn't Birmingham or Wolverhampton. He has to be brilliant to slow down Xavi, Iniesta and the rest of the gang. It's a tough task even when your mind isn't full of distractions.
He may play well and have a great game. But the safer bet would be to not expect much from him on Saturday.
Michael Carrick: C
Carrick will have a decent game—he just won't be able to disrupt the Barcelona possession as much as he would like. Barcelona's midfield will be dominant and will control the pace of the game.
Carrick will be one of the many with the responsibility to change the flow and rhythm of Barcelona's possession and attack. It's a tough task for anyone, and Carrick likely won't be up for the challenge.
He will likely get frustrated, as many do against Barcelona, and commit an early, cheap foul. An early yellow will calm him down, but also likely take him out of the game.
Park Ji-Sung: B+
Park may not get the starting nod over one of the many other midfielders. But if he does, he will have a solid game due to his relentless effort and ability to disrupt Barcelona's midfield.
He also has the ability to run and contribute to United's lethal counterattack. He gets into the open field with Rooney and Hernandez. He always seems to know where to be in order to finish off the counter.
United's best chance for success is to speed up the game and beat Barcelona on the counterattacks—just overwhelm them with their fast offense. Park greatly contributes to that speed and creativity on those attacks. He will do it in this game as well and have a solid performance.
Nani will have a decent game, just likely won't influence its outcome. He has the ability to bring the ball up the sidelines and create great opportunities on offense, but his midfield contribution will be lacking.
United will need Nani to disrupt Barcelona's midfield, but he won't be up to the task. At the same time, he will likely get frustrated by Barcelona's swarming defense. Nani likes to have the ball at his feet and dribble and possess the ball. He won't have many opportunities to do that against Barcelona.
He will have a few great moments and flashes of brilliance, but he will also get frustrated by the lack of possession and inability to dribble against the Catalans.
Javier Hernández: B+
What a revelation and acquisition Chicharito has been this year. Brought on to eventually replace Barbatov, he has earned the starting position despite the fact that Berbatov is having one of his best scoring seasons in his career.
Chicharito has been exceeded everyone's expectations and all United opponents wary for the future.
He's a brilliant player and will have a quality Champions League final. Many players get frustrated against Barcelona because the chances on goal are few and far between.
Chicharito has demonstrated the ability to capitalize on every opportunity. But he not only can finish, he can also create opportunities. He's a lethal tandem with Rooney. United may not have as many chances as they do against other opponents, but with someone like Hernandez, it won't matter.
United will have a few quality opportunities and Hernandez will score on at least one of them.
Wayne Rooney: B
United rises and falls with their star. Rooney has been brilliant this season. He's a workhorse and the focal point of United's attack.
Rooney will undoubtedly give 110 percent on Saturday night. But his effort won't necessarily translate into goals or a victory for United.
Rooney can get frustrated when the game isn't going his way. Barcelona will try and frustrate Rooney and swarm him every time he has the ball. They will have some success, but Rooney won't be knocked off his game.
He will have one or two amazing counterattacks where Barcelona turns the ball over by United's goal, and like a bat out of hell, Rooney leads the charge of United players towards Barcelona's goal.
His effort will be great, but he won't personally convert any goals. A solid performance, but just not enough for United.
Victor Valdés: B
Valdez has been consistently above-average this season. Some may argue that he has been excellent. With Barcelona dominating possession so much, Valdez often isn't required to do too much.
That shouldn't be the case with United. Barcelona will still likely dominate possession, but United is too good to not have various opportunities on goal. Valdez will be required to make stops. He will be up to the task and will be good—just not spectacular—as United will likely get at least one past him.
Gerard Piqué: B+
Pique has been the anchor for Barcelona's defense all season. He is quickly becoming the new foundation and leader for their defense.
United's offense will likely make life difficult for Barcelona's defense, but Pique will be up to the task. He's a shut down defender and good enough to stop any player one on one. Pique is also tall which will be crucial for Barca's defense on set pieces against some of United's taller players like Vidic and Ferdinand.
Pique will be his consistent self and orchestrate Barcelona's defense. Expect a solid performance from Pique.
Javier Mascherano: B-
Not sure if Mascherano will get the starting nod over Carles Puyol. Either one is likely to be a weaker spot in the defensive lineup, at least when compared to Abidal and Pique. Both are solid defensemen and can easily control the possession as Barcelona will want to do.
But United is a more physical and faster team than most other teams Barcelona has faced in La Liga and the Champions League. United likes to counter attack and can take the ball from one goal to the other as fast and efficient as any other team.
Mascherano will play well, but struggle a bit with the faster pace and the counter attacks. He won't be a complete liability, but will have a sub-par game.
Eric Abidal: A-
The return of the Frenchman will be a welcome addition for Barcelona. Guardiola might start Puyol over Abidal, but Abidal has confirmed that he is ready to go.
As solid as Puyol is, Abidal should get the starting nod as he is a better defender at this point and better suited against United. He's a stronger defender and will be solid in stopping United's attack.
If Abidal does get the start, he'll have an impressive performance and be the player constantly disrupting and frustrating Rooney and United's attack.
Dani Alves: D
If Abidal and Pique are the solid foundations that will frustrate United's attack, Alves is the potential liability for Barcelona.
It's not that Alves is a poor defender, as much as he constantly likes to attack and make runs up the sideline. Against most teams that is fine, as Alves is a solid contributor to Barcelona's offense and Barcelona can usually hold down the fort with just three defenders when Alves drifts up top.
But United loves to counter, and when Rooney and the rest of United's offense get running on the counter, Barcelona can't afford to be caught out of position and without players in the back.
Alves will make too many runs and will get stuck up top one too many times, and it will cost Barcelona. United won't counter right away, but later in the game, Alves will get caught attacking too much and United will take advantage and Alves will cost Barcelona a goal.
Sergio Busquets: C
The word is out on Busquets. After his theatrics against Real Madrid, the refs won't be tolerating any of his acting.
He's a solid midfielder when he wants to be, unfortunately he has become prone to being a little too soft on the ball. That may work with other opponents, but United won't be having any of it.
Barcelona will come out trying to dominate possession. Busquets will get frustrated when United is disrupting their possession, and the refs aren't calling many fouls and are letting the players play. He will become a non-factor and have just an average game.
Andrés Iniesta: B
I feel like some games, either because he gets fouled or is selling a foul, Iniesta spends more time on the ground than he does standing up.
Granted, Iniesta does help run Barcelona's midfield and possesses the ball as much as any other player, though, he is challenged for the ball often by opposing players. He'll spend a decent amount of time getting knocked down and trying to get the ref to call fouls in his favor.
Once he realizes the ref is letting everyone play and not calling the fouls, he will focus more on the possession and solidly contribute to Barcelona's attack.
He won't score the game winner like he did against Chelsea or like he did for Spain in the World Cup. But he will be instrumental in setting up at least one of Barcelona's goals.
Would you expect anything less than Xavi at this point?
Xavi does have the ability to disappear in some games. It also seems like sometimes he, and Barcelona, are so focused on possession, that they hardly advance the ball and attack. Usually Xavi seems to just orchestrate the possession until there is a perfect opportunity to go to goal.
While that may make some Barcelona games a little boring to watch, Manchester United will make sure Barcelona can't just pass the ball back and forth for five minutes at a time.
United will disrupt Barcelona's possession, and it will force Xavi to advance the ball more. So while Xavi and Barcelona may not play at as slow of a pace, Xavi will still control the midfield and keep Barcelona under control.
As great as Messi is up top, the possession and attack still run through Xavi. He will control the game as always and have a solid performance.
Pedro will have a decent game but somewhat sub par for his standards. He won't find as much success on the outside and against some of United's defenders.
He will contribute and will make some fantastic runs along the sidelines and up top, but none of it will ultimately convert to goals. Not necessarily by any fault of his own, it just won't be his night to score.
David Villa: B
Villa will have a consistent-for-Villa-this-season performance. With Valencia last season, he was the man. Over the summer with Spain he proved to be the dominant forward and was their leading goal scorer.
It's impossible to be The Man when you are playing along side Messi, but Villa doesn't seem to care. He came to Barcelona to win titles, and that is what they are doing. So the offense doesn't run through Villa and Barcelona doesn't need Villa in order to score goals.
That doesn't mean that Villa isn't a deadly threat up top and isn't a prolific goal scorer. He has benefited from having defenses focus so much on Messi and having players like Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro set him up for goals.
I personally think Villa is a little better when he has to do more of the work on his own. If Barcelona didn't have Messi then Villa probably would have scored more goals as he would have had to for Barcelona to win.
But Barcelona has Messi, and they don't rely exclusively on Villa for their goals. But again, Villa is still one of the best strikers in the world.
Look for United to focus on Messi and for Xavi or Iniesta to find Villa early in the game and for Villa to score and give Barcelona an early lead. Villa will have other opportunities, but won't contribute too much beyond that goal.
Lionel Messi: A
Can anyone stop Messi? We are about to find out. So far no one has been able to.
Messi is quickly squashing the Ronaldo vs. Messi debates. It's getting to the point where it may not even be worth the discussion because any neutral observer would have to side with Messi at the moment.
There has rarely been a more complete player than Messi. The NY Times recently called him the "Boy Genius" and said that not only is he the best player at the moment, he's one of the greatest to every play. He could even become the greatest of all time.
Might be a crazy statement until you consider the fact that he's only 23 and just now entering his prime, which means we still may not have even seen the best of Messi.
So with the world watching, Messi has the most to gain from this game. I'm predicting a huge game from him. He has given me no reason to believe otherwise.
United's defense is solid, but if Messi dominates on the ball and has one or two of his trademarked Messi runs where the ball is practically glued to his feet and he runs through an entire defense before softly chipping or passing the ball past the keeper, then he will end the debate that he is the greatest in the game.
United is solid and impressive, but I think after 90 minutes, Messi and Barcelona will come out on top with Messi leaving little doubt that he is the best in the game.