Barcelona v. Manchester United: Complete Champions League Final Preview (Part 2)
And who better to do the most complete preview you'll find on the Internet of this final than yours truly and Barcelona supporter and B/R renowned Featured Columnist, Manuel Traquete.
Manuel and I have combined forces to give you what indisputably is the best preview going on the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final.
With 22 questions in total, 11 of which can be read in part one, we really have given you one very extensive preview well-worth reading.
From Nemanja Vidic's Rome nightmares in 2009, to whether or not FC Barcelona are better than the 1970 Ajax dream team, it's all here.
12. What Tactics Should Manchester United Adopt This Time Around?
Over the past three seasons, several experienced and expensively-paid managers have tried to find a way to counter Barcelona’s football style and they’ve all failed. So how could I have the answer?
The obvious key is to stop Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. But how do you do that? I’m assuming that Sir Alex Ferguson will use a five-man midfield to try and stifle Barcelona and play Rooney alone up front. It seems the best way to counter Barcelona’s threat; it will harm United’s attacking potential, but it’s a sacrifice that needs to be taken, and United’s quick counterattacks can definitely hurt Barcelona.
Regardless of tactics, the most important thing for United is to remain 100 percent focused during the 90 minutes, because Barcelona usually take advantage of every little opening. Even if Barcelona are widely acknowledged as the world’s best team, Real Madrid showed (although not in a very dignified way, and certainly not a way United would adopt) that in a one-off, Barcelona are very much beatable. But it will take the right tactics and a great performance from United to do that.
This time around, United should just stick to their game plan. Barca play a narrow game, United play a wider game, if they can just get the likes of Antonio Valencia, Nani or Ji-Sung Park running with the ball down the wings, pushing the Barca full-backs back, they can cause some real problems in the final third, especially with the off-ball movements of Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney.
Also, they need to match Barcelona and keep possession of the ball when they get hold of it to try and make Barca chase the game a bit and give them a taste of their own mediciine. If they can do that, it'd be a huge win for United psychologically.
13. What Tactics Should Barcelona Adopt This Time Around?
The great thing about Barcelona is that they always play the same way, and that will not change in this final. Barcelona currently set the benchmark and it’s always their opponent who has to adapt. It’s pretty much a given that Barcelona will have the lion share of possession and dictate the tempo of the game. In fact, ever since Pep Guardiola took charge, Barcelona have had more possession than their opponents in every single match!
It’s pretty obvious what Barcelona will do: pass, pass, pass and try to provide Lionel Messi the best possible platform to weave his magic. That said, Barcelona will have to be extra careful with the ball and close down better than ever: United are one of the best counterattacking sides in the world, and they’ll punish every potential mistake Barcelona make.
As far as the Barcelona game plan goes, we all know the great thing about their general style of play is that they don't have to change a thing. They'll play the ball around, make Manchester United chase them down, get the front three inter-linking and wait for the prime opportunity to set Lionel Messi free to do his thing.
But, they will have to be wary of United's wingers and the Red Devils' historic focus on wing play. Pep Guardiola might have to warn Dani Alves and Eric Abidal to be careful when they get forward to make sure they're in a decent enough position to track back when United go on one of their famous counter-attacks.
14. Pep Guardiola or Sir Alex Ferguson: Who's the World's Best Manager?
Tough question, but I’d have to say it’s Alex Ferguson. If we were only talking about the past three years, it’d be Guardiola hands down. In his first professional managerial stint, he managed to create what many consider to be the greatest team of all-time and broke several long-standing records.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson has been managing for much longer, building and rebuilding winning teams, so for now, he definitely has the edge. It won’t be easy for Guardiola (or any other manager) to emulate Alex Ferguson’s career.
Right now, it's Pep Guardiola. Not only has he developed this unique playing style with a bizarrely effective 4-1-2-3 formation that has got top clubs all over the world trying to model themselves on FC Barcelona, but he's also managed to make this Barca team a bunch of true winners with the right mentality and made them such a close-knit unit.
He's an almost perfect tactician and man-manager, something which only the very best of managers are. However, if we're talking managers who are still active, it's Sir Alex Ferguson hands down. Just look at what he's achieved at Manchester United. It's a results based business, and remarkably, Sir Alex is still in his job because of one thing only: He gets results. To do that for 25 years is unprecedented.
15. Is This Year's United Side Really as Bad as the Media Wants Us to Believe?
I’ve never believed this United side was “weak," and Yoosof is my witness on this. I tipped United to win the Premier League at the beginning of the season, and my prediction did come true. The way they advanced to the Champions League final makes it even clearer that this is a very strong team. In fact, they managed to beat Schalke 04 in the semis 4-1 with a fringe side, which is no mean feat.
If this is a “weak” United team, God save the other teams when they do manage to form a strong side!
Simply put, Manchester United have been so awful this season that they're Premier League champions and in the final of the UEFA Champions League.
16. Is Pep Guardiola's Barcelona the Finest Club Side of All-Time?
I couldn’t watch the great sides of the past live, so I’m not really sure here. But this Barcelona side is certainly the best of their generation and the best I’ve ever seen. Simply put, every Barcelona match is played on Pep Guardiola’s terms.
Regardless of their quality, the opponents will invariably see very little of the ball and be forced to defend for most of the match. Barcelona are obviously beatable, but it takes a herculean effort and some luck to do so.
That said, it’s too soon to discuss their standing among the all-time great teams. This side is still far from finished; a lot of key players are still very young, and there are new and talented youth products coming through. Barcelona are likely to keep a very high level for years to come.
Yes, they are. They may not play total football like the 1970 Ajax dream team, but the way FC Barcelona have embraced modern-day football with its superior athleticism and strong demands for exemplary muscular and cardiovascular fitness, and intertwined it with perfect technique, beautiful passing and a load of meticulously detailed tactics, makes this Barca team quite possibly, the greatest of all-time.
17. Are There Any Similarities Between These Two Clubs?
Yes, definitely. I’d even say that Barcelona are Spain’s Manchester United and vice-versa. Up until 20 years ago, the two clubs were somewhat in the shadows of Liverpool and Real Madrid. But then came a great visionary who changed everything: Sir Alex Ferguson for Manchester United and Johan Cruyff for Barcelona. These two men completely changed the mentality of the clubs and implemented successful football philosophies that are still followed today, with the known results.
Over the past two decades, both Barcelona and Manchester United have won 11 league titles and two Champions Leagues, clearly outperforming their domestic rivals Liverpool and Real Madrid. Both teams did so with an attacking football philosophy and belief on their youth system. Both sides won the treble with a lineup full of homegrown players.
Sir Alex Ferguson himself summed up the similarities between both clubs last year: "I would have loved to have gone to Barcelona at one time in my life. That would have been a dream. Their ideology and philosophy, the whole place is fantastic. But I'm at the same kind of club in terms of vision. A different culture maybe, but we both always try to win a game."
All in all, these are probably the only two "big" European clubs with a definite football philosophy that they stick to at all times, always looking for victory but with a non-negotiable passion for attacking football and fair play.
As Manuel quotes above, Sir Alex Ferguson hit the nail on the head when he talked about how alike Manchester United and Barcelona are. The two clubs are currently the most successful in Europe, generate the most revenue (Real Madrid aside), make the most profits, have the same colossal global appeal and on the pitch, share the same values.
This final will be a huge spectacle, with the two biggest corporations in football (again, RM aside) doing battle, with players on the pitch from both sides that have the best technique, and the highest levels of fitness, in world football.
18. Can Lionel Messi Break the Champions League Goalscoring Record This Year?
(single season goal scoring record)
Well, he would need to score twice to beat the record set by Ruud Van Nistelrooy in 2002/2003, and that will not be easy at all, since United have one of the best, if not the best, defense on the planet. They’ve only conceded four goals in Europe this season and never more than once in a single match. That said, only a fool would bet against Leo Messi. It might be unlikely that he scores two goals, but nothing is impossible for the little Argentine.
Messi claimed this week that he didn’t care about the record; he just wanted to help Barcelona win the final. If it were any other player, I would have my doubts, but I’m dead certain that Messi means it. After all, he has lost two Golden Boot awards because he put the team’s goals ahead of individual accolades: in 2008/2009 and now this season, he has saved his strength during the last few La Liga matches in order to be ready for the Champions League final, which allowed Diego Forlán and Cristiano Ronaldo to easily surpass his goal tally and claim the Golden Boot.
In my opinion, this is enough evidence that the only thing on Messi’s mind on Saturday will be to help Barcelona win the match, regardless of whether he gets his goal record or not.
He'd certainly love to, of course. But this is a Manchester United side hell-bent on revenge. I saw a picture of the facial expression of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic after Lionel Messi headed home that second goal back in the 2009 final.
A picture tells a thousand words, and it's clear from that image; those two are still hurting from that moment today. It'll be tough for Messi, with Ferdinand and Vidic quite possibly more determined than ever to give him a tough time. But, as the world knows, if there's anyone who can do it, it's that little kid from Rosario who goes by the name of Lionel Andrés Messi.
19. Who Will Be the Key Players and Match-Ups?
It’s always difficult to predict which players will actually be key, but if I had to pick one for each team, it’d be Andrés Iniesta and Nemanja Vidic. Iniesta is the ultimate big game player; he always brings his best game to the big occasion. If he does that again, Barcelona will be a lot closer to victory.
As for Vidic, he has been United’s best defender this season, and he’ll play a major role if United are to stop the inevitable Catalan onslaught.
The key match-ups are likely to be, as far as I’m concerned, Lionel Messi and David Villa vs Rio Ferdinand and Vidic, Wayne Rooney vs Sergio Busquets and Ji-Sung Park vs Dani Alves (if United employ the lineup that I’m expecting them to).
Messi and Villa vs United’s central defense is a very obvious match-up. Barcelona are likely to be attacking for most of the match, so this particular duel will be decisive. If Ferdinand and Vidic, with the help of United’s midfield, can stop Barcelona’s two most prolific scorers, Barcelona will have a very hard time getting on the scoresheet.
I’m assuming Rooney will drop deep as he has been doing lately; therefore, it will be primarily up to Busquets to contain him. If he does as good a job with Rooney as he did with Ozil and Sneijder in the World Cup, Barcelona’s defensive line might have a quiet evening ahead of them.
Finally, Park vs Alves promises to be the most intriguing match-up of all. In Barcelona’s set-up, Alves is basically a right winger (although his official position is right back). He’s constantly overlapping and creating 2 vs 1 situations on the right flank.
Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to instruct Park to contain Alves during the 90 minutes. Park’s energy should make this a fascinating match-up and one that could potentially decide the outcome of this final.
Manuel's got it spot on!
20. How Disappointing Would It Be to Lose This Final?
It’s always disappointing to have such a great trajectory and then fall at the last hurdle. I’d certainly be disappointed if Barcelona’s amazing season were not crowned with another Champions League title.
But losing is part of the game, and it can happen to any team on any given day. If Barcelona fail to take the Cup home, the only thing left to do is congratulate the winners and work even harder to try and win it next year.
It would be gutting, of course. As a Manchester United fan, the painful memories of 2009 would come flushing back, as well as many thoughts on what could have been. But, if there's any team you'd want your side to lose to, it's the one that's arguably the greatest ever, FC Barcelona.
21. Should We Expect More Champions League Finals with These Two Teams?
Yes, we should. These two clubs have been at the top for many years, and they don’t look like they’ll slow down any time soon. Sir Alex Ferguson keeps building great sides, while Barcelona have a young core and a new batch of youngsters ready to take the world by storm.
These two sides will remain top contenders in Europe for years to come; therefore, it’s very possible that they might meet in a final again soon.
Definitely. They've proven it this season, and they'll prove it time and time again. Both clubs can produce top young talent, both have that invaluable winning mentality and both know how to adapt their game plans to beat anyone in the Champions League.
22. What Are Your Predictions for the Final?
I'm usually not very good with predictions, but I’ll stick my neck out and predict a 2-0 for Barcelona, with goals coming from David Villa and Andrés Iniesta, both assisted by Leo Messi. I’m probably wrong, but then again, predictions are rarely right.
Most importantly, this final will be a victory for football, after boring, boring Inter Milan won the competition last season employing ultra-defensive tactics. This time, the final will feature two teams who like to play football and not just destroy the opponent’s game, which represents a triumph for the beautiful game.
Last but not least, I predict, or rather wish, that Sergio Busquets will have a fantastic performance, as a response to the disgraceful hate campaign he has been victim of in the past month due to Real Madrid’s shameful defamation campaign.
Manuel is both right and wrong. It will most certainly be a victory for football, with free-flowing, attacking play on the cards played at a high tempo, but with defensive discipline woven in when required. And for the trained eye, it'll be a coach's dream, with a plethora of detailed, intricate tactics just waiting to be deciphered by those who know the game.
However, Manuel is wrong when it comes to the scoreline. It'll be 2-0 Manchester United, with Javier Hernandez making a superbly intelligent run to get in behind Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique and score a tap-in, while Paul Scholes will score a Wembley piledriver from 30-yards! Hopefully.