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Champions League Final 2009


Manchester United have the quality required to ensure that the final destination of the trophy will still be the same.

Manchester United are underdogs to lift the Champions League trophy in Rome, with Barcelona being made the bookies favourites. On the evidence of the semi-finals, and with past history taken into consideration, it is difficult to see why.

United are the current Champions League holders, and thus, excluding Dmitar Berbatov, have a squad full of players who have already experienced, and come through, the pressure of club football’s biggest game. In Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Edwin Van Der Sar and Owen Hargreaves they have a collection of players who have lifted the trophy twice or more, so it is unlikely the occasion should affect Alex Ferguson’s side. Then there is Ferguson himself. The Scot has managed in four European finals in his long managerial career, and he has overseen his sides’ triumph in every one.

Barcelona do also have experience in their side, although, of the side that started the final of Europe’s premier club competition in 2006, only Carlos Puyol, Samuel Eto’o, Rafael Marquez and Victor Valdes remain. Spanish midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, scorer of the goal that sunk Chelsea, were on the bench that night, but the rest of the side have since left for pastures new. There are no other players in the Barca squad who have tasted Champions League glory, and that may count against them.

Barcelona’s domestic form is, undeniably, brilliant. However, with three of the four semi-finalists coming from England, it is questionable exactly how strong La Liga is at the moment. The Catalans received huge amounts of praise for their six-two demolition of Real Madrid last weekend, but it must be remembered that Liverpool, the only ‘Big 4’ Premiership side not to make the semi-finals, comfortably defeated Real, home and away, at an aggregate of five-nil, in their Champions League last sixteen encounter earlier this season.

The bookmakers clearly believe that Barcelona’s attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o will have more joy against the United rearguard than they did against Chelsea’s. At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, protected by his defence, didn’t have to face a single shot, until the dramatic equaliser from Andres Iniesta.  

That goal came after almost one-hundred and eighty minutes of football had been played, and bearing that in mind, the available on a Manchester United clean sheet may be a bit generous.

In fact, United managed to stop Barcelona scoring in both legs of their Champions League semi-final last season – the last encounters between the sides. The Reds triumphed one-nil through a Paul Scholes goal at Old Trafford, and held Barcelona to a nil-nil draw at the Nou Camp. It must also be remembered that Cristiano Ronaldo uncharacteristically missed a penalty that night.

Ronaldo was the key-man in United’s semi-final victory this season over Arsenal, and with five goals in his last five starts, the Portuguese is hitting form at exactly the right point in the season. He will be partnered with Wayne Rooney and either Dmitar Berbatov or Carlos Tevez. With Barcelona lacking height in defence, and having struggled to contain the physical presence of Didier Drogba in the last round, it seems likely that the Bulgarian will get the nod.

Barcelona’s defence has been suspect all season, and they looked vulnerable when Chelsea hit them on the counter attack. In Manchester United, they will be up against one of the best counter-attacking sides in the world. It is, in fact, debatable if there will be a better counter-attacking goal scored all season than Ronaldo’s second at the Emirates on Tuesday night.

The additional problem for Barcelona is that they will be without key men at the back. Captain, Carlos Puyol will be back from suspension, however, his regular partner Rafael Marquez is out for the season, and coach Pep Guardiola will also have to cope without his two first choice full-backs, Eric Abidal and Dani Alves, who are both suspended. It is very doubtful that a makeshift Barcelona defence will be able to keep Manchester United’s attack out for ninety minutes, and though PaddyPower’s quote of 3/10 that United will score at least once seems quite slim, the same firm’s offer of 13/8 that the reigning champions notch up two or more may be worth a bet.

If that is the case, it will be up to Barcelona’s attack to find a way through the Reds’ resolute defence. Ferguson will set-up his side in much the same way he did against Arsenal, and will look to his midfield to break down opposition moves, before launching quick attacks. The Scot will have seen how well Chelsea nullified the threat of Barcelona, and will use that as an example to his players. The difference, however, between United and Chelsea is in the strength of the two sides attack. United’s is frightening, whereas Chelsea’s can be very hit and miss. Bet365 offer 7/4 that Manchester United are winners of the Champions League, and based on current form, and past history, that looks like a price worth jumping on.

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