Date: 27th May 2011 at 3:30pm
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Introduction

Its been quite a while since the last piece, but since the Exam period is all over.. its time to tackle the greatest game in Modern Footballing Showbusiness…the heavyweight collision between the runaway conquerors of & the reigning Kings of  Spain. Both sides have history at Wembley, with lifting their first European Cup in 1968 there and repeating the same feat in 1992.

A Look back at Recent Clashes {07/08 UCL SF & 08/09 UCL Final}

The two most relevant recent ties between these sides have been tense affairs, relatively free from controversy, well-mannered and all about the football despite C. ’s vain attempts to make past encounters a showcase for his campaign to be the Best Player In The World.

In the 07/08 Semi Final 1st Leg at the Nou Camp, United played very deep, relying on Ronaldo, Rooney & Tevez to work their magic on the counter, supported by the very industrious quartet of Park, Hargreaves, Carrick and Evra, and the strings being pulled by the maestro that is . It was a very well-balanced side, that did well to carve chances of note and keep at bay in retrospect what was a very strong attacking unit from Barca (Messi, , Iniesta and Deco, Eto’o & Y. Toure, for say Busquets, Pedro & Villa). After a strong opening salvo from United and a missed penalty, it was pretty much all Barcelona for the majority of the game, with a great rearguard action from Ferdinand and Brown in particular keeping the scores level going into the second leg.

The return leg was one of the great European Nights that has witnessed, in 99.. the most memorable Treble moments were away from home or at Neutral venues, but this was a night where the fans, really did drive United home against the odds. It was inconceivable that United could pull out yet another clean sheet, especially since we were bound to be a bit more adventurous at home.

Scholes sends United into the finals in 2008

Yet it happened, but not before some really entertaining and spectacular football.. this time from both sides. Nani played a quiet but underrated role, alongside Tevez & Ronaldo, providing a dribbling threat and a source of unpredictability which put the Barca back line on the back foot. Scholes and Carrick were immense and the former opened the scoreline with what proved to be a spectacular winner which further cemented his already legendary status. Despite Messi’s best efforts, and some dangerous moments from Eto’o, United held on with Ferdinand once again reigning supreme and were overall deserving victors.

Then there was Rome, a match which was a season later… but a lot had happened in that season from a Barcelona perspective. There was a change in manager, replacing the outgoing F. Rijkaard. Messi had finally achieved an injury free season and was officially a superstar. Iniesta and Xavi had come out of their shells, due to the presence and motivation of their manager, replacing the role of Deco as creators in chief and performing this function to a whole new level. These evolutions were allied with a tactical revolution, that of pressing high up the pitch, winning the ball early and causing havoc on the counter.  The team spirit and cohesion of this side, was a different gear to that witnessed the year before… on the other hand, United had gone backwards, only just mind, but enough to make a telling difference.

The ego of Ronaldo and the inevitable transfer saga that was weighing heavily upon his mind, led to a below-par season by his lofty standards, one in which his demeanour brought a dark cloud over Old Trafford and a need to change the tactical emphasis of the year before in order to utilise his talent in an effective but not reckless method against Barca. His refusal to track back, meant the only position in which he could be given the freedom to remain as an attacking outlet was up front as a lone striker. He did well in the opening half an hour, but his selfishness meant Rooney wasn’t brought into the game. Tevez who’d been a pivotal figure the year before, was not picked to start, and had been out of favour for most of the season and thus whilst Park put in a spirited effort, the lack of any goal threat aside from Ronaldo was telling.

Messi scores Barca's second in Rome

The midfield battle was also not as engaging or competitive as it had been the season before. Whilst it was not as one-sided as has been made out over the ensuing years, it was clear that this United midfield missed the presence of a Scholes in peak form/fitness and the energy of Park in central areas rather than being utilised as a wide right forward in a 4-3-3.  did decent, but aside from losing Iniesta for the opening goal, his passing just didn’t possess the authority of Scholes and Giggs was a non-entity for the entirety of the first half, caught in no mans land. Carrick was like Anderson, not that bad but there just wasn’t the same level of intensity as there was the year before and he was being made to playmake to a level that was beyond his comfort zone instead of doing his customary brilliant defensive mid with knobs on role.

The energy and personality of Hargreaves was also missed dearly on the right, with O’Shea putting in a good defensive effort but not really giving Barcelona anything to think about on the counter. With the defensive wide players United had, any help from the full-backs was much welcomed and this was not particularly forthcoming from the reliable Ulsterman.

Goals from Eto’o and Messi, took the Catalan Giants to 3 CL wins, on a par with Manchester United. Now after an intervening season where both clubs went through transitional phases, they are back on the summit of Europe… fighting it out for European Cup No. 4. Lets have a detailed look at the sides in question…

Click here for our look at the teams this season