"And so, to tonight. My opinion hasn't really changed since I blogged about the game a few weeks ago. I fancy us to score, at least once. Vidic and Ferdinand will be a strong threat from corners, and if they play Puyol and Sylvinho, that's a definite weakness. I think we'll surrender the majority of possession, and just make sure that Barcelona always play in front of us. Xavi and Iniesta, two wonderful players, can pass the ball around as much as they like, providing they don't play in Eto'o or Henry in behind. And as for the little maestro, Messi - we have to stop the cross field ball that Barca play. If you look at some of their goals from previous CL games, it's a ball across to Messi on the right, who cuts inside onto his left foot and causes mayhem. If Evra has an outstanding game, he can combat Barca's main attacking threat. Team I would pick:
van der Sar
O'Shea Rio Vidic Evra
Carrick Anderson Park
Ronaldo Rooney Tevez
I have nothing left to say."
You know that phrase "The more things change, the more they stay the same"? Two years after writing those words on the eve of a Champions League Final versus Barcelona, here we all are again. The experience of last time has burnt me I'm afraid - as much as I want to, I just can't see us winning it. I'm not sure we're as explosive going forward as before, and we certainly don't have the wildcard of Cristiano Ronaldo anymore either. The scariest thing though? Barcelona are better now then two seasons ago - Villa better than an ageing Henry, Alves better than Puyol (at right back), Abidal better than Sylvinho. I think Messi is better now than he was then, ditto for Iniesta. Their side is not only packed with skill and craft, but with experience and know-how. Their manager is young, but he's won this competition before, and he's won back-to-back La Liga titles. Put simply, they are the best club side in the world, and the best side I've ever seen.
BUT! In a one-off game, every team is beatable. Even this one. Blimey, Arsenal beat them a few months back, so we KNOW it can be done. A poor performance from them, and anything is possible. It'll need one hell of an effort from every player, but I have faith in them. And you'd better believe that if any manager can instigate their downfall, it's the great man himself, the heartbeat of Manchester United, Sir Alex.
A game of this nature means that every football fan - particularly those with a Mancunian leaning - has rambled on about tactics and gameplans etc on their blogs or websites or on their podcasts for a wee while now. To be honest, I'm not into that - I just enjoy watching a good game of football. The excerpt above pretty much stretches my interest of football strategy to the limit. As such, I'm not even going to try analysing the game - if you're interested in that stuff, don't bother with me, go straight to Jonathan Wilson or a Man United blog for your nerd fix. But in terms of line-up, I can only see Fergie going with:
van der Sar
Fabio Rio Vidic Evra
Valencia Carrick Giggs Park
I'm not sure how I feel about that - I'd perhaps ponder dropping Chicha (which would be harsh on the lad) and putting another midfielder in, either Anderson or Nani. It's a shame Fletcher has been out for so long and won't make it, to be honest, as we're a better side with him in it when he's at the top of his game. The problem is, sticking Rooney up top on his own and putting another central midfield player in suddenly makes us seem very defensive. Teams have tried that in the past against Barcelona but they've always found a way through, and you wonder if it's best just to fight fire with fire. Chicha the highest player forward and Rooney putting in a shift when we don't have the ball? Might be a better bet.
But that's enough of all of that. I'm nervous, but the fact I believe we're underdogs makes it a bit more bearable. With football, it's always the hope that kills me. Prediction? I'm going for:
Barcelona 2 -1 Manchester United
Villa, Messi - Vidic
But I just hope it's a great game. The occasion deserves that, and both teams are more than capable. Enjoy the game, and COME ON UNITED!