The Super Bowl of Soccer is upon us, in a few short weeks FC Barcelona and Manchester United descend on Wembley stadium for what should be an epic encounter of European football’s preeminent powers.
For those of you not familiar with soccer, or for that matter professional soccer outside the US, the UEFA Champions League is highest level of competition. Every top flight league within UEFA, which is European soccer’s governing body, is granted spots to qualify at certain levels for the year long tournament, based on the previous season’s standings. Major league’s like the England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are guaranteed three spots in the group stage of 32. While smaller nations have three rounds of qualifying to narrow down the teams to the final 32 for the group stage. Now I will not get into all the details, but there is a draw, all teams play the other three teams in their group twice, home and away, with the top two teams advancing to the knock-out stages. Then from sixteen we go down to two, from a grueling set of home and away playoffs, usually in midweek. Which leads us to the final… a truly spectacular game, and the showpiece for all of professional soccer.
So hopefully I have painted you a picture of just how big this game is, its the best of the best playing against each other from all over Europe fighting to be crowned Champions. And then to be granted a final like this, is even more amazing. Manchester United is the most fervently supported club in the world, with a supporter network that spans the global. The Red Devils also have a rich history, winning the competition twice before (which in this competition is a lot). However this team has had it’s up’s and down’s through out the season, with people constantly raising questions about there leaky defending, lack of creativity in the midfield, and even old age, throw that in with the Rooney Transfer request mid season, this has been a tumultuous season for the united faithful. However through the steady guidance of Sir Alex, veteran leadership of Giggs and Ferdinand, the emergence of Chicharito, and the ever improving Nani, they stand on cusp of a remarkable double or the English Premier League and the Champions Cup.
Standing in their way is FC Barcelona, who have been nothing short of a machine all season, and have done it playing skillful, beautiful soccer. The way they play is truly a joy to watch, constant possession, intricate passing, and sublime bits of skill from the some of the best midfielders playing the game today, if not ever. They do not bully other teams around with big imposing physical players, but rather ping the ball around with effortless ease to a variety of talented players methodically breaking down their opponents defense. Now all of this possession acts like a defense of its own, you can not score if you do not have the ball, right? However one of the two things that impress me the most about this team, is how quickly they switch from possession to defense. As soon as they lose the ball they turn into a swarm of bees, that flies around till the ball is retrieved and then from the chaotic pressure they are able to go straight back into the beautiful, calm possession game. The other thing that I love about this team is the versatile that they have. Everyone of there players are able to play just about any where on the field, because they play a complete game. They defend, tackle, and most important pass extremely well. Now I am not saying that certain players are not better in one area or another, I would not want Messi as my center back, but everyone is so aware of everyone else role that they are able to interchange with precision and ease. Up front, Villa, Messi, Pedro, or even Bojan, all play all across the front line, constantly intertwining and changing positions. This ability has been displayed wonderfully at the back, with traditional midfielders like Busquets, and Mascherano stepping into roles as center backs and pulling it off wonderfully.
I have no idea who is going to win this game, I believe Barcelona is the better side, however a moment or two of magic from Man U, along with some great defending and one last fantastic performance from the ageless Van der Saar and Manchester could very easily win the cup. However I have a feeling that Manchester will come out and try and play against Barca, which will lead to a very entertaining and wide open match. However if this happens, then the result will be one-sided in favor of Barcelona, they have entirely too much creativity and skill in the midfield, which Manchester just can not match. They have won some tough games this season, but never faced a team as talented and organized as this year’s Barcelona side.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester Utd.
I think Man U scores first against the run of play, with a great counter maybe through Nani or Giggs with Chicharito finishing it off. But Barca does not panic and continues to possess, scores right before half, maybe with Villa. Then opens the second half with pressure and goes ahead with some Messi magic around the 60th min, and he caps the night and season with a counter attacking goal sometime the last ten minutes as Manchester is pushing up looking for an equalizer.