Following Part I of the interview with Balague yesterday, Part II has now been published.
Guillem: You both seem to talk about destinies, historical references and past records quite a lot…
FCB NEWS: Barça have destiny on their side. When Andres Iniesta scored in the 93rd minute at Stamford Bridge it became clear to me that Barça`s name is already inscribed on the trophy. Nobody deserves it more than Barça for the football we have played…
Republik of Mancunia: Bayern Munich thought their name was on the trophy too back in 1999. Let’s hope Barcelona’s fate is the same as theirs!
You want to talk about destiny: Manchester United have a special relationship with the European Cup. We were the first English club to challenge for the title thanks to the visionary Sir Matt Busby. After reaching the semi-finals for the second year running in 1958 the Busby Babes suffered a tragic plane crash where eight of their players died. Sir Matt was read his last rites several times and his vision could have so easily ended there and then. But just ten years later, the great manager had rebuilt his team and they became European champions.
United’s next European Cup success came under Sir Alex Ferguson, the final taking place on what would have been Sir Matt`s 90th birthday, scoring both our goals in 90+ minutes.
Our most recent European Cup win came last season, marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster and the 40th anniversary of our first European Cup.
This final is played the day after what would be Sir Matt`s 100th birthday, marking the 10 year anniversary since Sir Alex’s first Champions League final win. There’s something magic about Manchester United in this competition and I’m hoping that will serve us well again this year, to make us the first team to win consecutive CL titles.
FCB NEWS: In over 50 years of European Cup competition United’s magic has come into effect three times. Against Benfica in 1968 they were fortunate when Benfica`s Eusebio missed his chance near the end of normal time, in 1999 the magic worked to grab the two injury time goals despite being outplayed by Bayern Munich, and last season Lady Luck smiled on them when Terry slipped at the most inopportune moment (I admit I laughed at that one).
However, there have been countless seasons when the magic has been absent and this season will be another. The Iniesta goal at Chelsea proved that, for this season at least, God is a fan of Barça. Maybe if it was Sir Matt`s 100th birthday the day of the final and not the day before…
Guillem: Let’s talk about the impact of a couple of players: Messi and Ronaldo. Will they go down in history for their respective roles in this final? The media will certainly be billing it as the two best players in the world going head to head: we all know it’s about so much more than these two, but let’s hear your thoughts on them…
Republik of Mancunia: Cristiano Ronaldo is officially the current best player in the World with more on target shots than any one else in the Champions League this season, meaning he has forced more saves from the keeper than anyone else. He hasn’t had the greatest year by his high standards but he is still the top scorer in the Premiership and is just coming in to great form.
He’s scored 10 goals in his past 14 games, including that beauty against Porto, a goal on derby day against City and two goals against Arsenal in the semi-final. Ronaldo is a big game player and loves the attention. There`s no bigger stage than the European Cup final and Ronnie will bask in the limelight. This will be the game he has been saving himself for all season and we could see an explosive performance from him.
Whilst more recently he has claimed that he is only thinking of Manchester United next season, it certainly won’t do his future prospects any harm to have won the European Player of the Year two years running, something which would be almost guaranteed if he has a good game in the final. Getting one over on his dream club‘s biggest rivals would be handy for him too. Essentially though, he is a perfectionist who strives to be the best and has the ability to raise his game on the big occasions. The final may have been billed as Ronaldo vs Messi, but Messi was a passenger in Barça’s semis against Chelsea, whilst Ronaldo stole the show in ours.
Ronaldo scored in last year’s final against Chelsea; I fancy him to score again this year.
FCB NEWS: Ronaldo was voted best player in the World for his performances last season, but any neutral watching Messi and Ronaldo this season will know that Messi is the better player: the ease with which he beats defenders has now been combined with more effectiveness which has led to him scoring 37 goals this season. Ronaldo may have had more shots in this season`s Champions League but Messi is the top scorer which just goes to show that Ronaldo misses more. Of course, over one game, anything can happen – but over the season Messi definitely deserves to be rated the World’s Number One Player.
Guillem: And finally, the Spanish – English connection means there has been a debate raging all season on my website about the relative strengths of La Liga versus the Premier League: before I tell you what I think, what are your opinions and what does it mean in terms of comparing these two sides?
Republik of Mancunia: In the last 10 years of the Champions League, Barça’s record against English teams has been poor, but what should be a greater concern for them is their recent results against English clubs. They knocked out Chelsea this season, playing the superior football over the two legs, but even the most honest Barça fan (like Pique!) could acknowledge that had the referee been up to standard, there`s no way they would be in the final. If Barcelona struggled against the third best team in England, relying on a dodgy ref and an injury time winner, after not even managing one goal against them at home …how will they fare against the best team in England?
They were knocked out by United in 2008, they were knocked out by Liverpool in 2007, they beat an English club in the final of 2006, but only because Arsenal went down to ten men very early in the game, and they were knocked out by Chelsea in 2005. Not a great record.
United have faced a Spanish team already in the group stages and drew with them, but with Kuszczak, Evans, Anderson and Nani starting and no Ronaldo. Barcelona played an English team when they were all full strength, putting in their greatest effort because it is now or never in the semis, and they also drew. We also have to be fairly confident given we have beaten teams from continents outside of Europe too, when we were crowned the best in the World in December.
Looking good in La Liga is fairly easy in comparison to looking good in the Premiership. English teams dominate the Champions League, with the semi-finals consisting of English teams year after year, and United have proven for the past three years that we are the best side in England. Barcelona wouldn’t have scored 104 goals in the Premiership, put it that way!
FCB NEWS: Barça’s record against English teams is poor? The English clubs may have all the money these days, yet in the last five encounters between Barça and English opposition in the knock out stages of the Champions League Barça have been victorious on three occasions (Chelsea 2009, Arsenal 2006, Chelsea 2006) while we have only lost two (Man United 2008, Liverpool 2007).
When we met United last year we were in a mess, this year we are a vastly improved team. If Barça struggled against Chelsea (but still went through) what about United against Villarreal this season when United couldn’t score in two games? I should also point out that Chelsea are third in England only seven points behind United while Villarreal are currently sixth in the supposedly weaker Spanish League – and they are twenty-seven points behind Barça.
If United couldn’t beat little Villarreal, how will they fare against the best team in the world?
Guillem says: Thank you, that was an excellent debate guys. Well done: it`s got me in the mood for the game.
Let’s get the negatives out the way first though: you’re both as guilty as each other in going back over history to back up your arguments! Put it this way, any team that goes into a final believing they are destined to win it, is destined to go home very disappointed!
FCBNEWS, you have said that “Barca have the best team.” I’d put it another way: The Barcelona team have played the better football across the season, but man for man, United has the better team – or should I say, the better squad. United’s versatility is frightening and their strength in depth is superior to Barcelona’s. Put simply, United are very strong in all areas, Barcelona – as they line up in Rome – aren’t. Barcelona go into this final weakened in defence, an area where they are already weak.
The Premiership club has more than one way of playing and more than one way of winning a game; Barcelona don’t, they are married to their philosophy and Ferguson will have picked up pointers from the Chelsea game: he’ll know how Barcelona are going to play and conjured up a plan to stop them.
I do agree with you FCBNEWS – that United’s chances may very well be limited – but that may very well be through choice and not just a lack of possession. Ferguson has often been cautious in finals and I think, RoM, that United’s goalscoring record in the league goes out the window. I have a suspicion that United will be much less attacking than in the domestic league; Ferguson feels that his defence is strong enough to withstand Barcelona and, after watching the La Liga side against Chelsea, will believe that one goal can win it.
On Messi and Ronaldo, I’ll add this: Messi up against Evra will be fascinating, I rate Evra very highly – but against a player dribbling at pace? Remember how Aaron Lennon gave him a very hard time at Wembley. And if Messi moves into a more central position he can also give Vidic real problems – again, I rate him highly, but Vidic’s weakness is his speed on the turn.
As for Ronaldo: I can’t believe that neither of you really mentioned two of his biggest attributes: headers and free kicks. I know you aren’t convinced FCBNEWS, but I believe that corners, aerial balls and set pieces are Barcelona’s Achilles heel. Ferguson knows it too. Which is why I think he`ll keep it tight and where Ronaldo could really do damage: either with his head – or from a set piece – as one of the best around in both departments.
FCBNEWS’s comment that Guardiola is a better coach than Sir Alex Ferguson really has got people riled hasn`t it. I have to say, I think even the Barcelona coach himself would be the first to admit that the United manager’s achievements are second none in the modern game. As far as tomorrow’s game is concerned: I think that experience gives Ferguson the upper hand. He reacts to games better as well, and we’ve seen how Guardiola has sometimes got too emotionally involved in the action this season and it has clouded his judgement.
If that sounds like I’m giving it all Ferguson`s way, I`ll say this. Away from the Premier league, Ferguson, and United lack the same aura that allows them to steamroll opponents, Ferguson is ever so slightly out of his comfort zone in Europe and that is why they haven`t been quite as successful over the years as the Sir Alex would have wished.
Looking back, I get the sense I`ve given it overwhelmingly to RoM and Manchester United. Sorry FCBNEWS, but I must stress that I only make United slight favourites. I think that you are absolutely right to find fault with RoM’s reference to Barcelona of last season: that was a very different side, the worst for years and they are vastly improved under Guardiola. And just because La Liga may be weaker at the moment – it doesn’t make Barcelona weaker –it just means they have yet to prove how good they really are.
Perhaps I’ve also been harder on Barcelona because I have been praising them so highly all season – and despite the fact that I have slightly favoured United here – as you have said FCBNEWS – it`s all well and good having a plan on paper, but there is no accounting for a piece of magic – and Messi, Eto’o, Henry, Xavi and Iniesta have it in abundance…
Disagree with any of us? Agree with any of us? Let those Spaniards (well, one Spaniard, one ‘English-born Barcelona fan’) know about it on Balague’s website.