Ahead of our biggest game of the season, Barcelona born Guillem Balague has asked RoM to conduct a debate with a Barca blogger.
Guillem: At first glance, this is a fairly evenly matched contest between the respective title winners of their domestic leagues – and for once, the final that many predicted and wanted to see: between the two strongest sides on the continent. So, starting with FCB News, in the eyes of the fans, how do the La Liga Champions match up to their Premier league counterparts?
FCB NEWS: Barça are the better team. Last year’s semi final is a good indicator of how the two teams will play with United pinned back for most of the game looking to hit Barça on the counter attack. However, this season Barça are a much better team while United are more or less at the same level. I believe Barça have more potential match winners, while United will base all their hopes on Cristiano Ronaldo, Barça have five players capable of winning us the game. Xavi and Iniesta have both grown as players since guiding Spain to victory in Euro 2008, and are more capable of creating the chances we failed to make last season.
The 96 goals scored this season by our attacking trio of Messi, Eto’o and Thierry Henry speaks for itself. Thierry Henry has improved immensely this season, his poor form last year saw him dropped to the bench for both semi final games.
Republik of Mancunia: Messi, Eto’o and Henry, amongst others, would be enough to give any defender cold sweats, but Vidic and Rio can be confident they will keep them out. For all the possession Barça had against United last season, Van der Sar didn’t have a save to make.
Barcelona’s strength is clearly their attack which suits United fairly well given the great defence we have. Whilst the right back position is still fairly shaky, the pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand is the best in Europe. This season, Edwin Van der Sar broke the European record for the longest time without conceding a goal, which is certainly an achievement for the keeper, but a record that would not have been possible without his centre backs.
FCB News: I will concede that Vidic and Rio are probably the best central defensive pairing around at the moment but they will have their work cut out to stop Barça this year. As I said, Barça have three lethal strikers to contain who will be served by Xavi and Iniesta: two of the best passers in the game, while the Barça defence will only have to worry about Ronaldo.
I believe United’s goal scoring chances will be limited. People always say that Barça have problems defensively but teams generally have very few scoring opportunities against us. In La Liga we have the best defensive record. I imagine if Rooney plays on the left he will play most of the game tracking back to support Evra against Messi while Park will be similarly occupied by Iniesta and Henry on the other flank. Perhaps the main threat to Barça will be if Giggs gets a chance to look for a through ball to Ronaldo, but I repeat United will not get near our penalty area very often.
Chelsea only created chances when Barça were a goal down and chasing the game, and it is interesting to note that in the two semi final ties against United and Chelsea we only conceded two goals which came from the long range efforts of Scholes and Essien. With a bit of luck on Wednesday any long range shots from United will fly well over the crossbar.
Republik of Mancunia: According to UEFA, Manchester United have had 87 shots on target in the competition this year, an average of 7.25 every match. Barcelona have had 83 shots on target, an average of 6.92 every match. United also have the best defensive record in the competition this season, conceding on average just 0.5 goals per game played. Barça have the 9th best record in the competition, conceding an average of 1.08 goals per game. So, we’ve had more shots on goal than Barcelona and we’ve conceded fewer goals than Barcelona, so I’m not entirely sure where the logic is that our chances will be limited…?
Guillem: I’m surprised neither of you have made more of Barcelona’s defensive selection problems ahead of this final and, in my opinion, their problems at the back could be decisive. It is certainly going to test Guardiola’s managerial capabilities to the full: speaking of which…it`s the relatively inexperienced new kid on the block going up against the old master. How do the two coaches match up?
FCB NEWS: Pep Guardiola is the better coach. Yes, I know a lot of United fans will laugh at this one. Sir Alex Ferguson may have the experience but it took him more than ten years as United’s coach before he won the Champions League….
Republik of Mancunia: … I might point out that United had the “three foreigners” rule to battle against when Sir Alex first created a team good enough to win the Champions League. United had to pick three players from Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane, Dennis Irwin, Eric Cantona and Andrei Kanchelskis….
FCB NEWS: United fans were calling for Ferguson`s head during his first seasons in charge and he didn’t win the Champions League until after the three foreigners rule had been changed! Guardiola has already become a legend at Barcelona in his first season. As a player he was fortunate enough to play under such maestros as Johan Cruyff, Bobby Robson, Louis Van Gaal and Fabio Capello: learning from all of them and his attention to detail is second to none. Barça also wisely sent Gerard Piqué to spy on United for four years so we know exactly what to expect!
Republik of Mancunia: Guardiola inherited the second best side in Spain when he got the Barça job. United were in the relegation zone when Ferguson came to United. Messi, Eto’o, Henry, Abidal, Toure, Gudjohnsen, Hleb and Keita were all born outside of Spain but fortunately Pep doesn’t have to pick just three of those players to face United, which was the situation Ferguson was first presented with as United manager. To argue Guardiola is a better coach than Sir Alex Ferguson is hard to respond to. When Guardiola has won fourteen league titles, six European titles, and thirteen domestic cups, then you can start comparing the two. For the time being, the two are leagues apart. Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t need to learn from maestros, he is the maestro!
Guillem: Something that both of these managers have excelled at is fostering a tremendous team spirit and keeping their players hungry. How much will that be a factor?
FCB NEWS: Barça will have more hunger and team spirit. The English teams always believe that one of their advantages over foreign teams is their greater team spirit and work rate. Chelsea believed they would outdo Barça in this respect, yet it was Barça who fought back with ten men to clinch the tie. The team spirit at Camp Nou this season is second to none. Heads may have dropped in the past when going behind, but this season we have come from behind on several occasions.
The fact that we have so many home grown players obviously helps in this respect and on Wednesday we will probably start with seven players who started their careers in the youth ranks of the club. Of the other four players, Toure, Keita and Eto’o are all battlers, and even Thierry Henry has proved this season that he will run his socks off for the team, and nobody wants a winner`s medal more than him.
Republik of Mancunia: Chelsea may have believed that team spirit was enough to get past Barcelona but they didn’t have enough quality to match that. They are 7 points behind us in the league this season so clearly Barcelona shouldn’t expect the same standard from us. We have team spirit and quality, as the Champions of the strongest league in Europe.
United have just equalled Liverpool’s league title records and now have the opportunity to go within one European Cup of their total, which makes us as hungry as ever.
Johan Cruyff might think we’ve got a team full of foreigners, but he hasn’t checked out our squad, obviously. Last season we had five homegrown players in our team for the final (with a further four Englishman) and this season we have Jonny Evans added to the mix.
Leave your comments on this blog and have it out with the Spaniards at Balague’s site.