Xavi to dictate matters in Rome
So here it is, the much anticipated match of the season: Manchester United v Barcelona; touted by many as the dream European final.
Spanish against English, the Counts of Catalonia against the Mancs of Lancashire, effervescent exuberance versus tireless industry, free-flowing attack against resolute defence, Messi and Ronaldo; and more duels besides.
Xavi has the big match temperament to win it for Barca
For me this evening will be won or lost in the midfield, and by this I don’t mean the performances of either Messi or Ronaldo; though I’m certain both will play their part and provide a welcome distraction for the neutral.
Here are issues in the Midfield that I feel may prove decisive:
- Xavi against Carrick– Whoever wins this battle will win the match for their respective teams. For me Xavi has the big match temperament to outwit and outplay Carrick; who will see as much of the ball as he is used to and, despite possessing the range of passing and a strong shot, he might be on the back foot for large parts of this match. At Barca – as it does for the Spanish national side – everything goes through Xavi and, as is very comfortable having plenty of possession, enjoys pulling the strings in huge matches. Carrick, on the other hand, will struggle for time and space without the endeavors of the industrious Fletcher, and there is a concern the lad from Newcastle could well choke on the biggest European stage. Tonight, nevertheless, Xavi will have to be at his mercurial best to unlock this miserly United defence. I personally feel it will once again be the little Spaniard’s night just as it was in the Euros last summer.
- If Busquets comes in alongside Xavi, as expected, into midfield, expect his battle against (probably) Anderson to be a vital one. How well both of these relatively inexperienced players hold their nerve on the big occasion, and how well they use possession, will be another deciding factor in this intriguing encounter.
- The fitness of Andreas Iniesta will be a telling issue in this match. Against Chelsea, playing slightly further forward, he was nearly unplayable and deservedly held his nerve to win it for the Catalans. Of course he might see less of the ball against United in a more withdrawn role; he may also have his hands full with maruading runs from Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo, but his partnership with Xavi is crucial to how well Barca perform and, how well he plays, will again prove decisive.
Can Carrick perform on biggest European stage? Will he miss Fletcher?
Much has been made of the strength of United’s defence but we only need to think back to how Torres exposed Vidic and co. so emphatically, only a few months ago, to see their vulnerability. Messi, Henry & Eto’o can do something similar given the service from Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta.
Hopefully United do not succeed in nullifying this Barcelona attack the way Chelsea nearly did in the semis and they perform to the best of their capabilities. All considered, I expect a pulsating game of football; and hopefully it will prove to be an open game for us neutrals. Moreover, if both teams play the way we know they can, we may well witness one of the greatest ever finals.
Probable Team Line-ups:
Manchester United FC(possible, 4-3-3): Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Giggs, Anderson; Park, Ronaldo, Rooney.
FC Barcelona(possible, 4-1-4-1): Valdes; Puyol, Pique, Toure, Sylvinho; Busquets; Henry, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi; Eto’o.
The EFP Prediction: 3-2 Barcelona (slightly idealistic I know)