The corporate-styled Manchester United against the fan-owned FC Barcelona...how fitting is that? If Barcelona wins, it represents a victory for the fans and a fillip to the corporate bigwigs that dominate the game these days. If Manchester United wins, it will mean that club owners and directors demanded it, success means profitability and sustainability.
But I digress, without a doubt, both Barcelona and Manchester United are incredibly attractive to watch as they play a passing game with an emphasis on attack. This is what the football purists will term a "Dream Final".
Barcelona plays a high possession game, they keep possession of the ball 62% of the time in a match. They have scored 2.5 goals per game and conceded 1.1 goals per game. Xavi Hernandez (6 assists) and Lionel Messi (5 assists) are the creative influence of this team. Messi (8 goals) is also Barca's as well as the competition's top scorer.
United also keep the ball well, having it 54% against any opposition. They have scored 1.5 goals per game and conceded only 0.5 goals per game. The selfless Wayne Rooney (3 assists) and Ryan Giggs (3 assists) contributed the most to the goals that Manchester United have scored in the Champions League. Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov are joint top scorer with 4 goals each for Man Utd.
So what do we have in store for Wednesday's Rome final?
Barcelona will be without Eric Abidal, Danny Alves and Rafa Marquez for sure. Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta are questionable but I doubt they will miss a final as significant as this one. Defensively, Barca will be weakened and it may prove fatal. Manchester United's superior attacking prowess will test Barca's defence to the hilt.
Barca's famed attack of Messi, Henry and Eto'o will be up against the Ferdinand-Vidic partnership which has only yielded 6 goals throughout the competiton. Barca should look to get their little generals, Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings quickly. Pep Guardiola must task Seydou Keita to protect Xavi and Iniesta while United will try to disrupt the rhythm of play.
To overcome Manchester United, Barcelona must keep the ball and pass the ball accurately. Any misplaced pass will create a counter-attacking opportunity for the Red Devils. Barca must capitalize and punish United whenever freekicks are awarded. Vidic tend to give away many "cheap" freekicks and with Henry, Xavi and Eto'o, freekicks could be where Barca can profit from. Barcelona will need to stay patient and continue to probe for openings in Man Utd's defence.
Manchester United are relatively injury-free. The big news will be whether Rio Ferdinand is fit to play. Again, as is with the Barca duo, Rio will not want to miss this final. The suspended Darren Fletcher will be missed as the midfield battle is crucial in this game.
Barca's weakness is obvious - the defence. Quick counter attacks could be the option to overcome a Barcelona side who has conceded 13 goals. The Red Devils need to impose themselves in midfield and put in some crunching tackles early on to disrupt the fluent Barcelona midfield.
Once Anderson and Carrick start winning the tackles and regaining the ball in midfield then space should open up, enabling the quick ball release to Ronaldo to strut his magic. I believe Ronaldo will be playing up top as a striker. Having been disappointing in last year's final, this could be the final where he cements his reputation as arguably the best player in the world.
The key to this match lies in midfield. Once the creativity of Xavi and Iniesta are stifled, Man Utd can and should go on to win the match. Ronaldo's pace upfront against the big Gerard Pique and Toure is a weapon that Man Utd must try to exploit. Support from Rooney and Park who will be running from deep will be difficult to track.
Just like Chelsea, Sir Alex will try to contain and thwart the initial onslaught from Barca. Anderson and Carrick will have a crucial role to play as they will be told to break up the creative flair that is oozing out of Xavi and Iniesta. Once the ball is won back, you can expect Carrick to spray 30-40 yard passes for Rooney and Park to attack and put the Barca defence on the back foot.
Subs: Pinto, Gudjohnsen, Krkic, Milito, Busquets, Caceres, Hleb
Manchester United (4-5-1)
Van Der Sar-O'Shea-Ferdinand-Vidic-Evra-Giggs-Carrick-Rooney-Park-Anderson-Ronaldo
Subs: Kuszcak, Rafael, Tevez, Berbatov, Scholes, Evans, Nani
Some more interesting stats and gems ahead of the upcoming Champions League final,
Of the previous three finals to be held in the Stadio Olimpico, two have been won by English sides (both Liverpool) and two have needed penalties to find a winner, including one of Liverpool's wins.
Four of the last seven finals have ended in penalty shootouts.
This will be United’s fifth final and their fourth in the Champions League/European Cup. The Red Devils have won all of their previous finals.
These two sides have met on nine previous occasions, with United managing three wins to Barcelona’s two.
Barcelona have only managed to win once in their last eight Champions League fixtures against an English side.
The Catalan side have scored just one goal in their last four European games against a team from England.
United are unbeaten in their last seven Champions League meetings with Spanish sides. However, in their last six games against a side from Spain in the Champions League, they have only scored one goal, but have kept a clean sheet in each match.
Manchester United are currently on an all-time record 25 game unbeaten run in the Champions League.
United have kept a clean sheet in 13 of their last 18 Champions League matches.
Edwin Van der Sar has kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the Champions League this season – seven.
Manchester United vs. Barcelona - a mouthwatering final? Let's hope so...lest we forget these two teams treated us to two 3-3 thrillers in the group stages of the Champions League 1998.
If we get even 50% the amount of goals and action, then we are in for a treat....