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UEFA Champions League Final: Matchday Preview

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The day has finally arrived.

Manchester United vs. Barcelona.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o vs. Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney vs. Carles Puyol, Michael Carrick vs. Xavi, Anderson vs. Iniesta.

Shall we go on?

The UEFA Champions League Final will kick off today (2:30pm, ESPN) and it will provide us with the dream match-up most folks outside of London have spent weeks, if not months, praying for.

Let's kick your morning off with some predictions and some thoughts on today's final:

First, some predictions from around MLS (D.C. picks courtesy of Behind the Badge):

  • Denis Hamlett (Chicago Fire head coach)- Manchester United, 2-0

  • Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago Fire midfielder)- Barcelona, 2-1

  • Bakary Soumare (Chicago Fire defender)- Barcelona, 2-1

  • John Thorrington (Chicago Fire midfielder)- Manchester United, 2-1

  • Macoumba Kandji (Red Bulls forward)- Barcelona, 2-1

  • Kevin Goldthwaite (Red Bulls defender)- Barcelona, 1-0

  • Tom Soehn (D.C. United head coach)- Barcelona, 2-1

  • Chris Pontius (D.C. United forward)- Manchester United, 2-1

  • Jaime Moreno (D.C. United forward)- Barcelona, 2-1

  • Luciano Emilio (D.C. United forward)- Manchester United, 1-0

  • Shep Messing (TV analyst)- Barcelona, 3-2

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For some video to get you in the mood for today's clash, here is a tribute to the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi match-up:

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Now, onto my prediction. With Barcelona missing starting fullbacks Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, as well as starting central defender Rafa Marquez, Manchester United has to be the favorite. If, as expected, Thierry Henry can go, then Barcelona's star attacking trio will be intact again, which should help, but look for United's disciplined defense and stellar central midfield to neutralize Barca's vaunted attack.

Of all the match-ups in today's clash, I don't see any being more important than Michael Carrick-Anderson vs. Xavi and Iniesta. The Barcelona duo gets more publicity, and deservedly so after helping lead Spain to the European championship last summer, but Carrick-Anderson is more than capable of stealing the show today and neutralizing the Spanish playmakers.

Most of the hype leading up to today's match has centered around the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi match-up and you have to say that Man United is better equipped to neutralize Messi with Patrice Evra than Barcelona is suited to stopping Ronaldo without starters Alves and Abidal. Messi's streak of never having scored against English opposition could end today, but look for United to keep him from going off.

Could Barcelona win? Absolutely. Truth be told, I'll be happy to see five goals today, regardless of the outcome, but it's tough to ignore Barcelona's missing starters in the back. That, coupled with Alex Ferguson's experience in games like this, give Manchester United the edge.

Wayne Rooney will be the star today, taking full advantage of the havoc Cristiano Ronaldo will wreak on Barcelona's make-shift back-line with a pair of goals. Lionel Messi scores a dream goal at some point, but it won't be enough in a 2-1 Manchester United victory.

Now it's your turn. Who do you think will win today?

 
I will be providing my own live commentary on the match so feel free to follow along this afternoon, and as always, you will be welcome to share your own thoughts and opinions on the match.
 
For those wondering about viewing times, the final will be shown live at 2:25pm on ESPN, 5:30pm on ESPN Classic and 11pm on ESPN2.
 
What do you think of today's final? What match-up do you find the most intriguing? What do you see being the key today? What is your prediction for a winner and score?
 
Share your thoughts below.
 

Comments

  1. USA – You are so right about Wayne. His work ethic is what makes him one of the best players in the world.

    Reply
  2. I just got a call from my buddy in Rome. His hoped-for ticket fell thru, but evidently the carbineri aren’t f*%#ing around- and have been treating the crowds like a riot rounding people and beating the crap out of them. He and a bunch of other Man Yoo fans got scared and took off their colors to avoid jail and lumps on the head. Many of ’em even had tickets. typical police reaction when fear rules the day…

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  3. courtney is clueless. anybody who has any real grasp on the game of soccer realizes that rooney is one of, if not the most complete player in the world. not only is he capable of filling basically any role in the field, he is also WILLING to do so which really separates him in a world filled with me me me prima donnas

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  4. Rooting for Barca, but I just don’t see that makeshift defense holding up against ManU’s wealth of attacking options. ManU wins, 3-1.

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  5. I’ll be watching in an English pub with my Barcelona jersey on, but I’m afraid the glaring defensive holes for Barcelona will be the difference. Final: Manchester United 3 Barcelona 1.

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  6. Unite will line up in a defensive formation, because they are so complete of a team that they will eventually breakdown barcas defense, especially when 3 of 4 starters are missing. Why risk conceeding a goal with a more offensive formation when united can score with a more defensive line up. Certianly not to placate the mafia’s desire to see all out attacking soccer!

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  7. Maxwell,

    Let’s hope Man U opens it up today. Will be a classic final if they do. I agree my opinion on Rooney runs counter to the majority but I personally do not come away impressed when I watch him play. I think I get a little turned off by the EPL bias I perceive from a lot of fans. And I may have a bias toward La Liga, just my preference in terms of style of play.

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  8. i think toure and pique are capable of doing a decent job, making a few mistakes here and there most likely, just gotta hope those mistakes dont cost them.

    Puyol might struggle a little from the Man U right side attack, but for me the real weakness in Barca defense is Sylvinho. I just dont see him really containing a Wayne Rooney or anyone else from Man U for the entire game. I bet well see goal chances created from that side.

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  9. Re:

    “Park is the wiser choice for defensive purposes but I have a suspicion that Fergie will go for the throat. I realize it is more wishful thinking than anything but I am hoping for this lineup

    VdS

    O’Shea Vidic Ferd Evra

    Carrick

    Giggs Anderson

    Ronaldo Rooney

    Tevez

    Posted by: Kevin | May 27, 2009 at 10:00 AM ”

    Don’t you mean “PARKE”?

    Rock the head band, baby!

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  10. Well Courtney, no one can deny you have a strong desire to bring down everyone’s opinion of Rooney. Thanks for providing the ratings. However, to be fair, that was in the 1st leg played @ Barca when United played like Chelsea and packed it in defensively…as in EVERYONE played defense. No player was attacking. So to say Rooney didn’t impact the offense in that particular game isn’t making much of a point, because you can say the same thing about Ronaldo. If you think Ferguson is going to play that type of game again today, then you will probably be correct in your prediction of Rooney. I certainly won’t argue with you about that.

    I don’t think they’re going to play that defensive today, so I think Rooney will make an impact because I just don’t think he’s overrated, as you suggested earlier. On that note, did Rooney personally harm you in any way? I can understand you not liking him but to call Rooney overrated is just absurd. For all I know, you don’t even watch United play because if you did, I don’t see how you can make that arguement. Unless you’re going by 1 game or something even more ridiculous like that. Even the most passionate United haters don’t think Rooney’s overrated. They certainly dislike him but he’s got game, and that’s why he’s disliked.

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  11. Again, EPL tactics rarely involve outside backs attacking (except for occasionally with the Big 4). This allows wingers to get forward and be effective in attack. Please look back at Man U – Barca game from last year when Rooney was invisible.

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  12. Cam, You seem to forget it took 185 minutes for Barca to score on Chelsea. Man U is a better defensive team and better team overall. Man U wins 2-1 or 3-1.

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  13. Count me in the group who totally and completely disagrees with Courtney regarding Rooney. He’s incredibley dangerous from the outside. Just watch the 2nd half of their game against Tottenham if you need further evidence. If Barca sleeps on Rooney on the outside, assuming he’s only going to play defense, like you’re doing Courtney, then they’ll pay for that mistake.

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  14. Isaac, I completely agree Rooney could definitely be an influence defensively. I purely meant I don’t see him being the difference offensively that Ives indicated he thought he would. As for switching positions with Cristiano, I think this only happens if Fergie decides to get more offensive because we both know cristiano isn’t tracking back to cover attacking outside backs.

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  15. SteveT,

    I’m sorry long answers tend to make people skip over important parts of my response. I said I don’t think he will be an influence in ATTACK. I said his work rate is good and believe he does a good job covering outside backs getting forward. But please, provide some support showing how much you know rather than telling me I’m wrong. I can respond to anyone telling them they’re wrong, at least I’ll put forth some support even if you do disagree.

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  16. Courtney,

    You kind of contradicted yourself. You stated that Rooney will be a non-factor, when any kind of defensive contribution a right winger can give is much appreciated. Rooney has been able to prove a great defensive and offensive contribution in the games I’ve seen him deployed on the flank. You have to remember this is Manchester United we’re talking about here; If Rooney is finding it hard to make a difference offensively while contributing defensively, he’ll switch with Ronaldo, who is likely to play at Center-Forward, a position Rooney is also capable of playing.

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  17. DJ, re your questions, it is true. United play more defensive in Europe because it works. Fergie has learned over the years what works. Hargreaves was brought in for this purpose. Fletcher filled the role nicely and Giggs is the most likely fill-in for that slot. Park too gets lots of starts in the CL. Last year in the final and I realize it was against Premier League opposition, Fergie played Rooney and Tevez up front. The tactics could differ since its a single match, but I think last years tactics against Barca indicate Fergie will play more defensive and look to counter. He’ll keep Tevez, Berbatov, Scholes and Nani ready for the 60th minute or later subs if they need a goal.

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  18. Courtney, with all due respect, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. Your lengthy explanation doesn’t hide the fact that you have only an elementary understanding of the game. You clearly don’t watch United play much if you think Rooney STRUGGLES when deployed on the flank.

    As is usually the case, long-winded answers tend to be nothing but hot air.

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  19. Issac,

    Ives comment was directly related to Rooney’s offense. And when I’ve watched Rooney playing on the wing he seems to struggle to integrate both his offense and defense together in games when he is playing against attack minded outside backs. This is something he rarely deals with in the EPL given the leagues style of play. I agree he works hard, I just don’t think he provides the two way ability from that position and him playing there with Park on the other wing is an indication Ferguson is ready to go defensive ala Chelsea and hope Cristiano can break down the defense on a counter attack. I actually think Man U has an enormous advantage on set pieces as Barca’s ability in the air is mediocre at best and Man U has tons of weapons in that department. So in the end I think Man U has the advantage, I just don’t think Rooney is going to be a difference maker, especially going forward.

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  20. no one in the world can stop a team with messi and iniesta. its just not possible. barca WILL score 2 goals, guaranteed. man u will have to outscore them, which is possible because of barca’s depleated defense.

    i predict a 2-2 draw, and barca wins on penalties… berba shanks

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  21. Can anyone explain to me why Giggs/Tevez/Berbatov probably won’t be in the starting XI for ManU? With the patch work back four Barca will be using why wouldn’t you pull the strings and let your team use all of it’s attacking force? I hate how defensive the English teams get when they play in Europe, even when it’s against weaker teams!! (Not weaker by talent but weaker by players available)

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  22. Park is the wiser choice for defensive purposes but I have a suspicion that Fergie will go for the throat. I realize it is more wishful thinking than anything but I am hoping for this lineup

    VdS
    O’Shea Vidic Ferd Evra
    Carrick
    Giggs Anderson
    Ronaldo Rooney
    Tevez

    Reply
  23. Courtney,

    So someone cant be a star because of his defensive performances as well as his forays into offense?

    Rooney has an immense work rate and I think he’ll do the business defensively and geting forward.

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  24. Rooney as the star today? Not given Ferguson’s Champions League tactics. Rooney is overrated to begin with. I see him being a complete non-factor disappearing on the wing trying to defend the attacking defensive backs of Barca. But I still think Cristiano alone can create goals by himself against this back line, as shown by Drogba in the 2nd leg of the semis. Toure, as good as he is as a holding mid, doesn’t have the instincts of a central defender. If I were Guardiola, I’d start Toure in midfield and consider playing Keita or Caceres in the back. This gives Barca decided advantage in midfield.

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  25. I also heard Keita had said he didn’t want to play back there.

    I don’t want to admit it, but with that backline, how does United not win? I say 3-1.

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  26. I probably missed this conversation, but my Directv guide is not saying that it will be in HD? Is this true?

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  27. Lineups aren’t out yet but it sounds like we’ll see something like this:

    Sylvinho—Pique—Toure—-Puyol

    Martin Caceres is another option and I’ve even heard one theory that Seydou Keita might be deputised into a left back role, but don’t see them using Toure AND Keita in the back.

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  28. Ives,

    Who wil be replacing, Dani Alves, Eric Abidal and Rafa Marquez in the starting lineup of today’s match?

    Reply

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