Thursday, May 07, 2009


A Fitting Final

In many ways, it will be the UEFA Champions League final that many neutrals wanted. Not that last year's cagey Manchester United v. Barcelona tie quite lived up to expectations, but it's probably fair to say that these two were, and are, the best footballing sides in the competition.

United's first-half display at the Emirates was a model of defensive efficiency and opportunism at the other end, although of course they owed a great deal to Kieran Gibbs' unfortunate slip early on. And their goal in the second half? An absolute masterpiece, one of a few impressive breakaway specials they have produced in recent times. Although the move was started (delightfully) and finished by Cristiano Ronaldo, the involvement of Park Ji-Sung was worthy of note; the hard-working Korean was perhaps United's best on field in the home leg against Barcelona last season, and he probably deserves a starting spot in Rome, especially with Darren Fletcher out.

What to say about the other tie, concluded this morning? Chelsea were desperately unlucky to be denied two (arguably three) plain penalties, and although Barcelona predictably dominated possession, Chelsea created far more clear chances. But Didier Drogba's one golden chance was spurned, Frank Lampard's range was on the blink throughout, and Barca, to their credit, adapted superbly well to their numerical disadvantage. It was instructive to watch how Gerard Pique, who had been moving into midfield quite often in any case, essentially took on a double role once Eric Abidal was dismissed and Seydou Keita shifted to left-back: Pique became both central defender and box-to-box midfielder. Occasionally he was caught out of position on a Chelsea break, but the attacking impetus he provided (when Barca desperately needed it) outweighed this easily.

So then: what of the final?

The suspension to both fullbacks probably tips the balance in favour of Manchester United. Daniel Alves' tireless overlapping dovetails beautifully with Lionel Messi's darting thrusts infield, and without him Barca are less likely to pose danger from the right (even if Alves' crossing left a lot to be desired in the tie against Chelsea). And with a winger as dangerous as Cristiano Ronaldo in the opposition ranks, you would always want your first-choice wide defenders there in any event.

I'm tipping a narrow, hard-fought win for Sir Alex's men.

Give us a revue of Guus "Super Coach" Hiddink's career Mikey! You know you want to. ;)
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