We’re around half an hour away from one of the most eagerly-awaited games of the year. Is it just me or has anyone else got a deep sense of foreboding about tonight? The hype has been incredible – I overheard two old ladies talking about Messi in the queue at the supermarket today – and often times the showpiece ocassions don’t match up to the expectations the media place upon them.
There’s been a lot of talk about the open style of football that both teams play. Whilst they do like to go forward, I’d suggest that United have become a bit more cautious in Europe as a result of the setbacks that they’ve suffered since winning the Champions’ League back in 1999. Ferguson’s become more aware of the need for discipline in the continental matches, witness the way he’s tried to keep Wayne Rooney on a bit of a leash down the left. It’s been so successful that Fabio Capello’s now trying it and I’m almost converted to the idea.
United should stand a good chance tonight. The suspensions that rule out Dani Alves and Eric Abidal mean that Barcelona will be horribly disadvantaged in defence – and they aren’t exactly watertight back there at the best of times. There’s been some talk about Pep Guardiola going with Keita, a rampaging midfielder, at left back. Only the arrival of the teamsheets will tell us whether this was a mind game that Fergie would have approved of or not. Sylvinho will be the safer option, but the veteran doesn’t have the pace to deal with United’s quick breaks.
I’d love United to win tonight (and I don’t type that sentence often). Edwin van der Sar deserves another accolade to add to his glittering collection. He might have had a few wobbles but he’s been largely dependale this season. There’s the Fulham connection of course and the fact that after we’d been thumped 4-0 in the Cup by United earlier this season his first reaction (ahead of celebrating with his team-mates) was to turn round and clap the Hammersmith End. Class.
Then there’s all the unsung heroes in the United side, if that’s not an oxymoron. Leaving aside the unfortunate Darren Fletcher, nobody raves about John O’Shea or Ji-Sung Park. The Korean, in particular, merits more of a mention. He’s a much more gifted footballer than people imagine but he scurries around the pitch with the stamina of a schoolboy. Park’s got a happy knack of pinching vital goals for United and his form is one of the main reasons why Ryan Giggs has been limited to so few starts this season.
A word too for the way Barcelona are run. Like most of the Spanish clubs, they are owned by their supporters and their history reads like a social history compared to the bland traditions of some of the sides on these shores. They play football the way the founders would have wanted and great extra credit for knocking Chelsea out so dramatically in the semi-finals. They’ll be a big threat tonight – and Iniesta’s late equaliser at Stamford Bridge should have taught everyone about the dangers of man-marking Messi and taking his teammates for granted.
Let’s hope it is a real cracker. Enjoy.