Friday, March 18, 2011

United And Barca Destined To Meet In Final

Champions League trophyTwo years ago a pair of teams met in Rome for the biggest game of the season. We didn't know it then, but both Manchester United and Barcelona were at a crossroads, with one venturing into a future of high profile exits and unprecedented debt, while the other was set to embark on a journey which would see them dubbed the greatest team of all time.

Now, twenty-two months on from Barcelona's 2-0 win in Rome, the results of the 2010-11 Champions League draw have put both United and Barca in with a superb chance of contesting  this year's Wembley showpiece.

For Barcelona, their path to the final will start with Shakhtar, a team brilliant on the attack, but questionable in defense. This match up will see Shakhtar defender Chygrynski, return to the club that he flopped at last season, with this tie an ideal opportunity of proving a point to his former employers. Assuming that Barcelona make it through this encounter, and I am brave enough to make that assumption, they will face either Real Madrid or Tottenham Hotspur, in the semis, making an all Spanish semi-final highly likely. The potential of two extra Super Classicos, to go with their league meeting in May and the Copa del Rey final at the Mestalla looks enticing, but too many matches could take away from the magic around the Real Madrid-Barcelona fixture. Personally, I think it would be refreshing to see Tottenham in the semi-final, but I struggle to see them getting past Jose Mourinho's disciplined troops.

Come the semi finals, the destination of the league title in Spain may already be secure, so the entire focus of the country will be shifted to what would be a highly historic Champions League meeting. We're beginning to run out of ways to describe Madrid-Barca (the spenders vs the developers, conservative vs liberal, evil vs good etc. etc.) but a first Champions League meeting in some time, may go along way to developing and extra aura around a rivalry that simply cannot be compared to any other in sport.

If Madrid do meet Barca, then you would have to think that the Catalans would be overwhelming favorites, especially after last year's massacre at the Nou Camp. On that night Real Madrid had no answer to Barca's fabulous midfield, and one wonders whether they will have figured out the world's greatest team, come late April. Pep Guardiola and the rest of the Barcelona team will hope they haven't.

And now, the other half of my hypothetical final, Manchester United. Much maligned for their lack of, as Didier Deschamps put it "fantasy," Manchester United will still see themselves as the favorites out of the four teams in their half of the draw.

Quarter Final opponents Chelsea highlighted everything that has been wrong about Carlo Ancelotti's all season, in ninety minutes of fruitless toil against FC Copenhagen on Wednesday. At the moment, Chelsea lack cohesion, desire and a consistently scoring striker, with Drogba, Anelka and Torres all badly out of sorts.  If Chelsea don't get themselves together by Quarter Final time, then they may well be found out by a Manchester United team boasting quite possibly the best finisher in all of England.

If United are to go through, then the team they'll expect to see in the semis will be defending champions Inter Milan. Inter Milan seem to have overcome a shaky start to the season, and Leonardo has put them within striking distance of Serie A league leaders AC Milan. Inter were slightly fortunate to beat Bayern in the previous round, but I suspect they will find it somewhat less difficult against the much less esteemed German club, Schalke 04.

Two years ago, United cruised past Mourinho's Inter side in the Champions League Round of Sixteen, but the Inter team of 2011 is one much improved over the 2009 edition. Samuel Eto'o has inspired since his move from Spain in 2009, and one can be sure that he would love to become the first player ever to win the Champions League three years running. However, overall, I would have to give the edge to United in this match up, the Premier League pace setters are competition savvy, and I can already sense Chicharito licking his lips at the prospect of playing against Inter Milan's injury ravaged defense.

So would Man Utd-Barca be a final to remember? Or would it just be another tight, cagey, affair eventually won by Barcelona?

Please comment below with your opinion on the draw, and potential finalists.

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