With the 2-0 triumph of Barcelona in yesterday’s heated El Clasico encounter, it seems all but certain that Pepe Guardiola’s men will make next month’s Champions League final, most likely to face fellow semi-finalists Man United as they themselves were 2-0 victors away at Schalke in their first-leg clash on Tuesday.
These two sides last went head to head back in Rome in 2009 in a memorable 2-0 Champions League final victory for the Catalonian giants thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi and with now many feeling Barca are twice the side they were two years previous, (thanks to the continued progression under Guardiola) it raises the inevitable question. If United couldn’t stop Barca in Rome, what chance do they have of stopping them now? Because after all, many things have changed since that fateful encounter back in 2009.
First and foremost, Cristiano Ronaldo – the most prolific goalscorer to have graced Old Trafford in recent memory went onto pastures new shortly after the final in that little known £80 million record-breaking transfer to Madrid and with fellow country-man Nani ordered with the task of filling the midfielders boots, it’s already advantage Barca.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi who at the paltry age of 23 took his footballing development into overdrive last year went from one of the best players in the world to THE best player in the world and it’s not foreseeable how even the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will be able to stop this man on a mission come Champions League final time.
And with Barcelona possessing the lion-share of Spain’s World Cup winning squad of last year, it’s very true to say this is a side very much in its prime. But there is hope for United however.
Despite guiding them to La Liga and Champions League glory, Barcelona boss Guardiola is infact the main area of weakness in his squad and United can capitalise on his mental frailty which was on show after Mourinho’s recent comments about ref decisions in the build up to this week’s game that clearly got under the Spaniard’s skin.
Tactically the game is there for the taking for United and who better to orchestrate it than the man who has already master-minded 11 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League victories already? Sir Alex Ferguson thrives on mind games with fellow managers and his previous antics have led to the likes of Kevin Keegan to suffer mental break-down on national TV.
Whilst United have atypically enjoyed a successful run of games coming into the back-end of this season, Barcelona have looked jaded under a hefty fixture schedule and the absence of Carlos Puyol recently has highlighted how vulnerable they can be at the back.
Whilst getting a result against Barcelona will still be a tall order for Sir Alex’s men, in some respects they have a better chance of beating Barcelona now than they did 2 years ago. In the final of this years Copa Del Rey, Madrid highlighted just how difficult it is for Barcelona to break a team down with men behind the ball and even minnows Sporting Gijon recently claimed a dogged 1-1 draw in this year’s La Liga using the same tactic.
With Schalke and Madrid not yet out of the running despite a 2 away-goal deficit, it would be wrong to assume that either side still couldn’t progress despite the enormity of the task at hand. But should Barca reach this year’s Champions League final, whoever will face them albeit United or Schalke will need to be at their very best defensively to stop the might of their attacking, expansive football.