Man, I Love This Game

“We’re the boys in Red and we’re on our way to Wembley … Wembley! / Wembley! / We’re the famous Man United and we’re going to Wembley.” Those lyrics from the song “Glory Glory Man United” have been blaring from my room at least once a week. That’s right; I’m a Manchester United fan. You know what else? We’re going to Wembley!

This Saturday, an epic showdown between Man United and FC Barcelona will take place at London’s Wembley Stadium for the 2010-2011 UEFA Champions League final. The champions of England will face off with the champions of Spain.

Barcelona is definitely the favorite. The club consists of eight players who were part of the Spanish national team that won the FIFA World Cup last summer, and of course, there’s none other than Lionel Messi, lauded by many as the best footballer in the world. “Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi. Goal! Goal! Goal! Goal!”

Barcelona won La Liga with a whopping 74 goal difference, knocking out Arsenal F.C. and Real Madrid C.F. They deserve the privilege of being called the best club in the world.

Man United is fully capable of defeating Barcelona. This season they lost just 4 of 37 games and won the Barclays Premier League (a record 19th title). In the Champions League, they conceded only one goal in the group stages (the best out of those that progressed to the knockout rounds) and four in total compared to Barcelona’s eight. Despite not having “star” players other than Wayne Rooney (who only hit top form several months ago), they have proven themselves to be one of the top clubs in the world.

There’s no doubt that Man United will spend a majority of the game trying to deal with Barcelona’s attacking trio of Messi, David Villa and Pedro, as well as passing maestros and midfielders Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. But no team is immortal.

It is absolutely necessary for Man United to field a disciplined side. If they score first and Barcelona is desperate, the chances of the Catalans diving to either be awarded penalties and free kicks or get Man United players sent off may be imminent.

Barcelona’s main strength comes from their midfielders. Their midfielders are playmakers. Man United needs to limit their passing abilities through interceptions and dutiful man-marking. If the strikers don’t receive the ball, they will be forced to drop back. One way for Man United to ensure this is to field a quick and tireless midfield, like they did against Chelsea F.C. in the Champions League last month.

Man United has the best defensive record in the Champions League. Out of 18 games so far in the competition, they have kept clean sheets in eight. While this is mainly due to the resilience of the back four, credit must also go to the midfielders and strikers, who often drop back into their half to dispossess and mark opposing players. The team forms  one hell of a defensive network, so it’s going to be a tough shell to crack for Barcelona.

I predict that Man United will play with a variant of their preferred 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers) formation.

Lineup predictions:

Goalkeeper — The majestic Edwin van der Sar, who will be playing his final game for the club, will be pulling magnificent saves left and right.

Defenders — Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić will be the centerbacks, swatting Messi away as if he were a mere fly. The reliable Patrice Evra will take up left fullback and make surging runs opposite the right fullback, most likely be played by the tenacious Rafael.

Midfielders — The natural Ryan Giggs and underrated Michael Carrick will be finding their teammates with smooth passes. The tireless “Three-Lung” Ji-Sung Park and fast-paced Antonio Valencia will play left and right winger, respectively, and be buzzing all over the pitch.

Strikers — The partnership of the brilliant Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and playmaker Rooney will continue to blossom as they trouble Barcelona’s defenders.

I’m guessing that it’s going to be quite close. The final will prove to be an exciting affair, culminating with (who else?) Manchester United emerging victorious and raising the trophy as a dejected Barcelona team looks on. Glory, glory Man United!