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Flair vs resilience

United know that they will not enjoy the bulk of possession but have the wherewithal to beat Barcelona.

sports Updated: May 28, 2011 07:30 IST

Barcelona must beware the artful dodgers of the Champions League in Saturday's final at Wembley where Manchester United will get a second chance to pick the pocket of Europe's classiest team.

United, who have snatched two Champions League final wins from what appeared to be certain defeats, were overwhelmed by Barca's precision passing game when the teams met in Rome in 2009, surrendering in a one-sided 2-0 defeat.

Two years on, the only certainty on the vast Wembley pitch is that the Spanish champions, boasting the world's best player in Lionel Messi, will again enjoy the bulk of possession.

But while Barcelona remain technically superior, no one could ever accuse wily United manager Alex Ferguson of failing to learn from his mistakes.

With England striker Wayne Rooney and the exciting Mexico forward Javier Hernandez among the talent at his disposal, an upset is far from beyond their grasp.

United clearly do have quality but it will need temperament as well as talent to prevail in a battle between two clubs who each have three European Cup wins, and curiously enough won the first of them at the old Wembley Stadium.

Guardiola was part of the Barca side that triumphed at last in 1992, with a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria under the venue's famous Twin Towers.

It was back in 1968 when United won their first European Cup with a 4-1 Wembley victory, also in extra time, against Benfica. The two subsequent wins for the English side have been a case of victories conjured from seemingly hopeless situations.

The first came at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium in 1999, when two last-gasp goals earned them a sensational 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in a match that had appeared lost.

In 2008, they were staring at defeat again when Chelsea captain John Terry had a chance to win the title in a penalty shootout in Moscow only to slip, miss and gift United the opportunity to win their third European Cup.

There was no such escape against Barca in Rome the following year, as Guardiola capped a perfect first season in charge by masterminding a comprehensive win.

The winners this time will lift their fourth European Cup in total and join Real Madrid and AC Milan as three-times winners in the Champions League era starting in 1992-93. A United victory would take Ferguson level with Bob Paisley of Liverpool as the only manager to win the competition three times.

Tactical battles

Who stops Lionel Messi?
Man United will have seen how Real Madrid have used centre back Pepe as an extra defensive midfielder in a largely successful attempt to negate Lionel Messi's impact but manager Alex Ferguson is unlikely to upset his well-established patterns to copy that approach. With his midfielders likely to be otherwise engaged, either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic will have to step up to confront Messi in areas where the centre backs usually prefer not to venture. If Vidic has a weakness it is against speedy, close-controlling, small forwards so the theoretically more mobile Ferdinand is more likely to be given the job.

Chase all night or wait and strike?
Barcelona's midfield, marshalled by Spain playmaker Xavi, love to pass the ball and they are extraordinarily good at it. In their semifinal first leg against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Barca had 72% of possession, an impressive feat in the lair of their archenemy. At times they appear to be toying with opponents. They pass and move brilliantly, and often instantly, but too often are allowed to do so unmolested. Park Ji-sung, in particular, will see it as his personal mission to be in the face of any Barcelona player who has the ball, harrying and rushing him so that eventually one of those passes will go astray.

Barcelona beware — United can score too
United have not progressed to their third Champions League final in four years by spending all their time worrying about the opposition — they can play a bit too. They are at their best on the counter-attack. Antonio Valencia has added real verve since his return from injury and though Ryan Giggs's 37-year-old legs might not cover the ground as they did a decade ago, his brain and feet still make him a potent creative force. Wayne Rooney's gradual development into a deeper-lying threat and his partnership with razor-sharp Javier Hernandez complete an impressive attack.

Match pointers

It is the second time since the CL started that two teams have been re-matched in a final. Liverpool and AC Milan met in 2005 and 2007, Liverpool emerging victorious in the first and Milan winning the return. Barcelona and United are also meeting two years after their original final encounter in 2009 when Barca won 2-0.

the 22nd time that a Spanish team has reached a European Cup/ CL final and the 18th for an English club. Only Italy, with 26, can boast more appearances in the final.

If Barcelona win, it will be a record 13th European champions title for Spanish clubs. If United win, England would join Spain and Italy on 12 titles.

the team that wins will join Real Madrid and AC Milan on a record three titles since the Champions League started in 1992-93.

Barcelona and united have scored 303 goals and conceded 158 in the CL. The difference is in the number of games played — Barcelona 158 to United’s 175.

It will be the first CL final at the new Wembley. The old stadium hosted five finals — AC Milan vs Benfica (1963), United vs Benfica (1968), Ajax vs Panathinaikos (1971), Liverpool vs Club Bruges (1978) and Barcelona vs Sampdoria (1992).

lionel messi, Barcelona's Argentine forward, has scored 11 goals in this season's tournament, one short of the Champions League season record set by Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 when he was with Manchester United. However, Messi has not scored in seven previous matches for Barcelona in England.

First Published: May 27, 2011 23:43 IST