Messi and Barca can give United more nightmares

BARCELONA vs MANCHESTER UNITED

TOMORROW – 7.45PM ITV 1

THERE is no doubt that this current Barcelona side has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best, club teams of all time. They have just won their third straight La Liga title and their fifth in the last seven campaigns. Pep Guardiola has proven to be a formidable coach, both at a domestic and European level, with his charges looking for a third European Cup in six years here, and the style with which his side play has the purists purring.

Lionel Messi has had another remarkable season and is undisputedly the best player in world football at the moment. He has scored an astonishing 52 goals across all competitions, including 11 in this year’s Champions League. His speed, skill and trickery are sublime, but his work rate is also second to none and Manchester United will have their work cut out to stop him.

Barcelona are far from a one-man band though. Xavi and Andres Iniesta pull the strings in the middle of the park while Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Dani Alves are outstanding at the back. David Villa isn’t a bad partner for Messi, either, and the quality of this side as a whole is enough to give Sir Alex Ferguson sleepless nights.

United ended their season on a high beating Blackpool 4-2 at Old Trafford, but their performances haven’t been impressive in the past couple of weeks. They struggled against Blackburn a fortnight ago and they looked in trouble against Blackpool when 2-1 down in the second half. They will obviously have to step up massively if they are to compete against Barca, but United should never be written off.

The last time these two met was in the Champions League final in Rome in 2009 when Guardiola’s side comfortably beat United 2-0. The way his team capitulated that day will have been praying on Ferguson’s mind ever since and they will surely put up a better fight tomorrow. They also beat Barca the season before in the semi-final, so they know that they can do it.

These are two worthy finalists, but Barcelona look a class above their rivals. The pace and accuracy of their passing is a joy to watch and the way they fight back when losing possession is magnificent. I find it remarkable that they are not odds-on to win in 90 minutes and the 21/20 available with William Hill must be taken.

Bettorlogic.com analysis shows that there have been only two half-time draws in the last 12 Champions League finals, including none of the last 10 between teams of different countries. The outcome has been settled by the win HT / FT double result in nine of the last 17 finals and I expect that to continue. Back the Barca HT / FT victory at 5/2 on Betdaq.

Paddy Power have come up with some fantastic money-back concessions in the past, but tomorrow’s has to be their best yet. They are refunding all losing first/last goalscorer, correct score and scorecast bets if Barca win in 90 minutes. That is an amazing offer and obviously any goalscorer and correct score bets should be placed with the Irish firm.

Messi hasn’t found the net since his brace at the Bernabeu in the semi-final first leg, but he comes alive on the big stage and is worth backing at 4/1 with Paddy Power. Although I expect Barcelona to win the match, I don’t think it will be easy and I can see United getting a goal. The most common result in recent final history is 2-1 and I will be taking the 15/2 on offer with Paddy Power for that scoreline.

Sporting Index quote goals at 2.25-2.45 and although a buy is tempting, I’d rather opt for a speculative interest in Nemanja Vidic’s goal minutes at 6. It’s unlikely that United will break down Barca on the floor and their best chance of a goal could come from a set piece. There is no better header of the ball in United’s team than the Serbian and it would not be the biggest surprise to see him pop up with a goal.