IT’S the final almost every fan would have wanted: two champions of their respective leagues who have without doubt played the best football in Europe this season. More than that, it throws together two of the most brilliantly unpredictable players on the planet and places them in direct opposition. I can’t wait.
Similarities abound between Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi. Both are unarguably the key men for their teams: Barcelona lose 25 per cent without Messi, while Manchester United are not as potent when Rooney is absent.
Both are forwards who enjoy dropping deep, picking up the ball and probing defences. Rooney has found a position he is comfortable in, drifting into the spaces between the opposition back four and midfield; Messi is a master of the same art.
Fortunately for us viewers, both are currently at the top of their game. Messi has been phenomenal yet again this year, scoring 52 goals in all competitions, and creating countless more. Rooney, meanwhile, certainly has his mojo back after his troubled start to the campaign.
Of course they have their own individual traits too. Messi has an impish quality and is a supremely talented dribbler, always seeming to get his toe to the ball as it’s about to be cleared. He also picks defences apart by playing little one-twos with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and particularly Dani Alves, the overlapping right-back. Short passes of great quality are a speciality; you never see him switching play with a raking 40-yard cross-field ball.
That’s partly a reflection of the teams’ philosophies. Barca like to keep it very tight, and are the best in the world at doing so, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s have a touch more variety to their game.
Messi is the world’s greatest in my eyes, with better decision-making and more of a team ethos than Cristiano Ronaldo. I would put Rooney second in any list, however. As for who will come out on top tomorrow, it’s virtually impossible to call, but I’m hopeful an in-form United can pip Barca.