WHEN it comes to defining the ‘beautiful game’, it really doesn’t come any sexier than Barcelona versus Manchester United.
With Europe’s two best sides locking horns and less than the width of a cigarette paper separating them, tonight’s Champions League showdown in Rome is set to be the most exciting for many, many years. Unlike any of the other Champions League encounters we have analysed this season, this game is not likely to be influenced by tactics.
Both managers are happy with the resources they have and I think we can expect a feast of attacking football where it’s simply a case of best team wins.
With their high-tempo football, United and Barcelona are set up quite similarly, but I honestly think United have the edge when it comes to stifling their opponents at the other end. In John O’Shea, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, United have a strong defensive unit, who are used to playing alongside one another on the very biggest of stages.
Compare that to Barcelona, who have their first-choice full-backs Dani Alves and Eric Abidal missing, as well as key centre-back Rafael Marquez. That leaves Yaya Toure and Gerard Pique at the back, and I’d fancy Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to cause them plenty of problems.
United will also take optimism from last season’s two-legged semi-final with Barca where Evra quite comfortably dealt with the obvious threat of Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly, Evra will have his work cut out again tonight as Messi is due a stormer on the biggest of European stages, and that means extra responsibility for whoever plays in front of him to track back and help out.
Barca will obviously be closely monitoring the role of Ronaldo tonight with suggestions that Fergie may play him up the middle alongside Rooney. That would be a good thing for United as it will take away any defensive duties, leaving him licence to roam and do what he does best. Either way, I can see the Portuguese star firing United into the history books. Let’s get it on.