And now it’s time for all good little football writers to predict the winner of today’s final. No dodging the question. No avoiding the responsibilities of punditry. Well, Clyde, I think it’s too close to call. I mean, if we don’t pick a side, we’re being wishy-washy, right? Readers want deliberate statements. They want to hear our measured opinions. It’s time to jump of that cliff and say: The winner will be…
Pick a side. Make a call. Bite into it. Just say it.
But how do you pick between these two?
The Champs v. Los Campeones.
One spanked Real Madrid both on the league table and at their own stadium. The other just tied Liverpool for most English league trophies ever.
One’s got last season’s FIFA world player of the year, the one who’s pretty well reviled by most everybody apart from Fox Soccer Commentators and Manchester United Supporters. The other’s got probably the best player in the world, the one who’s pretty well revered by everyone apart from Real Madrid supporters and C. Ronaldo’s mum…
No, no, no, Ethan… Don’t turn this into good v. evil… It’s not Lionel Skywalker v. Darth Ronaldo… Start again…
Manchester’s got that unbelievable defensive record on their side. It was the back four who won most of those clean sheets for Edwin van der Sar. Jaaskelainen had to make more actual saves this year. When they are fit and in form they are the best in the world. VDS hasn’t had to work too hard since his Fulham days. He must be tempted to bring a book and a lawn chair to work. That man’s got it easy.
Barcelona’s got the biggest collection of creative attack on the planet. Messi, Eto’o, Henry, Xavi, Bojan, Iniesta… Any one of ’em could transform the face of a team and be the big star, but Barca wrangled them all together. An army of grace and form. Ambassadors of the beautiful game.
United have Rooney and Ronaldo, but nobody else really makes the defenders’ boots tremble quite the same way as those two. Giggs and Scholes are past their prime. Tevez and Berbatov are on fire at times, but not all the time. If they get past Barca’s back line (who are not nearly as tight as United’s) they will cause problems, but Barca will strive to dominate in possession, which they have the touch and passing to do, and limit United’s chances.
Today, it’ll be a matter of who’s having a better day out: United’s defense or Barcelona’s attackers. Rio is expected back, but is he really fit? And can he and Vidic fire up the chemistry right out of the gate or will they be rusty? These will be key factors in United’s ability to ward off the Barca seige. The whole match may well come down to how the rapport holds between those two men.
Okay, now you’re just stalling. What’s the problem?
The problem is based on Barca’s previous encounter with A Big English Club™ and United’s Well, Entire Season Really, this match promises to be a tight one. If we don’t go to penalty kicks (oh please, not again), I smell a close scoreline between two teams who could tip the balance in a heartbeat.
But both sides have shown they can snag the win from the dying moments of a match. They’ve crushed hearts all over London and Liverpool with last gasp winners.
Putting aside the worst refereeing interference since Bush v. Gore, we can’t diminish the fact Barcelona went into stoppage time at Stamford Bridge as the losers and came out the winners. And Manchester’s been doing the same all season with many 1-0 wins and plenty of late goals. The ability to create that deciding spark when the match is in its death throes is a mark of top class and pure drive. Both sides have the grit to carve out chances out of thin air and that’s going to force each side to keep on top of each other until the final whistle. It may just go to the side who makes the least mistakes. The side who sacrifices the least space to the gods of opportunity.
Alright, can you see me putting it off? Enough of that. I’ll pick. Here it is:
I know I just set myself up for a United supporter to tell me I’ve got my head up my own offside trap, but it’s better than being wishy-washy.
Now, I’m not saying Barca are more likely to win. As I’ve implied above, I don’t think either side is more likely to win. It’s not a cliché or a dodge: this match really could go either way. I’m saying Barca are more deserving. I want them to win based on merit.
If United supporters are honest with themselves, this has been far from United’s best season as far as form goes. And I don’t buy the injury woes complaint. All sides have injury problems, especially in a long campaign chasing multiple trophies. United weren’t any worse off than any other big side and they have the depth to combat it anyway. United have not been their usual dominant selves. They’ve been good. Not great. They relied on Liverpool and Chelsea hitting bad patches more than anything else. They got enough close wins to secure trophy number 18, but we cannot reward their sub-par season—and I’m comparing it to their own par, mind you, the high bar they’ve set for themselves— we cannot reward that with another Champions League trophy. Last season, fine. They played amazing football. They won the League and Europe. I can accept that. But this season Barcelona need to stop them. For all that’s right and good it must be done. I’m sorry, United supporters: but it’s true.
Look, I know you can’t see this, but it’ll be better for you in the long run. No, really. If you win today, Fergie will get complacent in the transfer window. Why would he make big changes if United win everything again? He’ll do nothing major to combat the aging of key parts of the side. Giggs and Scholes are on the wan and as they’ve been United’s most influential players for ages and there is nobody there to step into their boots. Some of the young kids may grow into it eventually. But Fergie needs to go hunting. He won’t do it right if United win it all.
Okay, no supporter’s going to go along with that. But it was worth a try.
But, still: I’m backing Barcelona. They’ve played the best football in the world in their own context. They deserve to win on the big European stage as well.
Now, I can live with being wrong, folks. But I can’t endure another penalty shoot-out. Please. For godsake. Somebody win it in regulation.
Do it for the kids.