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Champions League Final Preview

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi/GETTY IMAGES

Today is the day when we will crown, or perhaps re-crown, the champion of Europe.

As usual, EPL Talk has you covered. At 2 p.m. EST today, don’t forget to check out our live blog, hosted by Dave Warner from a sports bar in Cary, North Carolina – or about 55 miles from where I’m writing this.

Who knew the Tar Heel state was such a hotbed for football commentary?

You can also try your hand at prognostication with the EPL Talk Predictor, which is also good fun.

At any rate, let’s look at today’s match:

History lesson: Manchester United has three wins in head-to-head meetings with Barca to go along with two losses and four draws. The Red Devils bounced the Catalonians from last year’s Champions League, thanks to a rocket from Paul Scholes in the second leg of the semifinal tie.

Here’s the list:
CL Semifinal, 2008: Manchester United 1, Barcelona 0
CL Semifinal, 2008: Manchester United 0, Barcelona 0
CL Group Stage, 1998: Manchester United 3, Barcelona 3
CL Group Stage, 1998: Manchester United 3, Barcelona 3
CL Group Stage, 1994: Manchester United 2, Barcelona 2
CL Group Stage, 1994: Barcelona 4, Manchester United 0
Cup Winners Cup Final, 1991: Manchester United 2, Barcelona 1
Cup Winners Cup QF, 1984: Barcelona 2, Manchester United 0
Cup Winners Cup QF, 1984: Manchester United 3, Barcelona 0

Scoring for fun: Barca has 30 goals in this season’s Champions League campaign and Lionel Messi leads everyone with eight. In addition, the new champions of La Liga have put in 104 goals in domestic action this season and have an amazing goal difference of +70.

Streaking: United has not lost a Champions League match in its last 25 appearances. … This is the fifth straight final to involve an English side. … The Red Devils have won seven straight against Spanish sides. … Barca has won only one of its last eight matches against English opposition. … Lionel Messi has never scored against an English team.

A patchwork defense: A knee injury to Rafa Marquez and suspensions to Eric Abidal and Daniel Alves will force Barcelona to field what amounts to a second-choice back four of Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sylvinho and Yaya Toure. Victor Valdes may be busy today in net.

A stingy defense: Aside from the health of Rio Ferdinand, who promises to be fit and ready to go, United have few worries at the back. Edwin Van der Sar has seven clean sheets in Champions League play and, should last year’s Moscow scenario play out again, he’s one of the best penalty stoppers in the world.

A strong attack: Few teams can trot out talent to match Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o for Barcelona, but United comes closer than anyone with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez to choose from. Look for Berbatov and Tevez to start on the bench, but one or both will come on as substitutes.

Coaching: The temptation is to mark this down as a huge advantage for United, but Pep Guardiola has injected a swagger and belief into this Barcelona side. They believe they are the best team in the world, and they may very well be right.

Sir Alex Ferguson keeps winning everything in sight. There is no better manager in the world today, and he’s making a case to be considered the best ever.

It’s an advantage for Man U, just not as big of one as you might think.

One man’s take: I don’t see this matching the boring, cagey final that United and Chelsea put on in Russia last year. Both teams should play a positive, attacking style, which at first glance, would seem to favor Barca. But with three first-team defenders out, I think the Spanish champions may get caught pushing too far forward a bit too often.

I think we’ll see at least three goals, with United getting two of them.

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  1. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    May 27, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Randy, you’ll have a lot of opportunities for sure…………….the Railhawks look great right now and I expect a deep US Open Cup run and a very deep USL-1 run from them. Martin Rennie who I have previously interviewed for the MLS Talk Podcast is one of the five best club managers on American soil.

    Have fun when you check the Railhawks out!

  2. Randy Capps

    May 27, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I live in the Tar Heel state, too. I’m not a native (Marion, S.C.), but I’ve lived here for almost a decade.

    I was just making a joke that the live blog and the preview were both written in the greater Raleigh area.

    I haven’t made it to a Railhawks match yet, but I intend to soon…

  3. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    May 27, 2009 at 10:58 am

    North Carolina has ALWAYS been the footy hotbed in this country even in the dark ages of the 1980s. The emergence of the game in major metropolitan areas is much more recent. In fact in the 1980s and early 1990s the USMNT hosted a number of friendlies in the Carolinas for this reason.

  4. Rebecca Jill

    May 27, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Cary is the home of the Carolina Railhawks, and we have ACC soccer, i.e. UNC Women’s Soccer, etc., here in the Triangle of North Carolina. We love our soccer here.

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