Spot the difference
With Barcelona and Man United so evenly matched, Phil Thompson expects it to go all the way in Rome.
Last Updated: 26/05/09 11:19am
This is an absolutely fascinating final. Expectations are high and I just hope that the players from both teams live up to their reputations.
Sometimes these games fall flat and I hope that won't be the case on Wednesday night because both Barcelona and Manchester United are blessed with attacking footballers of the highest quality.
I can't wait to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney lining up against Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry and I just hope they can play to the level that we all know they can.
We didn't see it from Barcelona in the two games against Chelsea. Maybe we have better defenders in the Premier League, but the Barca stars certainly didn't enhance their reputations in the semi-final.
I would think Sir Alex Ferguson will have had a good look at the videos of those games. Although Barcelona didn't create a great deal, Chelsea were on the back foot for long periods and you worry that Pep Guardiola's side can't always be kept so quiet. They are always capable of a little piece of magic.
People talk about the wonderful forwards in the Barcelona team, but I think the ability of Andres Iniesta and Xavi to keep the ball in tight situations is fundamental to the way they play.
Those two central midfielders rotate their positions and nobody knows where they're going to pop up. Even in an intense game they never give the ball away and they're always looking for a killer pass. I really think that Manchester United have got to look out for those two players, rather than Eto'o, Messi or Henry.
That is one of the reasons why Darren Fletcher's suspension will hurt United. He would have been one of the first names on Sir Alex's team sheet to try and combat that threat.
If you look at the team Ferguson picked away at Arsenal in the semi-final, he went for a mixture of power and culture in midfield. Anderson and Fletcher played in there, but Michael Carrick was also included to make sure there was somebody to keep the ball and provide continuity between defence and attack.
Sir Alex got his tactics spot on. He needed people to go and hunt the ball down in that game and he needs it even more so against Xavi and Iniesta. In the absence of Fletcher, perhaps the energy of Ji-Sung Park will come into the equation.
He is an offensive midfielder who can also play a defensive role, closing down people and working hard. They need a blend of players with those sorts of abilities.
Ferguson will also be targeting Barcelona's weakness in the full-back positions in the absence of Dani Alves and Eric Abidal and I expect United to enjoy some good fortune in that area.
It will be interesting if Carles Puyol plays there because he certainly doesn't have the pace to deal with either Rooney or Ronaldo - although I do think Ferguson might try to utilise the pace of Ronaldo centrally.
Ferguson knows Barcelona aren't too quick at the back and he might want Ronaldo in the middle to turn people, as he did against Arsenal. If you play Rooney, Berbatov or Tevez in the middle, they won't come towards the ball and look to link up play, but Ronaldo can stretch the opposition and look for balls over the top.
I wouldn't be surprised if Ferguson threw a spanner in the works and played Ronaldo centrally with Park on the right with Rooney on the left to exploit the lack of speed in the Barca back-line.
But no matter where you look on the pitch you see strength in the Man United team.
It will be difficult to cope with Messi, Henry and Eto'o but United have high-quality defenders with enough experience to cope. However, it may only take one piece of magic to win this game.
Guardiola will be interested to see who plays at right-back for Manchester United. Henry might fancy playing one on one up against Rafael Da Silva, so I think Ferguson will go with the experience of John O'Shea - even though he doesn't have the pace of the young Brazilian. That will be a big call.
The more I go through the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, the more I think this is going to go through extra time to penalties.
Both sides have so many pluses in their favour and I can see it going all the way, like it did in Moscow last year.
However, I am expecting goals. With the attacking strengths of both teams I think the forward players will reap rewards and it would not surprise me if we saw a 2-2 draw.
At the start of this article I said I was hoping this would live up to expectations and I would dearly love to see an exhibition of attacking football from these two sides - and you might as well toss a coin to try and predict who will win it.
I've gone for Barcelona to win the Champions League for some time now and I'm not going to jump ship now. My tip is that it will go to penalties - and this year Manchester United will suffer the heartache of defeat.