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Saturday, May 28, 2011

2010/2011 UEFA Champions League Final Preview and Prediction by Chris Behrens

by Chris Behrens for World Football Commentaries

Barcelona v Manchester United by geuzehead

Editor's Note

Chris successfully predicted all 16 teams in the group round phase and five out of eight in the round of 16. Then, three out of four in the quarterfinal round and now, the final winner.

Total: 25/29 = 86%

The kings of Europe will be crowned at the end of the month and presented to us is a mouth-watering rematch of the 2008-2009 Champions League Final. Barcelona have already deflected that Manchester United will be the favorites going into the match, which couldn’t be farther from the truth, while Fergie and the gang go into the match vowing for redemption and lessons learned from their last encounter 2 years ago. Let’s dive right into three keys to the game for both sides.

Barcelona’s Keys to Victory

1) Have Purposeful Possession and Capitalize:

This has rarely proved to be a problem for the Catalan giants. While it’s likely that Guardiola’s men will win the possession battle easily (I’d say they get 65% of the ball), the team can be vulnerable if they become content with holding the ball and carving out the perfect chance. In the whopping 4 losses the Bluagrana have had this year, the team has had the ball for seemingly decades but failed to punish the opposition. A bit of the blame must go to David Villa, who has hit the post more times than any player I’ve ever seen. It’s time for Villa to be clinical and what better stage to net a winner than at Wembley?

2) Andres Iniesta must play well:

Typically not a problem for the midfield maestro when wearing a Barcelona jersey, the Spanish international has formed arguably the best partnership along with Xavi and Sergio Busquets (or Javier Mascherano) in the world. Xavi will surely zip the ball around for 95% pass completion rate, so I’ll pin the key on Iniesta’s absurd dribbling ability. If he can dink the midfielders in the center of the pitch, his final through ball is typically lethal and of pinpoint accuracy. Iniesta’s highly creative play has a chance to make him the hero twice (World Cup 2010 Final) in just over a year.

3) The Center Back next to Pique must mark well:

Whether it be a questionably fit Carles Puyol or a makeshift defender in Javier Mascherano, one of the two will have their hands full in shadowing the United front line. Wayne Rooney will surely get a start and Mexican sensation Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez will likely get the nod too. Both players work incredibly hard and have instinctive movements on par with some of the best attackers in the world. Chicharito will be particularly dangerous as he somehow always finds a way to be on the end of a final ball or just happen to be in the right spot. Margin for error will be low in the heated affair and if Mascherano is assigned the task of marking on the "Little Pea," his reckless tackling and questionable defensive tactics may be the demise or success story of the match.

Manchester United’s 3 Keys to Victory

1) Use Speed on the Wing Liberally:

Lionel Messi once said one of the most terrifying players he’s ever had to match up against was Theo Walcott. Many will be tempted to assume Ji Sung Park to possibly get a nod on the wing, and while his work-rate is attractive, his speed is not. Andrei Arshavin and Walcott proved that movement in tight spaces along with sheer speed can work against Barcelona, one of the few things that can. I’d love to see Nani partner with Ryan Giggs on the wings, despite Antonio Valencia’s outstanding form as of late. Giggs has experience against Barcelona from the European final 2 years ago and should produce a solid performance while Nani’s electric movement and ability to draw fouls with theatrics should produce at least a chance or two for the Red Devils.

2) Counterattack with Ruthlessness:

Manchester United's Javier Hernandez shoots to score against Chelsea during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England, May 8, 2011.
Reuters Pictures logo Reuters Pictures

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

Another way Barcelona have been broken down is for a side’s ability to quickly move the ball down the pitch once the Spanish side finally lose the ball. Arsenal frontman and overall disappointment of a player, Nicklas Bendnter, nearly punished Barcelona on the one chance he was given after a quick counter (of course he flubbed it). Chicharito’s clever off-the-ball movement will give the Spanish defensive unit headaches but where he may really give headaches is on the counter. His ability to play off the last defender is fantastic so he’ll just need a final delivery. Giggs, Rooney, and either Darren Fletcher (if fit) or Michael Carrick are all capable of a great final ball to see the prolific striker in for a chance.

3) Wayne Rooney must be tireless:

Rooney has been a tale of two stories this season, with his latest chapter finding him success as a deep-lying striker-playmaker adaption. In addition, however, his work-rate has been increased from last season, as his pure striker mentality has vanished and he’s transformed from bowling ball clinical finisher to creative master and true teammate. What 12 months time can do. Barcelona have shown the rare times they’ve been flustered is with tireless pressure on the ball and physical presence unearthing the ball from their incredible feet. Pep’s men will surely have a lot of the soccer ball; that much is practically a given. Carrick will surely win some balls on an occasion or two but Rooney better be ready to run if he wants to see the ball. If he’s not exhausted at the end of the match, don’t expect a favorable result from United.

Final Prediction

Barcelona to win 2-1 over Manchester United. (Correct on team: 3 x 1)

Chris' final tally: 25/29 = 86%

About the Author

Chris Behrens, Champions League Correspondent and soccer seer at soccerpro.com.

Chris gets his all of his licensed soccer equipment at soccerpro.com.

Please check out SoccerProse: A soccer blog for soccer players, fans, parents and coaches.

Do you agree or disagree with Chris? Please let us know your own prediction in the comments section.

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Steve Amoia said...

Chris, thank you for another excellent commentary and for your stellar work during the 2010/2011 UEFA Champions League season.

Steve Amoia said...

Chris had an overall success rate of 86% during the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League. Chris correctly picked 25 out of 29 teams, and in some cases predicted the actual final scores.

Well done, Chris.

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