Barcelona, United on course for 2009 final rematch
With both Barcelona and Manchester United protecting 2-0 leads,
a rematch of the 2009 Champions League final is looming at Wembley
Stadium later this month.
But ensuring they each have a chance to win a fourth European
title will require the semifinalists to successfully negotiate
second leg matches that are shaping up to be contrasting
On Tuesday, Barcelona will be hosting a Real Madrid side – and
particularly coach Jose Mourinho – still seething following an
ill-tempered loss at home last week.
A raging Mourinho suggested there is a conspiracy to help
Barcelona go through – one of the inflammatory moments last
Wednesday that led to Madrid being hit with five UEFA charges.
Barcelona, though, is also under investigation after an angry
scuffle between players and officials from both teams at halftime
resulted in substitute goalkeeper Jose Pinto being sent off.
It means the repercussions from the first leg that scarred the
reputations of both sides could still be felt long after the final
whistle goes at the Camp Nou.
”We try our best not to let all of this tension affect us,”
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said Monday. ”It’s almost
Madrid has already started stoking the tensions as it tries to
overturn a 2-0 deficit and enable Mourinho to reach a second
successive final, having triumphed with Inter Milan against Bayern
Munich last May.
Madrid has posted a video on its website calling on Belgian
referee Frank de Bleeckere to avoid ”falling for Barcelona’s
”We believe we can do it,” midfielder Kaka said. ”Madrid can
never stop fighting.”
Xavi is fully aware of the firepower at Madrid’s disposal and
the need to frustrate its forward line, including Cristiano Ronaldo
who was rested in Madrid’s 3-2 loss on Saturday.
”The key will be to dominate the ball,” Xavi said. ”They will
go looking for a result because up to now they’ve lived off the
counterattack, they’ve been ultra-defensive. But we’re also ready
in case they tighten up on us.”
Barcelona has been buoyed by the news that defender Eric Abidal
is available for selection for the first time since surgery to
remove a liver tumor almost two months ago.
Midfielder Andres Iniesta is also set to feature after a leg
injury ruled him out of last week’s first leg, when Lionel Messi
scored both goals, and Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Real Sociedad.
Despite a first league loss in seven months, Pep Guardiola’s
side still enjoys an eight-point lead over Madrid with four games
to go after the second-placed side also lost to Zaragoza having
rested several players.
Losing, though, in the Champions League is something that rarely
happens after first winning away.
Only twice have teams overturned first-leg losses at home: Inter
Milan earlier this season against Bayern Munich and Ajax against
Panathinaikos in 1996.
Manchester United, which lost to Barcelona in the 2009 final, is
certainly confident that Schalke’s longest run in the competition
will end at Old Trafford after its 2-0 collapse at home.
Key players including striker Wayne Rooney are set to be rested
for Sunday’s Premier League match against Chelsea, which is just
three points behind United with three matches to go after the
leaders lost at Arsenal on Sunday.
”I will make some changes on Wednesday without question,”
United manager Alex Ferguson said. ”I will bring Paul Scholes back
in, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen.
”We’ll need to do that but I will probably keep my experienced
players at the back. We have a big week ahead … two massive
games, so we will regroup and freshen it up.”
History does not favor United on Wednesday, with the three-time
European champions losing all four previous knockout phase matches
against German sides.
Recent form, though, provides more encouragement: Schalke has
lost three successive matches and was routed 4-1 by Bayern Munich
”It’s never good to lose, but in principle we have nothing to
play for in the Bundesliga,” midfielder Alex Baumjohann said. ”We
can’t hide our heads in the sand, we have to repeat the
performances we had before. You always believe, as long as it’s not
finally decided (against United).
”But a lot of things have to come together for us to achieve a
miracle. But if we don’t believe in it, we might as well not fly to
Their chances, though, of returning to England for the May 28
final at Wembley are slim.