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.

On Tuesday, Barcelona will be hosting a Real Madrid team still

seething following an ill-tempered loss at home last week. Real

coach Jose Mourinho suggested there is a conspiracy to help

Barcelona go reach the final, one of the inflammatory moments last

Wednesday that led to a disciplinary investigation by European

soccer’s governing body.

Barcelona also is under investigation after scuffle between

players and officials from both teams at halftime resulted in the

ejection of backup goalkeeper Jose Pinto.

”We try our best not to let all of this tension affect us,”

Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said Monday. ”It’s almost

impossible.”

Madrid has already started stoking the tensions as it tries to

overturn the 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

theater.”

”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 league loss to Zaragoza 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 March 17

surgery to remove a liver tumor.

Midfielder Andres Iniesta is also set to return following a

strained calf that caused him to miss the first leg, when Lionel

Messi scored both goals.

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.

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.

”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.”

Schalke has lost three successive matches and was routed 4-1 by

Bayern Munich on Saturday.

”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.”