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
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
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
”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
”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.”