The unsung heroes for Wembley

BY foxsports • May 27, 2011

This year's Champions League final sees the two best teams in European football go head-to-head, with all the talk centering on which superstar will shine brightest on the day and lead their team to the ultimate prize in club football. On one side you have Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez while on the other there is Andres Iniesta, Xavi and of course the incomparable Lionel Messi.

While these star names will undoubtedly play a massive part in deciding where the Champions League trophy ultimately ends up, there is another set of players that have played a huge role in the success of their respective teams.

These players may not garner the headlines that Messi or Rooney do, but they will be just as important to their team on May 28th at Wembley.

Here is a closer look at some of the unsung heroes that played a telling role for Barcelona and Manchester United on the road to the Final.

Barcelona

Victor Valdes

A couple of seasons ago Valdes was considered the weak link in Barcelona’s all conquering side.

The keeper was seen as lacking on crosses and infuriatingly inconsistent from game to game, but over the last few years he has developed into a dependable shot stopper.

He has cut out the elementary errors that used to plague his game and made some big saves throughout the run to Wembley. At 29, Valdes is entering his prime as a goalkeeper, and on current form, he has cemented himself as Barca’s number 1.

Sergio Busquets

Want to know how highly Pep Guardiola rates Sergio Busquets? Tthe Barca coach felt that Busquets had developed enough as a player that he could sell Yaya Toure to Manchester City and allowed Busquets to fill the void the big Ivorian left behind.

Javier Mascherano was also brought in from Liverpool in a big money deal but he couldn’t supplant Busquets from his role in the team. The Spanish international is a superb reader of the game and many of his timely interceptions help start Barcelona’s attacks.

He is also versatile enough to drop into a central defensive position and still perform at a high level. Busquets is a true unsung hero.

Pedro Rodriguez

It is hard to imagine that with all the goals he scores Pedro Rodriguez is still considered an unsung hero, but that is the case.

David Villa and Messi are two of the best attacking players in world football, but Pedro’s industrious play and insatiable work rate makes him a perfect compliment for his two strike partners.

Pedro has a knack for scoring big goals, as we saw against Real Madrid, and in the space of two years has gone form a competent squad player to a vital member of the Barcelona attack.

With Manchester United forced to pay close attention to Messi and Villa don’t be surprised to see Pedro pop up with another massive goal and help his side regain the Champions League crown.

Manchester United

Park Ji-Sung

Park Ji-Sung may not always be first choice for Manchester United, but when he does play he always performs at a very high level.

Sir Alex Ferguson has described the Korean as a "big game player," and he lived up to that billing with his performances against Chelsea in the quarterfinal.

His goal at Old Trafford in the second leg against the Blues was another example of his knack of scoring in big games, but it is his incredible work rate defensively that makes him such a tremendous team player.

Antonio Valencia and Nani provide pace and skill out wide but Park’s record in big matches means it would be no surprise to see him start and make a big impact at Wembley on the 28th.

Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick has won four Premier League titles and a Champions League since he signed with Manchester United, but he has yet to really win over a large section of Manchester United fans.

That has not affected his form though, and Sir Alex Ferguson has shown how much faith he has in the English midfielder by making him a central figure in his starting eleven. The former West Ham man has repaid that faith with a string of high caliber performances.

Carrick is quick in possession and his range of passing - once described by Xabi Alonso as the best of any English midfielder - means that wingers like Nani, Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney are never short of quality service.

Edwin Van der Sar

When Manchester United signed van der Sar in 2005, they had finally found a replacement for Peter Schmeichel.

Van der Sar has been one of the most dependable goalkeepers in European football since he burst onto the scene with Ajax, and he has played a big part in United’s run to the final with a string of superb performances.

Sir Alex Ferguson recently described Van der Sar as a "model professional on and off the field," and his calming influence behind the United back four makes the Red Devils even stronger defensively.

Van der Sar will go down as one of the greatest goalkeepers in Manchester United history, although his greatness may not be truly appreciated until United have to do the impossible and try replace him for next year.

Keith Costigan is a former professional soccer player who is part of the broadcast team on Fox Soccer Channel.


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