TV roundtable: Man United's chances
Manchester United face Barcelona in the biggest game of the year: It’s the Champions League final, and it’s live from Wembley this coming Saturday on FOX (2 p.m. ET). Our FOX Soccer crew - Warren Barton, Kyle Martino, Christian Miles, Christopher Sullivan, Nick Webster and Eric Wynalda - will break down the big names, why the match means so much, and what both sides need to do in the greatest game in world sport.
Q. Guys, let’s start things off by talking about how big this game really is.
WARREN: I think if you had to pick a venue and two teams, this would be it. This is a dream: you’ve got the best team in the world in terms of talent and the style of football they play; the most historic venue in Wembley; and Sir Alex Ferguson, who once again has shown how special he is. There’s a man who calls himself that, “a special one,” but Ferguson doesn’t have to say things like that — others say it about him, and it’s true.
ERIC: This is a dream final for a lot of people, myself included. When this competition started this year, and we saw the caliber of the teams, I think this is the kind of final we not only expected, but demanded as fans. The reality is that we have two teams that have won their respective leagues, are playing great football, and are both mentally and physically prepared for this game. This is a rarity, and it’s fantastic.
KYLE: Yeah, if you were going to ask me at the start of the season who I’d have wanted to see, I’d have said these two: It’s the best team in the world against the best manager in the world, and United isn’t a slouch.
Q. Kyle, I know you think United might have a little edge because of how they’ve been able to rebound from adversity all season long.
KYLE: Right. Both teams are dealing with fatigue, but I think that factor will have less of an impact on United. As the season went on and Barcelona started to struggle with injuries, they had to play with a makeshift back four and juggled some pieces that ended up forcing them to play in different ways. In contrast, when United had to go to its bench, Sir Alex Ferguson was able to slot guys in and they never wavered, always playing to form.
NICK: Look at United’s record in Europe this year. It’s outstanding. They’ve only conceded a tournament best 8 goals this year, they’re unbeaten and they’ve never looked in a great deal of trouble. Now, they’re back to full strength. I think Ferguson has done a masterful job. Now: Admittedly the group stage did them a favor with Rangers and Bursaspor; they knew a great deal about Chelsea and maybe caught that team on the downswing, and Schalke was a dream tie, so if you look at the road to they took to Wembley, it’s been perhaps the easiest that they’ve had. But at the same time, Ferguson had to manage his resources — they weren’t healthy, Rooney had a very bad patch — and the fact that he did it with such ease is a testament to his management.
CHRISTOPHER: Well, United found it almost effortless to get here but have not had to play a team like Barcelona. Barcelona are pretty well established in their identity and the way they play football; United are probably better at knowing how to solve difficult games. Thanks to Ferguson, they almost always have a perfect plan, and they have men in key roles to carry it out. But, that said Barcelona have never had to face an opponent able to stop their passing game, nor one that’s getting even money from the bookies, so this is a true toss-up.
NICK: Absolutely right, Barcelona swept through Europe: they demolished Arsenal, crushed Shakhtar, then finally had to meet someone in Real Madrid and handled them. But I think Barcelona might be on the downslope right now.
CHRISTIAN: I think a big question is: How does United play, and what are the lessons they took away from Rome? Remember that Ferguson was taught a real lesson then, and what he takes from that game to this game will be very interesting. They’re a counter attacking team but how much will they look to absorb? Will they try to play like Inter Milan under Mourinho and press high up? Will Chicharito play, or will Ferguson go with five in the midfield? I honestly think trying to guess what he does is a bit like playing Russian roulette, but there’s some real fascinating stuff to think about.
Q. Let’s talk a little more about that; Eric I know you think this comes down to three key areas.
ERIC: Yeah, I see three battles here and all of them are intriguing. I think the midfield is critical. Whoever Ferguson selects to go up against Xavi and Andres Iniesta will be very interesting because United has gone back and forth on that central tandem, and whoever he chooses to deal with those two will be a captivating battle. Vidic and Ferdinand against Messi is fascinating because those two guys are going to have to rely on their experience against the best player in the world. They’re going to have to make the little nudges at the right time, the big tackles and that’s key right there. And, I think you look at the keepers, you have a great matchup between Edwin van der Sar and Victor Valdes. They are very different: Valdes is fiery while van der Sar is the calm in the eye of the storm. Van der Sar has been class this entire competition, but both men will be tested and both will have to come up big at some point.
WARREN: Yeah, and there’s obviously a battle between the two No. 10s. If each of them perform, their teams can win. I think you saw Wayne Rooney was back these past eight weeks to his old, best self. I think that bicycle kick goal against City in the derby really was the moment for him, and since then, he’s got a lot of his old confidence back. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, for certain, but I think if you want to talk about experience, then you look at Ryan Giggs and Xavi — those are the two men who will have a big influence on this game.
KYLE: Rooney has to be able to play as a withdrawn forward and create, and if he is able to do that, he can give Barcelona trouble. Vidic will be huge — I think he’s the best center back in the world and he’ll have the best player in the world sprinting at him, so we’ll see how he does. I think that’s a great battle to watch.
CHRISTOPHER: United have great broadfield vision: they know when to switch and they have guys in Chicharito, Giggs and Rooney that play two ways. They’re one of the few teams intelligent enough to know how to retake possession, and they don’t concede a lot of goals thanks to Vidic and Ferdinand. They know when to make the switches, and can see the options. And they strike a great balance with Park and Valencia. They’re going to have to use them to attack that back four, and exploit the space Dani Alves leaves.
In Part Two, the crew breaks down Barcelona, the meaning of Wembley Stadium for this game, and who our experts think will take the crown.