TV roundtable: The favorites, Barcelona
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).
The first part of our preview can be found here and today our FOX Soccer crew - Warren Barton, Kyle Martino, Christian Miles, Christopher Sullivan, Nick Webster and Eric Wynalda - talks about the importance of Wembley, what Barcelona brings to the table and give us their predictions for this massive matchup.
Q. We talked a lot about United last time out; Christopher, give us the scoop on Barcelona.
CHRISTOPHER: If Barcelona gets into their rhythm, they are almost unstoppable. Look at the game they played against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey - that was the first time this year that a team had been able to take them out of their game for 45 minutes, showing how difficult it is to do. As soon as their three key men — Iniesta, Xavi and Messi — gain that rhythm and bring the others into their game, this team never drops off. My concerns about them are Pedro and Villa; Villa’s been sporadic and Pedro is more a slasher.
KYLE: Messi is the key guy — that Barcelona team runs around him, and I mean that in terms of creating, not in terms of ego. He is a guy that can change a game with one touch of that left foot. I also think if Xavi gets the touches he does week in, week out in La Liga, that he'll be tough. He’s really the conduit, and makes them a very effective team.
CHRISTIAN: I don’t think it’s going too far to say that Messi is the match-winner. Barcelona have that superb front five - Pedro, Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, him - those are interchangeable parts and they all can hurt you. But Messi wins games.
CHRISTOPHER: But, there’s no one that can manage a field like Xavi. He’s the best quarterback, if you will, of the last ten years. When he has a big game, Barcelona win. They are so solid in that area, and I don’t see how they lose those key battles.
Q. Now, we’re on English soil here — is Wembley a factor?
WARREN: Wembley’s huge for the British players, and I think the nation — in a first — is behind United, They’ve always been the Yankees of English football, and I certainly understand the Liverpool and City fans’ point of view, but I do think the country wants an English team to do well now. All the neutrals will be pulling for them, so I do think it can be a big factor. And with the results of the past — Bobby Charlton in 1968, all the memories and romance — I think that really does play a part here. If people believe in fate, well it points to United.
ERIC: I don’t think the fact that this game is at Wembley is an advantage per se, but it might give a little bit of confidence to United. It’s not like Old Trafford, but it is home soil. It’s not going to change how Barcelona play, I don’t think.
CHRISTIAN: Well, it might: I think we have to point out that Wembley’s pitch isn’t the best. If it rains on game day, and that grass is long, that favors United too.
NICK: If it plays into anyone’s hands, I think it’s Barcelona’s. The size of the pitch mirrors that of Camp Nou, and that expansive surface fits their game. But for both teams, it’s a great venue for them to try to win their fourth title. It holds great memories for both — United of course in 1968 and Barcelona in 1992 — and I think maybe it was added motivation at the start of the campaign,
Q. A lot of folks think this one could be pretty tight, but I know you guys think this could be more open.
NICK: I think history has shown that European finals are cagey affairs, especially in the first 20, 30 minutes. But Barcelona have only one style of play — they claim the ball and they go forward. United have been exceptional in Europe this year playing the counter — they’ll let you have the ball, then spring at you at pace. So, all the ingredients are here for an open and attacking final, and I think we’re all hoping we get that.
ERIC: Yeah, I think there will be a lot more scoring in this game than people are expecting. We might see it 3-2 or 3-1. I think that with Barcelona’s speed of play, the way they time their runs and the X-factor that is Messi, it will be too much for United. But, if United get a little bit of luck and some good goalkeeping, and it’s 1-1 or 1-0 with 20 to play, then it’s very tense, and I think United will have to feel that they can pull it off. But everything in my soccer brain tells me that Barcelona will win this one.
Q. Well, since you brought that up: Who’s going to win it, guys?
CHRISTOPHER: I’m having a tough time seeing how Barcelona lose this one. I just think they will win the midfield battles, and if they play their best football — or score an early goal — it could be over.
CHRISTIAN: I’m not going to venture a score, but Barcelona is too good in this one.
NICK: I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that momentum is everything in football. United have everything going in their favor right now, while Barca only have one win in their last four league games. Winning is habit forming; not winning is hard to shrug off. I take United 3-1.
KYLE: I’m going to say 2-1 to Barcelona. I think they are ready to see this one out, and the hassles they had with Real Madrid have given them a real edge. They want to put this one right in Mourinho’s face.
WARREN: I’m going to be patriotic, and say 2-1 to United. My head says the other way around, but I’m going with my heart!