Manchester United cruised into the 2011 Champions League Final last night after an emphatic 4-1 victory over Schalke 04 in the second leg of the semi final to setup a mouthwatering clash with Barcelona.
Sir Alex Ferguson was criticised by many prior to the match when the team lineups were announced as the United boss opted to rest a number of top stars including Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, ahead of Sunday’s vital clash with Chelsea. However it was a very comfortable night for those stars in Man Utd shirts and in truth, Schalke never looked likely to cause United any problems. As Champions League semi finals go, this was about as easy as they are going to come.
The problem United now have is that on one hand, eyes and minds are already turning to a revenge mission at Wembley on May 28th as they look to avenge their 2009 defeat to a team hailed as the greatest of all time. However, for the players and manager, this must be forgotten about as there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in the race to regain the Premiership title.
Defeat at home to Chelsea on Sunday would hand Carlos Ancelotti’s men an almost unthinkable chance at the title as the Blues would go top of the table with just two games to play. Having already lost the reverse fixture 2-1 at Stamford Bridge back in March, United will be well aware of the threat posed, despite a home and away victory over Chelsea in the Champions League quarter finals.
Many critics have suggested that this Manchester United team is a poor reflection of previous versions and many doubt the ability of Sir Alex’s side to go to the full distance. However, I expect them to beat Chelsea on Sunday and in doing so all but regain the title they lost to the Blues on the final day of the 2009/10 season. I also expect them to beat FC Barcelona in the Final at Wembley later this month.
As poor as United have been at times in the Premiership this season, they have been emphatic in Europe. Schalke were absolutely blown away, Chelsea were dispatched without difficulty and wins in Turkey, Valencia and Ibrox in the group stages underlined both the quality and depth of the United squad. Barcelona may pose a different threat entirely but as Arsenal and Real Madrid have recently showed, they are not unbeatable.
As good a side as Barcelona are, they struggle to break down the type of well organised defence they are not accustomed to playing in the attack minded La Liga. Arsenal went to the Nou Camp and until the ridiculous sending off of Robin van Persie, Barcelona had created relatively little. Similarly, Madrid shut them out in the Copa del Rey and were reasonably comfortable until Pepe’s red card opened the space and the floodgates.
While this United side may not be as flamboyant as previous generations, they are well organised and a strong defensive unit. Barcelona will find it difficult to break United down and with the pace and flair going forward of the likes of Nani and Luis Antonio Valencia, they can expose the defensive weaknesses of the Catalans.
It will be a difficult task and they will certainly have to ride their luck, but Manchester United CAN beat Barcelona.
Written by Eddie Smith, a sports blogger who writes about La Liga.