On Saturday evening, Barcelona have the opportunity to lift their fourth European Cup when they face Premier League champions Manchester United in the Champions League final at Wembley. Pep Guardiola’s side have charmed the continent with their style of football this season and to cap off a record-breaking campaign domestically by being crowned kings of Europe would surely cement their place as the finest team ever to wear the iconic Blaugrana stripes.
The opportunity to do so at the scene of their first European Cup triumph in 1992 means that this particular final will be a special occasion for all concerned with the club. While Ronald Koeman’s extra-time pile-driver of a free-kick is forever burned into the memory of every fan and player, Guardiola, the student, has the opportunity to better his master, Johan Cruyff, and immortalise himself as the club’s most successful manager.
Much of the pre-match hype has inevitably centred on Lionel Messi, who has had an astonishing season even by his high standards. Despite being beaten to the ‘Pichichi’ top scorer award in La Liga by Cristiano Ronaldo, the Argentine has broken individual club scoring records in addition to weighing in with a huge contribution to the numerous team records that the Catalans have swept aside this campaign. The diminutive forward has been singled out as Barca’s most dangerous player and, while it is difficult to argue with his sheer brilliance, there is a sense that the other players around him have been ignored.
Unfortunately, the identification of Messi as the prime threat may be nothing more than puerile mind games but it is important to recognise the contribution of the rest of the Barcelona team. The spine of players right through the side is the reason why the Catalans have had so much success. From Victor Valdes in goal, to players like Gerard Pique and skipper Carles Puyol right through to midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, Barca have a cast-iron rod of quality running through the middle of the team, making it easy to build around them. Blended with Guardiola’s football philosophy, La Blaugrana have been simply mouth-watering to watch.
As usual, the clich