Greg Simkins – on behalf of A
Sir Alex Ferguson was understandably cagey in his pre-match interview. The United manager dismissed suggestions that his side would seek to use their height advantage over their Catalonian rivals from set pieces – claiming that the game would instead be decided in ‘open play.’ Ferguson praised the unity and experience of his side, qualities he intimated that his side were lacking when Barcelona defeated them two years ago. He was also quick to praise the fit-again Antonio Valencia. The former Wigan Athletic man was credited with having restored the early season freshness to the Manchester United side as Ferguson delivered yet another hint that the Ecuadorian would be preferred to Nani in Saturday’s encounter.
When asked about his own motivation, Ferguson was quick to quash any suggestion that his success had brought complacency. The United boss – now going after his 35th trophy – claimed that it was “easy for [him] to be motivated” and that big games carry their own intrinsic form of motivation. “Anything could happen in this game tomorrow,” he concluded, adding: “it could be the best final of the decade.”
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A disciplined training session followed, in which the much-maligned Glazier family watched on as Ferguson put the players through their paces ahead of Saturday’s showpiece. Wayne Rooney looked full of vigour and confidence – the England international was the last to leave the Wembley turf, exchanging cross-field balls with the United coaching staff. Javier Hernandez was deadly in front of goal, while Ryan Giggs put in an assured performance on the left of midfield in a high tempo training match. In what may prove to be his final fixture for Manchester United, Michael Owen also trained well as the former England marksman vied for a place on the bench.
Conversely, Barcelona’s training appeared to be of a rather light-hearted nature. Neither Daniel Alves nor Maxwell seemed overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation as the two attacking full-backs mixed an ostensibly endless array of flicks and skill with an incongruously jovial approach to training. Indeed, the Catalonians conducted their final training session before the Champions League final with something of a swagger. Their close control was unsurprisingly fantastic and their long-range shooting predictably pinpoint.
Barcelona have every right to be confident – they go into Saturday’s match as favourites with the bookmakers, a position which their form over the past three seasons has suggested is deserved, even against a side of Manchester United’s ability. If Ferguson is to preside over yet another memorable United victory, he will need to ensure that his players disrupt Barcelona’s unmistakable rhythm and attempt to dent the Catalonians’ confidence on the ball.
The contrasting approaches to training may well prove to be a microcosmic view of the match itself: the well-regimented, energetic Red Devils trying to derail the free-flowing, almost impudent, Barcelona locomotive. As 85000 fans prepare to witness the lightning counter-attacking style of Manchester United match up against the probing passing style of Barcelona, the neutral can only hope that the game lives up to Sir Alex Ferguson’s billing as “the best final of the decade.”