Click here to follow - Live Coverage of Barcelona Vs Manchester United!
You know something special is happening somewhere when 400 million people around the world glue themselves to their source of watching the 2011 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona.
It is billed as the biggest sporting club game. A brief look into the background and it's impossible not to feel awed. Two of the greatest sides, both in terms of reputation off the pitch and the immensity on it, come together making it an apt finale. The sheer magnitude of the occasion is jaw-dropping.
The atmosphere at the Wembley Stadium in London, where this year's final will be held, will be electric. Barcelona will be spearheaded by Lionel Messi, arguably the world's greatest player, and much of the crowd assembled in the few seats not filled by UEFA's guests, will glue an eye to him. If so, they'll have to keep the other one on Manchester United's own talisman Wayne Rooney.
The matchup can be summarized under various headings - Clash of philosophies, Attack against Defense and so on. Ultimately, all those headlines will point to an epic clash of champions, both of whom won their first of three European trophies at Wembley.
Invariably, thoughts will meander back to the 2009 final at Rome between the same two sides. On that occasion, Barcelona were comfortable 2-0 victors bar the first ten minutes during which Man United burst forward. Eto'o scored after ten minutes and Messi guided in a rare header to make it an easy win which was laced with some exquisite display of passing football from the Catalans.
In the pre-match press conference, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that he had figured exactly what went wrong in Rome.
He said: We are very focused this time and our preparation has been better. We maybe made one or two mistakes last time, but not this time. The players have to trust themselves and trust each other because I trust them. I know they'll do the job right. This team has unity and our record in Europe this year is good. We're used to playing in Europe, we have that experience and we're pleased with what we've achieved this year in Europe.
Considering Sir Alex has fixed the chinks in his side's armor, this should be a battle to relish. The two sides are more evenly matched than they were two years back, despite United losing Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. In fact, it seems to have made them much more of a team. Rooney has been touted to come good against Messi and co. and it could be a career-defining performance from the ex-Evertonian.
Stopping Messi is a tough ask though. The internet has been bombarded with many pundits opining on how best to stop him. Some have suggested Rio Ferdinand to take the risk, step forward and halt the wily Argentine, while United's central midfielders cut out his supply line - Xavi and Andres Iniesta. It's easier said than done though, which is one of the many factors making this a classic before it has even been played.
Both sides are aiming to do the double. Only one of them will do so. Slight fractions have touted Barcelona as favorites, but only just. The Catalans are expected to dominate possession and pass around United, tiring out the midfield whilst picking out the forward three of Messi, David Villa and Pedro with some sharp passing. Their opposition is expected to sit back and soak in the pressure and hit them with the famous Man United counters.
However, as humans, we tend to expect too much only to be disappointed later. The match could just as easily descend into a farce, much like the El Classico did in the semifinals and the World Cup final did in June last year. Let's just hope the two teams do justice to the expected capacity 90000-strong crowd at the Wembley.
The battle between Ferguson and Barca manager Pep Guardiola will be especially entertaining. In 2009, it was unusual to see Ferguson outsmarted by a rookie in his first year in top class management. That's sure to have riled the old Scot and it'll be interesting to see how the battle by the technical line will pan out.
It all sets up nicely. At the beginning of the season, it is just what UEFA would have hoped for. A final between two of the best teams in the continent. The stage is set.
Team News -
Barcelona - Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Milito, Abidal, Xavi, Iniesta, Mascherano, Keita, Busquets, Villa, Bojan, Messi, Jeffren, Pedro, Afellay, Mino, Olazabal.
Manchester United - Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Lindegaard, Fabio, Rafael, O'Shea, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Nani, Obertan, Bebe, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher, Anderson, Gibson, Park, Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov, Owen.
Match Fact -
In the 10 previous meetings between the two sides, the records won't be more evenly matched. Both teams have won three matches each and four draws. A total of 31 goals have been scored between them.
No prediction. It'll take a brave man to predict something as huge as this, and they are many readers braver than me. It's left to you. However, it'll be an exciting encounter, a tight one. A controversy could be the difference as could a piece of brilliance from array of superstars on display.