Ah The Champions League. That inescapable anthem. The meaningless group games. The same teams each year – some of whom actually are indeed national champions. And money, everywhere. Advertising money. TV money. Salaries. Transfer fees.The All-Action Way
With this thick layer of cynicism building up around the Champions League I find it genuinely refreshing to look forward to tonight’s game. Two teams who generally play the right way. The all-action way, full of movement, interchanging and technique that has grown men drooling.
It’s all action for sure, but, at least in Man Utd’s case, there is a darned good idea of plot too, in the form of Rio and the Serbian psycho, protected by the beaverish midfield three. The excellent Radio 5 Live preview last night made an interesting point, namely that in the absence of their suspended, ridiculously over-attacking full-backs – Abidal and Alves – Barca will be forced to field a couple of understudies at right and left-back, and therefore might be more cautious, and consequently a darned sight tighter at the back than they usually are. Interesting point.
Other sub-plots of note: Van der Saar has gone all Obi Wan Kenobi – an old man, whose powers are waning. His flaps and fumbles are increasing in frequency. I’m not convinced that Giggs is an adequate understudy to Fletcher in the role of midfield hustler-and-harrier. Barca’s insistence on passing to death outside the area rather than have a pop from distance (an affliction which curiously hampered Spurs in the spring months) has generally proved detrimental to their cause against English opposition. Pretty to watch though.
Early Goal, Please
Naturally, there is the worry that after all the anticipation, this game degenerates into a dour, disappointing affair. However, an early goal ought to do the trick, and really open up the game. Although last year’s final was watched through an increasingly hazy cloud of alcohol, I do recall it being a generally entertaining affair – thanks, in no small part, to the early-ish opening goal. A pleasant contrast to the FA Cup Final between the same two teams the previous year.
Rooting For Man Utd. Sort Of.
I won’t particularly mind who wins, as it doesn’t concern Spurs, but I suppose I’ll be edging towards Man Utd. As with many of the greatest arguments of mankind, my reasons are threefold:
1) The patriot in me always likes to see English teams win European trophies. (Unless it’s l’Arse. Or Chelski).
2) Rooney. The man’s a genius, and I’d love to see him boss the game of games.
3) Generally a fan of the Man Utd style of play. Liquid football. In last year’s Champs League Final they produced one of my favourite pieces of football ever – Rooney picked up the ball at right-back (!), motored forward 40 yards, then pinged a diagonal cross-field peach of a ball to Ronaldo, who pulled it back for Tevez (I think) to diving head, saved by Cech, before Carrick blasted the rebound goalwards, where it was headed clear by a defender. Or something like that (alcoholic haze, remember). Absolutely awesome football. I just stood there ogling, as if it were a svelte brunette tying knots in a cherry stalk with her tongue.
Then in the semi vs l’Arse there was something similarly mesmeric in Ronaldo’s second goal – the backheel, Park’s burst, Rooney’s perfect pass, and Ronaldo again, sixty yards from his starting-point, finishing it.
More of the same tonight please.