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Barca – Man Utd Champions League Final Preview: All Action, Please

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.

Spurs preview

Man Utd – Spurs Preview: How Far Have We Come?

Manchester United away will be a good test of how fair we’ve come this season. Actually, the very fact that I can type that and not immediately be carted off to the nearest nuthouse is itself a measure of how far we’ve come, irrespective of how the game pans out.The fact that we had only two points from eight games a few months back has had all meaning sucked out of it by ‘Arry’s narcissism, so it’s easy to forget that once upon a time this wasn’t just a relentless soundbite, but actually a damning indictment of what a wretched team we were.

How things have progressed, particularly since Palacios arrived. The gauge of our ability went from how we’d fare against Hull away, to Villa away, to Chelski at home – and suddenly I’m genuinely curious to see whether we can compete with the European and Premiership champions on their own patch. Blimey.

Top Four Next Season? Then Let’s Compete With Man Utd Today 

It could be a particularly important game for the Hudd. I would actually expect Jenas to replace him if fit, but if Hudd gets the nod this would be a massive test of how good he really is. Opinion is split. The Hoddlers and the Haters have regularly made their respective cases. We’ve seen that he can pull strings at home to West Ham and a relegation-threatened Newcastle, but if he really is to push on and cement his place in the team, and indeed the England squad, he’ll soon have to start walking the walk against the best teams in the country. An anonymous 90 minutes today would do little to advance his cause.

Anonymity against Man Utd would be no disgrace – but the “no-disgrace-in-defeat” mentality is something I’d be glad to see the back of. Let’s see who can cut it against the best, and have a think about who to jettison in the summer.

Occasional Wobbles From Man Utd 

Their fallibility has, for me, been epitomised by their goalkeepers. We’ve been rather shot-shy in recent weeks, and it would be a shame if this trend continued today, as Van der Saar has looked ropey every time I’ve seen him in recent months (cue a blinder from Van der Saar this afternoon). Thanks to the rock-solid Ferdinand-Vidic combo in front of him he kept around thirty thousand consecutive clean sheets and made the PFA shortlist, but he seems increasingly prone to spill, or flap, or get beaten at his near post. Foster’s most recent outings have also been notable for a couple of David James-esque calamities.

I don’t expect us to win, and I’m not holding out for that. But on the back of recent results, I’d love to see that our improvement extends to giving the best team around a real run for their money. Just some indication that we really have slightly closed the gap. The win against Chelski has already hinted at that. The consensus seems to be that we don’t need much tweaking in order to push for Europe or even the top four next season (although there’s still some debate as to precisely where such tweaking is needed). A good performance, if not necessarily a good result, would be further evidence that we’re inching closer, and that we’re well set for 09/10.