Manchester United Vs. FC Barcelona, Champions League Final: Barcelona Earn 4th European Crown

FC Barcelona crushed Manchester United at Wembley Stadium 3-1 to claim their fourth-ever European championship, Lionel Messi running riot, scoring the winner, and earning Man of the Match

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FOX's Champions League Final Coverage Nothing Short Of A Howler

With the UEFA Champions League final on network television and millions of Americans watching, FOX managed to put forth an abysmal production.

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2011 Champions League Final: European Title No. 4 Just 19 Years After 1st - Barca Blaugranes

The folks at SB Nation's Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes are understandably in high spirits as they celebrate yet another huge win for their club, who find themselves in the rather fortunate position of being the dominant force in world football. It's hard to begrudge them this win, especially considering how beautifully they played.

But it's always refreshing when fans remember how different things were before their clubs became huge, and Adi-Oula Sebastian has done just that in their celebratory thread, reminding everyone that it's only been nineteen years since Barcelona's first win, and now they're up to four:

Whew, usually I try my best to be as objective as I can but for once I will just let my emotions take over. FC Barcelona won the Champions League, again! For the third time in five years, FC Barcelona have won Europe’s biggest prize. To put it in perspective, just 19 years ago FC Barcelona claimed their maiden [European championship], in Wembley!  The 2010/2011 football season has come to an end, at least in Europe. But the campaign ended with a big bang, a football match worthy of a final.

Football clubs rise and fall - they're not always going to rise as spectacularly as Barcelona, of course - and the La Liga giants aren't going to maintain their stranglehold on the mantle of 'best team in the world' forever. When one remembers that (and Sergio Busquets is playing like one of the best midfielders in the world rather than like a small child), it's much easier to appreciate just how excellent they are in the here and now.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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2011 Champions League Final: Edwin Van Der Sar Discusses Last Game Of Career

Edwin van der Sar is hanging up his boots. The Manchester United goalkeeper, 40, has played his last game for the club, and unfortunately (for him and his teammates) he didn't manage to celebrate the end of his career with a third European Cup. He cut a fairly morose figure after the match, especially as he may have contributed to the deserved loss by not stopping Lionel Messi's winner:

[I played] one game too many I think, it is not nice to lose of course. They had the better chances and we made one or two mistakes and they punish you.

He did defend himself on Messi's goal, however, claiming that there was nothing he could have done about it:

I thought I was positioned well. He tends to curl it into the far post but he didn't. They are very good, you have to try and score the first goal and we didn't do that. It is not always a given, I thank everyone for the memories.

Van der Sar won't be remembered for this match - instead he'll be cherished as the most-capped player in Dutch history as well as one of the true goalkeeping greats of Manchester United. His replacement, David de Gea, has a lot to live up to.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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2011 Champions League Final: Pep Guardiola Discusses Barcelona Future

Pep Guardiola may not have managed his last game as Barcelona boss, but he sure isn't committing his future to the club right now. When asked about his tenure as head of the Spanish and European champions, he - surprisingly - wasn't particularly coy, claiming that he was planning on sticking around for a year and then re-evaluating the situation.

I have the intention to continue one more year then we have to see.

Obviously with Barcelona's reputation as a soul-destroying machine of footballing perfection the best team in the world, Guardiola's services are in high demand. He could get paid a lot of money to manage elsewhere, and if he leaves Barcelona at the peak of their dominance his reputation as one of the best managers in the world is secure. Where else would he go? Who knows? But him leaving Barcelona sure sounds more likely now than it did a few days ago.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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2011 Champions League Final: Don't Ask Sir Alex Ferguson A Silly Question Today

If you're a journalist, asking stupid questions of Sir Alex Ferguson is a risky proposition at the best of times. When he's in a bad mood, things get much, much worse. And moods don't get much worse than seeing your team lose 3-1 in the Champions League final. I'm slightly confused as to why whoever asked the Manchester United manager which Barcelona player he'd most like to sign with infinite funds at his disposal, but he certainly deserved the response he got:

That's one of the most stupid questions I've ever heard in my life... [Javier] Mascherano. You try my patience sometimes.

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer. After being destroyed by Lionel Messi, who else could it possibly be? Sir Alex isn't going to put up with this sort of nonsense from journalists, and we shouldn't have to either.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final, 2011: Lionel Messi Earns Man Of The Match Award

Lionel Messi has won the man of the match award for the 2011 UEFA Champions League final at Wembley after his Barcelona team destroyed Premier League champions Manchester United. Messi caused chaos all evening, ripping through the likes of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs, proving nigh on unstoppable for even the best defenders on the planet. Challenge him, he dances past. Stand off, and he shoots (which is how he scored the eventual winning goal). Messi at his best is somewhere between unplayable and unfair, and he was at his best against United.

I don't think anybody could reasonably argue that the award wasn't well deserved, although both of Dani Alves and Xavi Hernandez played spectacular games of football as well. They just weren't Lionel Messi-good, and the little magician was on fire tonight. Is there anyone still seriously doubting that he's the best in the world and worthy of being talked about with the all-time greats?

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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Barcelona vs. Manchester United Final Score: Barcelona Win 3-1, Are Champions Of Europe Once More

Wow. Barcelona thoroughly earned their position as champions of Europe by taking Manchester United to the cleaners at Wembley Stadium. The final score ended up being 3-1, but that didn't really reflect the difference between the two sides - Barcelona were absolutely dominant, out-shooting United 22-4 and out-passing them by a ludicrous figure as well. It comes as no surprise that Pep Guardiola's side emerged triumphant, but was was truly impressive is how comprehensively they destroyed a good United side, and they didn't even have to resort to Clasico tactics to do it.

Just like two years ago, when Manchester United lost 2-0 to the same opponents in Rome, Sir Alex Ferguson's team actually started very brightly, pressing the Catalans high up the pitch and causing havoc against a makeshift back line. Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney both had early opportunities beaten away by Barca keeper Victor Valdes, and Park Ji-Sung was hugely impressive in the way he both kept Dani Alves quiet and still found time to move inwards and pick up Xavi.

That spell, obviously, was not to last. Barcelona flipped the switch about ten minutes into the match, and from then on were almost unplayable. Pedro and David Villa both had opportunities to test Edwin van der Sar in the United goal, each hitting their shots wide, but before long they made their dominance tell with a very nice finish by Pedro, who had been left all alone on the left thanks to Patrice Evra being more worried about Lionel Messi than the 23-year-old. That proved to be a bad mistake, as Xavi simply looked up, picked him out and watched as Pedro finished with a sidefooted effort at Edwin van der Sar's near post [Watch the video of Pedro's goal].

1-0 wasn't enough for Guardiola and Barca, however, and they kept pushing forward against a stunned United side, who were forced into several last-ditch challenges to prevent them from going further ahead. Amazingly, though, it was the Premier League champions to scored next, with Wayne Rooney completing a neat (and possibly offside) one-two with Ryan Giggs and lashing home past a helpless Victor Valdez [Watch the video of Wayne Rooney's goal]. Out of nothing, the game was level at 1-1, and the score would stay the same until half time, with Barcelona still edging the chances.

The second half saw a rapidly tiring Manchester United totally capitulate, with Barcelona well and truly dominating the match, inspired mostly by Lionel Messi, who was such a threat to simply dance around a tackle that United's defenders simply stood off him rather than make a challenge. He took advantage of this in the 54th minute, when he moved towards the top of the area with four white shirts between him and the goal. Nobody bothered to close him down, so he used Nemanja Vidic as a screen before hitting a low left-footed shot past Edwin van der Sar (who might have done better) to make it 2-1 [Watch the video of Lionel Messi's goal].

More was coming, though, and it only took fifteen more minutes for Barcelona to seal the deal. David Villa had an odd first season with the La Liga giants, going cold at exactly the wrong time, but his strike in the 67th minute might go some way into making fans forget how poor he was towards the end of the regular season. Nani lost the ball in the United box and Sergio Busquets calmly fed the Spain international 18 yards out, Villa unleashing an unstoppable shot past van der Sar and into the top corner [Watch the video of David Villa's goal].

At 3-1 with barely twenty minutes to go, nobody ever really thought Manchester United were getting back into the game, and despite their attempts at clawing back a goal they simply never really threatened Victor Valdes again - Rooney's goal was actually their only shot on target all evening. Paul Scholes came in to no effect, Nani's first touch was a disaster, and three minutes of injury time could have been three hours for all the good it would have done Ferguson's side.

Barcelona were simply too good for United to come anywhere close, and as the game petered out (whilst getting just a little bit feisty) I think everyone more or less realised that. The better team won, and it wasn't close. Barcelona are your champions of Europe, and they cement their status as the best club team of their generation. This marks the club's fourth European championship, and moves Spain into first place on the all time ranks ahead of Italy.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Eric Abidal's Amazing Comeback Includes Champions League Trophy Now

The amazing comeback of Barcelona's Eric Abidal just continues to get more amazing. Widely regarded as one of the finest and most versatile defenders in the world, Abidal was given some of the world news anyone could hear when he was told that he had a tumor on his liver. He quickly went into surgery to have the tumor removed and ever since, the Frenchman has just made a mockery of the recovery process with a stunningly fantastic comeback.

Abidal was diagnosed with a tumor just back on March 15. Doctors had wanted to wait a week before surgery to have the tumor removed, but Abidal insisted it be done right away. By May 3, a mere 49 days after being diagnosed with the tumor, Abidal was back on the pitch for Barcelona. On Friday, Abidal learned that he would make his return to the international game when Laurent Blanc named him to the France team for the team's upcoming Euro 2012 qualifier, but Saturday at Wembley Stadium may have topped it all.

In the world's biggest match of 2011, Abidal looked right at home. Starting at left back for Barcelona against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final, Abidal was strong from the beginning. He helped the Catalans to a dominating 3-1 win over the Red Devils to capture the biggest club title in the world. Abidal raised that Champions League trophy up the air in front of over 85,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, the high point in a comeback that continues to boggle the mind.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona Make Flurry Of Substitutions, Then Win 3-1

Another substitution for Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, and this one is more symbolic than tactical. Semi-injured captain Carles Puyol makes an appearance for the hugely influential Dani Alves, and he'll be able to lift the Champions League trophy in just a few minutes, which must be a nice little feeling.

Manchester United are doing all of the attacking now (when they're not being frustrated to death, that is), but Barcelona are defending very well and the Premier League champions really don't look like they're going to score given ninety minutes. They don't have ninety minutes - they have three minutes of injury time and need two goals, which is simply not going to happen. Andres Iniesta tried to make it 4-1 with a first time chipped shot on a rare foray forward by Barcelona, but Edwin van der Sar was up to the effort. Too little too late, though. Ibrahim Affelay comes in for goalscorer Pedro.

This game's going to end 3-1, and yep, it has. That's it - Barcelona are champions of Europe once more. Nobody can say it wasn't well deserved. Manchester United, an excellent team, were simply taken to the cleaners by an unstoppable Barcelona. Really impressive stuff from the Catalans. Congratulations are in order.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Video, David Villa Seals The Title For Barcelona

David Villa may have only scored one goal in his last 16 matches before the UEFA Champions League final, but he has himself a goal in the biggest match of the year and it is one that likely seals up the Champions League title for Barcelona. It was a beauty of a goal and fitting for a player who came in and made such an impact early in the season in just his first season with the club. The Spaniard got the ball just outside the box and exquisitely curled the ball past Edwin van der Sar for the nail in Manchester United's coffin.

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/video?vid=9a826589-2976-4b08-8230-98c2d78c26df" target="_new" title="">CL Final Update: Barcelona 3-1 Man Utd</a>

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Chicharito Denied By Good Victor Valdes Save

That was close to a key goal and a lifeline for Manchester United, but Victor Valdes somehow managed to get in front of a shot by Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez when the Mexican striker was through on goal. It was an ungainly save, but it worked - Chicharito probably ought to have done better there, however.

Minutes later and it's Nani on the attack, and although he does well to cut inside and smash in a shot it's not a good effort and the ball bobbles harmlessly past Valdes' goal. The Barcelona goalkeeper then picked up a yellow card from Viktor Kassai for wasting time on the resultant goalkeeper. Barcelona have made their first substitution of the match, incidentally - David Villa for Seydou Keita. Assumedly Andres Iniesta will push forward, but it's a more defensive shape. We're less than five minutes from the end at Wembley, and it's 3-1 Barcelona.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Manchester United Denied Possible Penalty After David Villa Handball

Oooh, that will be controversial. Ryan Giggs tries to break into the Barcelona box from the left side and dinks the ball straight into David Villa's arm, which was not in line with his body. He immediately appeals for handball and a penalty, but sees his protests waves off by Viktor Kassai. I'm not sure about that one - it could pretty easily have been given but clearly wasn't intentional (and I don't have time to go into the intricacies of the handball rule).

Anyway, a clearly frustrated Antonio Valencia brings down Lionel Messi in response and finally ends up in the referee's book. That yellow card is well-deserved. There's barely any time left for a miracle comeback from United now - 3-1 in the 82nd minute. Does Sir Alex Ferguson have any more tricks up his sleeve?

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Paul Scholes On For Michael Carrick

There are about fifteen minutes left in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final at Wembley, and Manchester United, down 3-1, need something approaching a miracle to come back into the match. It's not as though miracles have never happened with United in a Champions League final, however, so don't rule them out yet - although you'd have to imagine that Sir Alex Ferguson would rather be in Pep Guardiola's shoes right now.

Speaking of Ferguson, he makes his second substitution of the night, throwing on Xavi's footballing idol Paul Scholes for Michael Carrick. One wonders if we're going to see the Scholes who can dominate entire midfields with his vision or passing range, the one who gets himself sent off in FA Cup semi-finals, or something in between. I'd guess at the latter, but United need him at his best to re-impose themselves on this match. We're still at 3-1 in the 79th minute.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: David Villa Scores, Makes It 3-1 Barcelona

What a goal by David Villa! That's 3-1 and probably game over after a ludicrous piece of defending sees Michael Carrick first block the ball and then smack it hard enough into Nani so as to be uncontrollable. The ball bounces straight into Sergio Busquets in the Manchester United penalty area. Whoops. Busquets seemed amused by this disastrous decision, laying the ball off to David Villa at the top of the box, who duly hammered home past Edwin van der Sar.

Nani, incidentally, had just come on for Fabio da Silva, with Antonio Valencia shifting to right back to accommodate him. It wasn't the best of introductions. Wayne Rooney tried to get United back into the game with a curling shot shortly thereafter, but it lands on top of Victor Valdes' net rather than in it, which isn't really very useful at all.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Video, Lionel Messi Strikes For Barcelona

This just in. Lionel Messi is better at football than anyone else in the world is at anything. The diminutive Argentine danced his way to the center of the field and unleashed a ferocious shot past Edwin van der Sar to put Barcelona up 2-1 on Manchester United early in the second half. The world's best player clearly puts the fear of god into Nemanja Vidic, who is sure Messi is going to run at him. Instead he stops, shoots and scores.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/video?vid=e9654bc8-2522-4c59-911f-f4b7bec2c69d" mce_href="http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/video?vid=e9654bc8-2522-4c59-911f-f4b7bec2c69d" target="_new" title=""&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;CL Final Update: Barcelona 2-1 Man Utd&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona Come Close To 3rd Goal

It should be 3-1 to Barcelona now and it's only thanks to right back Fabio da Silva that it isn't. Dani Alves shows why he's the best right back on the planet by making a complete fool out of Patrice Evra and cutting into Edwin van der Sar's box, and only the presence of Fabio on the goalline stops another goal, the young Brazilian somehow hooking the ball clear and hurting himself in the process.

Van der Sar then came to the rescue once again, stopping a thundering effort from range by Xavi, instead conceding a  corner, from which Lionel Messi did something absurd - bouncing the ball off a dazed looking Michael Carrick to play a one-two with himself. Eventually Andres Iniesta shoots and van der Sar can collect. Phew. Nani's getting ready to come on for United, by the way.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Yellow Cards For Michael Carrick And Dani Alves

We were interrupted for a few minutes by a pitch invasion at Wembley Stadium (a solo act), but we're back up and running with Barcelona still up 2-1 against Manchester United int he 2011 UEFA Champions League final. Before Lionel Messi's goal, Barcelona were rampant, and they more or less remain rampant, although a terrible tackle by Dani Alves on Patrice Evra both results in a yellow card for the right back and gives United a bit of a breather. Speaking of yellows, it's entirely unclear how Antonio Valencia hasn't picked one up after several fouls. Oh well.

United do manage to attack from that free kick, but eventually Ryan Giggs loses out to Alves on the left, leaving the Catalans in possession once more. Michael Carrick puts a stop to that nonsense, smashing through Andres Iniesta very late and earning the second yellow card of the afternoon.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Lionel Messi Makes It 2-1 Barcelona

Oh. My. Goodness. Lionel Messi had never scored on English soil, but that was never going to last. Manchester United were worried when the Argentinian forward picked up the ball 22 yards out with four defenders to beat, and they all backed off him expecting Messi to try to take them on. So instead of dribbling, he just smashed a viciously-curling left footed shot that ended up being just out of the reach of Edwin van der Sar, giving Barcelona the lead once more. It's been a dominant spell from the La Liga champions - can Manchester United come back yet again?

It's actually a real shame that van der Sar let that one in - it was possibly saveable and he'd just performed a heroic stop against Dani Alves at the near post. No sooner had Barcelona retrieved the ball, however, and they'd scored.2-1 in the 57th minute, and time is now ticking away.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Video, Rooney Levels For Manchester United

Barcelona had been completely dominating Manchester United for more than 15 minutes and it paid off when Pedro scored to put the Catalans on top. The Red Devils weren't going to go away though and they answered just a few minutes later through who else, but Wayne Rooney. A give-and-go between Rooney and the ageless Ryan Giggs set Rooney up and he made no mistake with his finish to level the match at 1-1. The only question is whether or not Giggs was onside when Rooney played him in. 

&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/video?vid=7c40c2fc-61fe-4fa8-a766-74a345d53e34" mce_href="http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/video?vid=7c40c2fc-61fe-4fa8-a766-74a345d53e34" target="_new" title=""&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;CL Final Update: &amp;lt;a class='sbn-auto-link' href="http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/la-liga/teams/barcelona" mce_href="http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/la-liga/teams/barcelona"&amp;gt;Barcelona&amp;lt;/a&amp;gt; 1-1 Man Utd&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: 2nd Half Underway

The second half is underway at Wembley with Barcelona kicking off and looking to get another goal before the end of regular time. Manchester United are probably going to tire very quickly in the second half after having to work so hard in an intense first period, and Pep Guardiola's side are going to do their best to take advantage of that. However, as Wayne Rooney showed in the first half, the Premier League champions can score at the drop of a hat, and it's not out of question that they can get things done as well - although you'd have to favour Barcelona here, I think.

The first action of the half, more or less, is Javier Mascherano embarking on a buccaneering run from centre half all the way down the end of the pitch, eventually winning a corner. Although that went exactly nowhere, Barcelona have anther one, and they'll be happy to have started the second half by pinning United back into their own penalty box. It's still 1-1 as we get the second half underway.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Video, Pedro Scores To Put Barcelona Ahead

Pedro Rodriguez had a glorious chance in the early going of the UEFA Champions League final that he wasted, but he didn't waste his second chance. Lionel Messi's run to the center took Patrice Evra with him and opened up acres of space on the right for Pedro to run into. Of course, in acres of space and with Xavi Hernandez on the ball, Pedro was going to get his chance and he did. Xavi put the ball right where it had to be with a perfect pass and Pedro finished to put Barcelona ahead 1-0 on Manchester United in the 27th minute.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: 1-1, Halftime Report

What an incredible first half of football this has been at Wembley. The match has been one incident after another, and after a bevy of chances for Manchester United in the opening ten minutes as Park Ji-Sung dominated the game (Victor Valdes was astonishingly good in the early stages, preventing both Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney from going clean through on goal) Barcelona then opted to lock things down and looked as though they'd obliterate their English opponents.

Pedro made Sir Alex Ferguson's team pay for a poor spell with a brilliant sidefoot finish following a series of close chances, latching onto a Xavi Hernandez pass and clipping past Edwin van der Sar at the 40-year-old's near post. It looked as though Manchester United were in serious, serious trouble with Barcelona absolutely rampant, but Rooney took the game by the scruff of the neck, playing a one-two with Ryan Giggs (who may have been offside, looking at the replay) and obliterating the ball past Valdes and into the top corner, United scoring on only their second shot of the match. The goals came only seven minutes apart.

There were still ten minutes of football played after that Rooney goal, and it was mostly Barcelona (who ended the first half with 66% possession). They actually had a great chance to go ahead just before the interval, but David Villa just failed to find Lionel Messi, who has been excellent, with the Argentine rushing into the six-yard box after blowing past Michael Carrick. Referee Viktor Kassai blew the whistle shortly thereafter as soon as the clock hit 45:00, ending a wonderful first half of football at 1-1. Hopefully the second can match it in both quality and entertainment.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona Waste Great Chance To Go Ahead; 1-1 At Halftime

How have Manchester United gotten away with that? They allow the lethal combination of Lionel Messi and David Villa to break centrally, and the entire defence drifts towards the Argentine forward. Naturally, Messi immediately passes to Villa in a position very similar to the point from which Pedro scored the opener. Villa opts to pass rather than shoot and is about an inch from finding Messi two yards from goal, but the ball is crowded out by Edwin van der Sar and several other white shirts. The ball ends up gong out of play for a goal kick, and Michael Carrick also picked up a knock on the head for his troubles.

Surprisingly, there's no injury time, and after forty-five minutes referee Viktor Kassai blows his whistle and ends the first half. It's been phenomenal so far, and we can only hope the second is just as good. We go into the break at Wembley with the teams level at 1-1.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Still 1-1 As First Half Nears End

Is this game ever going to slow down? It's been played at a hundred miles an hour for the first forty minutes and is showing absolutely no signs of stopping. Unlike many previous Champions League finals, it's also been very very good as well. Nothing boring yet!

Dani Alves makes it even better with a sumptuous piece of skill, intercepting a ball intended for Ryan Giggs, lifting it over the Manchester United midfielder with a deft touch and immediately latching back onto the ball before the Welshman can even turn around. That starts a passage of play that gives Edwin van der Sar a scare when Pedro breaks free down the Barcelona left before being eventually crowded out. Second later, Antonio Valencia somehow gets away with a nasty challenge on Lionel Messi without a booking, although the free kick is in a dangerous position and Sergio Busquets very nearly slips in Pedro. Anyway, it's still even at 1-1 with about five minutes of the first half left.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Lionel Messi Doesn't Touch The Ball, Still Creates Pedro's Goal

Lionel Messi is the best footballer in the world. He's so good, in fact, that he creates goals for his teammates even when he doesn't touch the ball during a move. Such is his ability and his legend that he is always in the heads of defenders, even when he isn't making any sort of play on the ball or even a play to get the ball. His movement draws defenders out of position, and that's exactly what created the opening goal of the UEFA Champions League final, scored by Pedro, that put Barcelona up 1-0 in the first half.

Messi is always listed on the lineup as a right forward, but he rarely plays that position. Barcelona's lineup is actually an asymmetrical one, as Messi plays as a No. 10 while Pedro operates much more as a winger. Daniel Alves pushes up to provide width on the right, much more than his counterpart on the left, Eric Abidal. This creates problems for the defense, much like the ones created on the goal.

Though he primarily serves a trequarista function, Messi does often drift out to the right and occasionally play like a winger. This has not been the case at all tonight, as he is spending all of his time in the middle. This draws Park Ji-Sung and Patrice Evra into the center of the pitch, leaving space on the right.

On the goal, just before the through ball is played to Pedro, Messi cuts inside from the right and Evra follows him. This leaves a big space on Barcelona's right which Pedro runs into, unmarked, allowing him to receive the ball, shoot, and score. Even though he did not touch the ball, just by cutting inside and drawing Evra way out of position, Messi created a goal. Had Evra not tracked Messi, the ball might get played to him and the end result might be the same. Barcelona have put together some fantastic early moves, and it's easy to see why they're tough to stop.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Wayne Rooney Levels Scores, 1-1

So, Manchester United are in less trouble now. It's 1-1 at Wembley, and guess who created and scored it? Yep, it's Wayne Rooney, out of absolutely nothing. I was actoually just about to slate him for totally wasting a free kick from forty yards, but that's one heck of a way to make up for it. Rooney is hits with a long pass and plays a brilliant one-two with Ryan Giggs in Victor Valdes' penalty box before hammering an absolutely unstoppable shot home past the diving goalkeeper.

Gorgeous goal, that, and that's the perfect response as far as Sir Alex Ferguson is concerned. Certain parts of the stadium go dead silent, and the rest of the crowd goes wild. How will Barcelona respond to wasting their lead? Xavi tries to fix the problem immediately, but can only shoot well over Edwin van der Sar's crossbar from range.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Pedro Gives Barcelona 1-0 Lead

It's 1-0 Barcelona at Wembley in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final and you can't say that wasn't coming. just like in Rome two years ago, Manchester United were excellent for the first ten minutes before letting Barcelona come onto them, and just like two years ago, they've been punished.

Andres Iniesta had the ball deep in the midfield, finding the forward run of a curiously unmarked Xavi Hernandez. Unsurprisingly giving he had so much time to pick out a pass, Xavi played an inch-perfect ball to Pedro cutting down the right, and a neat near post finish was duly dispatched past a helpless (and motionless) Edwin van der Sar. That was a beautiful goal, and it doesn't look like Barcelona are going to stop at one. Manchester United are in deep, deep trouble now.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona Dominant, Manchester United Sloppy At Wembley

Oh that's an absolutely brilliant piece of defending by Nemanja Vidic. Barcelona seemed certain to score as hordes of red and blue shirts burst into the Manchester United penalty area, but the Serbian defender appeared out of nowhere and slid clearly through the ball, eventually releasing Wayne Rooney on the United left. His good work ultimately leads to a pass towards the industrious Park Ji-Sung right in front of Victor Valdes' goal, and a moment of indecisiveness by Gerard Pique almost lets the Korean in. The defender recovers just in time to deny him.

Ryan Giggs then makes a horrendous mistake in the midfield, giving the ball away with an awful backwards pass while the rest of his team is trying to break upfield. The only reason Lionel Messi doesn't end up scoring is that he started out of position on the left - if he had been central he'd have been available for a pass clean through on Edwin van der Sar. So, all Barca right now, but still 0-0.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona In Control, Now Generating Chances

The match has been going at breakneck speed so far and I don't think that can continue all game. It's Barcelona in the ascendency now as Manchester United seem to have tired a little - Lionel Messi is putting together some amazing little runs through the middle and very nearly slips Pedro through on the left at one opportunity only to see the hulking figure of Nemanja Vidic clear the ball away for a throw in.

You can tell that United aren't in the best moment just by watching what happens when they win the ball. Earlier they'd have controlled and pushed forwards, now they're just hammering the ball upfield. That's not a good plan against Barcelona, and they're now in control of the game. David Villa just gave Edwin van der Sar a bit of a scare with a rocket past his right post from range, and then only a rare piece of poor control from Messi stopped it being 1-0 seconds later. We're still at 0-0 in Wembley.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona Coming Back Into Game

Ooh, that's interesting. Barcelona have the ball in Edwin van der Sar's box and as Pedro attempts to control Manchester United left back Patrice Evra comes across him, winning the ball. There's no contact between the players, but Pedro immediately appeals for a handball. He's right, too - the ball nicked against Evra's hand, although there was nothing he could have done about it being half a yard away at the time. You've seen those given, but it would have been exceptionally harsh.

Barcelona, incidentally, are starting to be able to string three passes together, which is nice. Presumably Park Ji-Sung is getting tired of marking all three of Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Some nice work by the Catalans sees United's defence split open on their left and Pedro is left with a free header, which he smashes well wide. 0-0 In the 16th minute.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: United Threaten Twice In Quick Succession

Javier Mascherano really is looking dodgy right now, and he's just let Wayne Rooney blow past him on a long ball forward by Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United are doing this a lot, but are mostly offside). The England forward nearly latched onto the bounce and would have been clear through on goal but for an intervention by Victor Valdes at the edge of his own penalty area that could very nearly have gone horribly wrong for the goalkeeper.

Barcelona still aren't learning, though! Ryan Giggs goes with a slide-rule defence splitting pass, Gerard Pique leaves it for some reason, and Javier Hernandez is clean through on goal if he can get the ball round Valdes. He can't, and the chance is gone, and then Barcelona launch their first real attack, eventually seeing David Villa winning a corner off Rio Ferdinand. We're still at 0-0 twelve minutes in.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Manchester United Winger Park Ji-Sung Is A Monster

It's early days in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final, but already Manchester United are looking very solid and very able to frustrate Barcelona as they stifle their attack. Barcelona is very much a team reliant on getting into a rhythm, which they will certainly do better as the match goes on, but they've struggled to do so early on. Much of that has to do with the play of Park Ji-Sung on the left wing. 

Park is a staple in the United lineup in UEFA Champions League competition due to his high work rate, strength, pace, and excellent tackling ability for a winger, but he's really brought his game early on. He's been deployed on the left to help shut down Daniel Alves and Lionel Messi, and in the opening ten minutes of the match, he's done just that. Alves and Messi are likely to have an impact eventually, while it's hard to believe Park can go full speed for 90 minutes, but his work to start the game has been extremely impressive. He looks like a monster out there on the left.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Strong Start For Manchester United

Manchester United are playing incredibly well, actually, bossing Barcelona all over the park and essentially giving them a taste of their own medicine. Javier Hernandez has actually managed to win possession back within eighteen yards of Victor Valdes' goal, which is something approaching miraculous considering how careful the Catalans are with the ball. They've even managed to tackle Lionel Messi thanks to Rio Ferdinand stepping up out of the defence.

The promising start mirrors the last game between these two sides in Rome in 2009. Obviously, that one didn't go too well for United, and they'll want to capitalise on this bright spell before they wear themselves out. They really are playing excellently, though - Javier Mascherano and Eric Abidal have been having major problems with Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia in particular. It's still 0-0 seven minutes in.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Game Underway At Wembley Stadium

The 2011 UEFA Champions League final has kicked off at Wembley Stadium, with Barcelona in their traditional red and blue stripes while Manchester United wear a rather boring-looking white jersey. The jerseys aren't really what we came to watch, though - we're going to be getting an absolute show today from some of the best players in the world.The stadium is absolutely packed as well, and we've already been treated to an invasion of bowler-hat-wearing dancers for some reason.

Anyway. To the game. United kick us off and hilariously give Barcelona the ball within two seconds of the match starting, Wayne Rooney trying to ping the ball wide to Antonio Valencia and knocking the ball straight out of play. However, they win it right back through Park Ji-Sung, and force their way through the Barcelona defence, eventually giving the ball to Victor Valdes on an attempted cross. Good start for United, however. We'll see if they can keep it up.

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UEFA Champions League Final: Rain In The Forecast

It is a nice, cool evening in London, England, but that doesn't mean the weather is all peachy. The forecast is also calling for rain at Wembley Stadium for today's UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona. Not that rain is a surprise in London, but it could change the match, with a bit of an extra skid to the ball or a player losing his footing at the most inopportune of times.

Wembley Stadium has a much-maligned pitch that could probably do without the rain. The grass has been replaced time and time again, but it still draws criticism after seemingly every match there. Per UEFA rules, the pitch was not played on in the two weeks before the final so it will not be a victim of wear, but it could be a victim of the rain and if it's a victim of the rain, will the match become a victim of the pitch?

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: FC Barcelona Lineup

Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team for the 2011 UEFA Champions League final has been announced, and there are a couple of interesting things going on here. The big story is club captain Carles Puyol not making the starting eleven (assumedly due to injury, although he is on the bench), replaced at centre half by midfielder Javier Mascherano, something that Javier Hernandez will probably be quite excited about. 

Elsewhere Eric Abidal makes a start at left back - the French international had been sidelined for months following surgery to remove a liver tumour, but he's back in the lineup now. It's good news for Barcelona there - he should be able to deal with the likes of Antonio Valencia more comfortably than an out-of-position Puyol, which is what the Catalans had been playing with before Abidal returned.

FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Eric Abidal, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Pedro.

Substitutes: Oier Olazabal, Carles Puyol, Bojan Krkic, Seydou Keita, Ibrahim Afellay, Adriano, Thiago

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Manchester United Lineup

The lineups are out for the UEFA Champions League final, and Manchester United's starting XI is as expected. Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito will start up top with Wayne Rooney starting behind him in the hole. Park Ji-Sung starts on the left hand side to try to contain Daniel Alves and Lionel Messi, while Nani sits out. Here are the lineups and substitutes.

Manchester United Lineup (4-4-1-1): Edwin van der Sar; Fabio da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra; Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs Park Ji-Sung; Wayne Rooney; Javier Hernandez

Manchester United Bench: Tomasz Kuszczak, Chris Smalling, Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, Anderson, Nani, Michael Owen

The biggest news here is that Dimitar Berbatov does not even make the bench. It's hard to envision him being able to do anything against Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, while Michael Owen is essentially an older and slower Chicharito, but it's still a bit of a slap in the face to United's leading scorer and record signing.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Dimitar Berbatov Not In Manchester United Squad

Well, we've found the shock in Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection - word from Wembley is that Premier League leading scorer Dimitar Berbatov hasn't even made the bench for Manchester United today for their UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona. It's not as shocking as we were initially led to believe, but it's still a bit of a surprise, and it's slightly sad to see given the obvious talent Berbatov possesses.

Rumour doing the rounds that Berbatov isn't even on bench for #MUFC. @lee_clayton_ appears to confirm itless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply


Surely Berbatov's a better bet than Michael Owen or whoever else has taken his place? Could he be secretly injured? The Bulgarian randomly finding himself in Sir Alex Ferguson's doghouse to the extent that he isn't even in the squad would be pretty weird.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Chicharito, Wayne Rooney Rumored To Start

Some lineup news is starting to trickle out of Manchester United's camp, but there's nothing there that could be described as a huge shock... yet. All we have are Twitter rumours, but they're frequent enough and written by enough credible people that we can be pretty sure they're correct: Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher will be on the bench and both Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will start.

Fletcher, of course, has had fitness problems for most of the last few months, picking up a bad virus from somewhere and never really recovering. Although he's much better now than he was weeks ago, I'd assume that that's he reason he's only able to make the bench today. There's no reason not to deploy him in the centre of the pitch otherwise. Chicharito and Wayne Rooney starting is as expected, but it's nice to have that all 'confirmed'.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Manchester United Team News - Sir Alex Ferguson Apparently Has Surprise Up Sleeve

Well this is interesting. According to Nick Coppack a journalist with Manchester United who's in the press box at Wembley for the 2011 UEFA Champions League final between United and FC Barcelona, there's a rumour going around that Sir Alex Ferguson has done something very interesting with the team selection:

Rumours around the Wembley press box that Sir Alex has "sprung a major surprise" in his team selection. Something that would make you gasp.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply


We don't really know what that might be, because Ferguson is notoriously good at keeping his cards close to his chest on lineups and shapes, but that seems to imply that they're not going to go with their now standard 4-4-1-1 with a Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez pairing. Comedy predition: Michael Owen starts. Less comedy, but still a prediction, from Gene Um of The Busby Babe: Antonio Valencia starts at right back, with Nani also playing. We'll just have to wait and see.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Victor Valdes To Wear No. 92, Not No. 1?

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes is changing numbers for the 2011 UEFA Champions League final at Wembley. The stopper, who normally wears No. 1, is apparently changing his number for the match against Manchester United. What to and why?

in 1992, which isn't really all that long ago, Barcelona won their first ever European Cup, defeating Sampdoria in extra time at Wembley thanks to a free kick goal from Ronald Koeman. Since, Barcelona have been a dominant European force, but before that match they could have been regarded as chronic underachievers. 1992 marks the turning point for the club (in terms of success at the biggest stage, at any rate), and Valdes is apparently wearing 92 on his jersey to commemorate that famous win. Prediction: Manchester United and some neutral fans will claim that this is annoying for absolutely no good reason.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Big Payday For Both Teams In $300M Match

We all know how prestigious the UEFA Champions League is. It's the most important competition in club football and the trophy is the target of the biggest, best clubs in the world. Today at Wembley, Manchester United and Barcelona are playing for more than just pride, however - they're going for a huge financial windfall as well. The match is worth a lot of money to both sides, but the difference between winner and loser is massive: £46M ($77M).

That's not to say that the losing side won't be making plenty of money. Whoever wins will rake in £109M ($181M) and the losers will be getting £63M ($105M), hardly a figure to sneeze at. But the financial reward for winning this game (or, really, getting to the final) should be a major reason fans of domestic rivals root against same-country teams in the Champions League. Both United and Barcelona are going to get a huge, huge boost from this match, and that will give them a big advantage as they look to pay off debts and upgrade their rosters.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Edwin Van Der Sar's Last Game Will Be One To Remember

Edwin van der Sar will be playing his last match on Saturday, and he’ll be hoping to finish his career on a high. The ultimate heir to Peter Schmiechel’s mantle at Old Trafford after Sir Alex Ferguson have gone through a bevy of failed replacements, van der Sar, now 40, is sure to face a tough test in dealing with Barcelona’s fearsome attak at Wembley.

Never really heralded as the best goalkeeper in the world, van der Sar’s greatness relies on his consistentcy rather than any flashes of brilliance – which isn’t to say he isn’t entirely capable of stealing a game on his own (just ask Chelsea!). The infrequency of his mistakes, more than anything else, is the most striking aspect of his play.

Having joined United in 2005, van der Sar has now played 292 games for the club, having won four Premier League titles and a host of other honours, including the 2008 UEFA Champions League final in Moscow. Now he’s looking for another.

Stopping Barcelona is, of course, a fairly tough assignment for anyone. The likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa are arrayed against him, and even the Catalans’ second-tier player are more than capable of causing anyone problems. Ferguson, though, will trust utterly in his goalkeeper, knowing that there are few better equipped to stop the La Liga giants from causing havock, and is hoping that van der Sar is rewarded for his hard work with another trophy:

The reason Edwin has played for so long is that he has sacrificed himself to be at the very top. He trains every day, never misses a session, and that is unusual at his age. He is getting the rewards for that, so every reward that he gets, and I hope he gets one at Wembley, he will deserve it.

It was an entirely different story a few short years ago as Ferguson cycled through goalkeeper after goalkeeper in an attempt to replace his last great. When Schmeichel left after the 1998/99 season, United went through no less than six keepers before eventually landing on van der Sar – Ferguson admitted he had been given the opportunity to buy him far sooner, but turned him down, allowing him to go to Fulham instead – and the club will want to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

The answer could well be Spaniard David de Gea, currently of Atletico Madrid. United have already all but bought the 20-year-old, but there remain some questions about whether he has what it takes to play at the top level under the sort of pressure he’ll be facing in the Premier League. His ability isn’t in question, but there’s a certain special something it takes to play for Manchester United, and the transtion between greats have already been particularly hard.

No doubt Ferguson wishes that he could keep his Dutch stopper for longer. After 21 years on the football pitch, van der Sar is more than ready to hang up his spikes. But there’s still one game left to be played first.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Johan Cruyff Claims Pep Guardiola Might Make Barcelona Exit

Johan Cruyff has raised eyebrows by claiming that FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola could leave the Catalan club following the 2011 UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United - win or lose. The former Barcelona star has said he wouldn't be surprised if the match was Guardiola's last game in charge of the team, although he was extremely vague about why he thought that:

Guardiola has worked very hard over the last few years and it wouldn't surprise me if he left independently of Saturday's result. If he left, it would only be because it is very difficult to withstand certain pressures in the long term.

It's difficult to see just why he'd want out, although obviously we're not privy to the 'certain pressures' Cruyff is talking about here. Barcelona's internal politics are a bit of a mystery to me (and, I imagine, everyone reading this), but considering Guardiola's success with the team, it would be stunning if they ended up forcing the manager out. Anyway, while Cruyff might not be surprised to see Guardiola go, most of the rest of us would.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Manchester United's Road To The Final

After coming in second to Chelsea in the 2009/10 Premier League season, Manchester United secured their place in this years’ UEFA Champions League campaign. There’s a long way, of course, between qualifying for the group stages of the competition and getting to the final itself – United played six matches to get out of the group in the first place and then a further three two-legged draws in the knockout rounds.

Along the way, they’ve dispatched some very good teams, including Chelsea in the quarter-finals, but it would be a stretch to say they’ve had a particularly strenuous route to Wembley. While opponents Barcelona have had to navigate both Arsenal and Real Madrid in the knockout rounds, United merely had to negotiate the threat of Marseille and Schalke 04, neither of which are teams really capable of causing Sir Alex Ferguson’s men a challenge. A group of Valencia, Glasgow Rangers, and Turkish outfit Bursaspoor isn’t the most challenging in the world either (they won four and drew two of those games to finish top of Group C).

Still, when United have had to step it up, they haven’t disappointed. They were sublime in their quarter-final encounter against Chelsea, winning the first leg at Stamford Bridge 1-0 before completing a 3-1 aggregate victory at Old Trafford a week later.  You can only beat the teams in front of you, and while Barcelona might have had a more difficult path than Barcelona, that won’t make any difference at all in how the match will end up going.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We’ll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final TV Schedule

Want to watch the 2011 UEFA Champions League final? You're not alone. Manchester United square off against FC Barcelona at Wembley, both gunning for the most prestigious trophy in club football. The match begins at 7:45 PM GMT, which is 2:45 PM on the east coast and 11:45 AM on the west, and there are a number of ways to watch.

If you're in the States, the easy option is going to be Fox (in glorious high definition, no less). The match is also available on the paid online streaming service Fox Soccer.tv. In England, you'll want to tune into ITV, with coverage starting at 7 PM.

No matter where you are, you can follow along with this stream for live coverage of the match. We're expecting an excellent game, so stay tuned.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Barcelona's Road to Wembley

The hype and hoopla finally culminates tomorrow at Wembley when Barcelona and Manchester United face off for the 2011 UEFA Champions League title. Before we get there, let's look back at the road Barcelona took to reach tomorrow's final.

Barcelona qualified directly in to the group stages of the 2010/11 Champions League by virtue of their first place finish in La Liga during the 09/10 season. On August 26th, 2010 in Monaco they were drawn in to Group D alongside Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos, a group most felt Barca would have little trouble advancing out of. As expected, they rolled through their group, allowing only three goals in six matches (four wins, two draws) and finished first with 14 points.

Things got a bit more interesting when Barcelona were drawn against Arsenal for their first Knockout Stage tie. Much was made of the match and the potential for offensive fireworks and the tie did not dissapoint. In the opening leg at The Emirates, Barcelona dominated the match, taking a 1-0 lead in the first half thanks to David Villa. Despite leaving several good opportunities unfinished, Barca still seemed destined for a positive result. A late charge by the Gunners stunned the Catalan side, as Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin both scored in a 12 minute span late to give Arsenal a 2-1 advantage going back to the Camp Nou.

In the second leg, Barcelona scored first in stoppage time of the first half thanks to Lionel Messi but an early second half own goal by Sergio Busquets put the match in Arsenal's hands. That's when it all went wrong for Arsene Wenger's men. Just three minutes after the goal, Robin Van Persie was shown his second yellow card was shooting on goal after the referees whistle. It was a dubious call and the Gunners never recovered as Xavi and Messi scored to give Barcelona the 4-3 aggregate victory.

Barcelona's quarterfinal tie against against Shakhtar Donetsk was considerably less dramatic thanks to a 5-1 first leg romp by Pep Guardiola's side. A rather drab 1-0 second leg victory gave Barca a 6-1 aggregate win and setup a semifinal clash against arch rivals Real Madrid.

Plenty has been said and written about the Champions League semifinal tie between Barca and Real Madrid. It was part of a wild two week stretch where the two clubs faced one another four times and as you would expect tensions ran high. In the first leg at the Bernabéu, Madrid were well on their way a positive result before Pepe was sent off on what was later proved to be a phantom tackle on Davi Alves. Down a man, Madrid couldn't stop Barcelona's attack and allowed two late goals, including a tremendous individual run and strike from Messi. The second leg was largely controlled by Barcelona and finished 1-1, giving Barca the 3-1 aggregate victory.

With the victory over Madrid complete, the table was set for Barcelona to face Manchester United with a chance to win their fourth European Cup.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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Penalty Shootouts: The Ultimate Football Experience

A penalty shootout to decide between Manchester United and Barcelona wouldn’t be a disappointing ending. Forget the tactics, penalties are the ultimate experience for anyone who loves football.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: No Zlatan Ibrahimovic Is Good News - Barca Blaugranes

Fans tend to find excuses when they don't win things (and even sometimes when they do), and the best part of that exercise is that it's easy to turn those excuses into hope once the player in question goes away. For Barcelona, it was very easy to blame the debacle last year against Inter Milan on the presence of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Barca Blaugranes, SB Nation's Barcelona blog, are rejoicing in the fact that the lanky Swede is no longer on the team:

While it almost cost them in excess of €100,000,000 to replace Samuel Eto’o, they appear to have found a viable candidate in David Villa. The Zlatan Ibrahimovic experiment a year prior didn’t work out. During a semi-final clash against his former employers, Inter Milan, the lanky Swede even failed to cover more distance that goal-keeper Victor Valdes.

Let’s be frank, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a domestic bully but a certified dud in international competitions. It’s no coincidence that his teams always fall short in Europe, whether it is Juventus Turin, Inter Milan, FC Barcelona or AC Milan, he is a major reason why his teams underperform. I dare to argue that a whole lot more was achievable for FC Barcelona in 2009/2010 if it wasn’t for the volatile character of Ibracadabra.

One suspects that Ibrahimovic would actually have been a useful outlet for Barcelona against a stout pair of central defenders in Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, although nobody is doubting the obvious skill of his replacement in David Villa. However, should Barcelona manage to pull off the victory they're expecting against Manchester United on Saturday, it'll be two Champions League wins in three seasons, leaving Ibrahimovic looking like something of a curse.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Manchester United's Chicharito Is The Story In North America - FMF State Of Mind

Since making his move from C.D. Guadalajara, better known to most people as Chivas, Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito, has become an icon in North America. Most who did not get a chance to watch Hernandez in the Mexican Primera were very skeptical of his abilities going into the 2010 World Cup, but he showed flashes of his top end speed and finishing ability in that competition, easing the concerns of Manchester United fans a bit.

Fast forward to May and Red Devils supporters couldn't be happier with Ferguson's purchase. Hernandez has been dubbed as the value signing of the season not only in the Premier League, but anywhere in Europe. But even if Chicharito was merely an average player, he still would have made back his purchase price for his new club in merchandise sales alone. Chicharito is incredibly popular in his native Mexico, and as a result, the popularity of Manchester United has soared in that country. As Tom Marshall from SB Nation's Mexican football blog FMF State Of Mind explains, the Champions League final is all about Chicharito for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

It´s difficult to overemphasize what Chicharito has achieved this year and what it means to Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Mexican football. There was even a debate on a radio show about whether Chicharito or the Pope had been better for the Catholic Church over the last year! Few predicted he would make such an impact over a year ago when his face was unexpectedly glaring back from all the newspapers after signing for Manchester United.

No Mexican has ever scored in a Champions League Final. Nobody in Mexico wants to add any extra pressure but, with the way Chicharito has smashed through every hurdle put in front of him and risen to every challenge, would you bet against him?

Two huge things stick out there. One, Chicharito has done more for Catholicism in Mexico than the Pope. That is unreal. Two, Chicharito has a chance to do something on Saturday that not even the great Hugo Sanchez was able to accomplish. Chicharito has a long way to go if he is to match the accomplishments of Sanchez, but if he plays well in a Manchester United win on Saturday, he will be well on his way to doing just that.

For more on Chicharito and Mexican football, visit FMF State Of Mind. For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final, 2011: Viktor Kassai Appointed Referee

UEFA announced today that 35-year-old Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai has been selected to referee the 2010-2011 UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Kassai has been a  FIFA referee since 2003 and is widely considered to be a world class official.

Kassai was the referee in the 2010 World Cup semifinal game between Spain and Germany, which had about as little referee controversy as any game I can remember from the World Cup. His other career highlight is refereeing the 2008 Olympic gold medal match. Englishman Howard Webb was the referee in last year's Champions League final and the World Cup final, but seeing as Manchester United is an English club, Webb is ineligible to referee this match.

Kassai has called three Manchester United matches in his career, all resulting in wins for United. The most recent one of those was a match against Valencia at the Mestalla in the Champions League group stages, in which Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez scored a stoppage time winner in a 1-0 win over Los Che.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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UEFA Champions League Final, 2011: Iker the Octopus Predicts Winner

The long wait for another psychic octopus prediction, one of the finest traditions of the sport, is over. Iker the octopus, who lives in Andalucia, has chosen between Barcelona and Manchester United ahead of the 2011 UEFA Champions League final on Saturday, subbing in for the now sadly-departed Paul. Who'd he choose? The answer may surprise you:

Yep, that's Iker going for the underdog, Manchester United. His psychic credentials perhaps aren't as strong as Paul's were, but he did correctly pick the winner of the Copa del Rey and the 1-1 draw between Real Madrid and Barcelona earlier this season*. Does he know something we don't? On paper, United don't seem like they have too much of chance against the Barcelona juggernaut, but if 2010 has taught us anything, it's to never disagree with an octopus who watches football.

We need to have him do score predictions and first scorer next.

*Note: It's entirely possible that he just picks against Barcelona all the time. He is named after Iker Casillas, after all.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Lionel Messi Is Like A Zombie Hunter Looking For A Twinkie

In medieval times musician storytellers called minstrels would travel the realms performing songs whose lyrics told stories about far off lands, events real and imaginary and of the exploits of legendary heroes. Ray Hudson, GolTV's La Liga commentator, is a modern day minstrel and his muse is Lionel Messi.

Every week during the La Liga season, Hudson can be heard delivering some of the most ridiculously sublime descriptions of events during matches, but no one player inspires Hudson quite like Lionel Messi. 

"He doesn't live in the tactical world or the technical world, he lives in the magnetic spectrum of genius!!!!!"

"The mercurial, brilliant magician that is Lionel Messi..."

"This little diamond of a footballer."

"This little miniature marvel."

"What he is, he's like something out of Greek mythology man. A little short-legged bull, covered with eyes."

Whatever you think about Hudson's commentary style, you cannot deny that his muse, the 5' 7", 23-year old Argentinean forward, is worthy of the praise and verbal laurels...or at least you should.

Since his first appearance with Barcelona's senior club in 2004, all Messi has done is score 119 goals and 56 assist in 177 appearances. Along the way Barca has won five La Liga titles, one Copy del Rey, four Spanish Super Cups, one UEFA Super Cup, one FIFA Club World Cup and two European Cups.

Messi has won the Ballon d'Or twice, FIFA World Player of the Year once, FIFPro World Player of the Year twice, an Olympic goal medal...are you getting the idea? There's not much left that Messi hasn't accomplished either with his club or earned as a personal accolade, and it's not like he's got all this hardware just for being a nice guy (which is is by the way).

Lionel Messi is amazing, magical and spectacular, in fact there likely isn't a positive adjective know to us that hasn't been attributed to Messi's on the field ability. I think the aforementioned Ray Hudson explained it best.

"Everybody's running out of adjectives and descriptions for that man."

He's not lying and while some may grow annoyed with the admiration and accolades given to Messi, even his most adamant detractor can still be pushed to admit his brilliance. Of course that praise will also be sandwiched between some kind of qualifier about how great his teammates are and that he wouldn't be a great without players like Xavi and Iniesta around him. Of course it helps having world class talent on the field with you, but there is enough evidence of Messi's individual skill to make this argument quite watered down.

Case in point.

 

Despite all the evidence, some will stubbornly hide their eyes from the truth and grasp at anything they can to dry to lessen Messi's accomplishments. A popular option is criticizing Messi for having not "delivered" on the World Cup stage. Since joining the senior Argentina team in 2005, he's been through two World Cup cycles and his national team has yet to win the the most prized soccer trophy in the world. Pay no mind the coaching issues or the players around him, it's obviously his fault La Albiceleste failed in Germany and South Africa. This is what happens when you're the greatest player in the world and people who just don't like you need an excuse for ignoring greatness.

I have little doubt Messi would love to win the World Cup for his country, but the idea of trying to lessen his accomplishments by finding the one thing he hasn't manage to accomplish is a bit ridiculous...did I mention he's only 23? You know, now that I think about it, I haven't seen Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo holding up that trophy either. Oh and he did win the U-20 World Cup in 2005...does that count?

No matter what happens on Saturday in the Champions League final at Wembley, we'll likely hear the same tired script from his detractors. It's sad because they are missing something special and not enjoying the fact that we're gifted with the opportunity to enjoy the career of one of the great players of all time. We're all fans of different clubs and different countries, but when it comes down to it, we should all be fans of the game and those who play it well. We should want to want to enjoy seeing it played at the highest levels, no matter who it is or what jersey they wear. 

Revel in the fact that every time Messi steps on the pitch, there is a chance he will do something that leaves you thinking, did I just really see that? Did that just happen? After all, it's a game and it's about having fun and few play the game as well or have as much fun doing it as Lionel Messi.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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Rob Harris And Sir Alex Ferguson: Ferguson Was More Right Than He Knew

Forget asking the right questions - most members of the media don't even bother asking the right people. Soundbite journalism runs the risk of reducing the whole profession to a farce.

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The Champions League Final Is A Farce

The Champions League final is a farce. Forget the game. The world’s biggest annual sporting event is about convincing 200 million people to part with their cash. Worst of all, you’re going to sit and pretend that it’s all okay. The slow defrosting of your self-awareness begins here.

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UEFA Champions League Final 2011: How Manchester United Must Deal With Dani Alves - The Busby Babe

Manchester United aren't exactly fancied to win the 2011 UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona. Their opponents are widely regarded as one of the finest teams ever to play football, and United, despite winning the Premier League rather comfortably, are not. But games aren't played on paper, and Barcelona are beatable. The question is how.

While many might focus on the more obvious attacking threats in Barcelona's star-studded lineup - Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and the like - Gene Um of SB Nation's Manchester United blog the Busby Babe is just as worried about the danger posed by right back Dani Alves, who's often the main source of width in the team due to his runs up the right flank. Gene thinks that in Park Ji-Sung United may have the perfect foil to the swashbuckling Brazilian:

Park's role, if deployed on the left flank as expected, will be simple: the Korean must track the runs of Alves. The task may be simple in design, but the application of the design and it's degree of success (or failure) will be crucial; it quite possibly will be the most important tactical match-up in the Champions League final. Park's work-rate is tremendous as well, and also like Alves, he possesses an intelligent tactical brain. Barcelona will likely control anywhere from 55-75% of possession in this match and during this time, Park must man-mark Alves. When the Korean does decide to leave Alves, it must be selective, necessary, and intelligent.

Park is an exceptionally underrated midfielder and may indeed be the perfect weapon with which to hit back at Alves. However, while United might have the tools to deal with the problems posed by marauding fullbacks (see Cole, Ashley), they might not have the strength in central midfield to adequately contain Xavi and Andres Iniesta - dealing with Alves won't make a difference if they can't stop Barcelona playing through the middle.

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Manchester United Vs. FC Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Final 2011: Preview

Though Inter Milan's treble with Jose Mourinho at the helm was a fantastic accomplishment, last season's UEFA Champions League final lacked a little bit of luster. Inter and Bayern Munich are huge clubs, no doubt, but there's just something different about the game when two of the greatest teams from Spain and England are involved. This year, the general viewing public has gotten their wish. Manchester United, the champions of England, and FC Barcelona, champions of Spain, square off at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, May 28 for the biggest prize in world football.

With all due respect to Real Madrid, who are certainly in the running, these are quite possibly the two biggest teams in the game. They have two of the biggest names in Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney, two of the biggest stadiums, two iconic managers...we could do this for hours. This matchup hypes itself, so let's get straight to the football.

It's been a bit of an up and down season for Manchester United, but everything changed when Wayne Rooney was moved to his best position. Rooney's versatility is what makes him one of the best players in the world, but United's recent success has been linked to his settling in one position; playing in the hole behind Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez. United don't play a typical 4-2-3-1 formation, as Rooney is not a traditional No. 10 while Hernandez is not a traditional back-to-goal forward, but it's successful to a surprising degree. 

There's no secret what Barcelona are going to do in this game, and their tactics are not an ever-evolving thing based on personnel like Manchester United's are under Alex Ferguson. According to manager Josep Guardiola and club leged Johan Cryuff, there is only one way to play the game, and that is the way that Barcelona play. They will line up in an extremely fluid 4-3-3 formation where Lionel Messi acts as more of a central playmaker, cutting in from his right forward starting position. Daniel Alves' play up the right flank makes up for the width lost when Messi goes inside, and Barcelona's defenders are good enough to cover when he gets caught upfield.

The last time these teams met was in the 2008-2009 Champions League final, when, like this season, they were widely considered to be two of the best three or so teams in the world. At that time, Messi was still on the brink of being considered as one of the best players in the world, but not quite over the threshold. It was Pep Guardiola's first season in charge, and he was seen as a great manager for Barcelona's personnel and ethos, if not slightly tactically naive. The game was widely considered to be dead even, with the English-speaking media giving the nod to Manchester United.

Most of the English-speaking media considered Messi to be a relatively soft player at this point; a player who was incapable of dealing with the physical style of play that Manchester United would come at him with. Messi not only dispelled that myth in the final, he absolutely shattered it. He put in what was the defining performance of his career to that point, tearing United's defense to shreds as Barcelona won 2-0.

So, what's different? On the Manchester United side, quite a bit. Though they're still going strong, legendary midfielders Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are now older. Cristiano Ronaldo is gone, but Nani has evolved into a world class winger, while Antonio Valencia has made an adequate replacement. Carlos Tevez is gone, replaced with Javier Hernandez. United played a 4-4-2/4-6-0 hybrid with two false nines for most of that season, but their setup is now much different. Rooney is much more of a No. 10 than a false nine, while Chicharito spends most of his time sitting on the back shoulder of the defense.

For Barcelona, little has changed. The starting midfield of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets is still intact. Forwards Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry have been replaced with David Villa and Pedro, a virtual push. The biggest addition has been Daniel Alves, who will be a much different player at right back than Carles Puyol, a traditional central defender, was in that 2009 final. 

Whether or not Manchester United are a better team today than they were on that day in 2009 could be an extensive series of standalone articles, but there's no question that Barcelona are a better team than they were on that day. Xavi is the same player, while all of Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, Gerard Pique, and Victor Valdes have improved since then. Daniel Alves is arguably the best attacking fullback in the world. Barcelona are a slightly better version of the team that defeated Manchester United in the final two years ago.

So, why believe that Manchester United has a chance to win? There are a couple of good reasons. First of all, even if they are inferior to the 2009 team, they are a different team. Neither Rooney or Tevez was a goal poacher, looking for every opportunity to get behind the defense. Barcelona usually play a high defensive line, and there is a decent chance that Chicharito will have chances to exploit that. Second, their manager is Alex Ferguson, and he's pulled off lesser miracles.

Barcelona are widely considered to be the best team in the world and they are slight favorites for Saturday's final, but there is a reason I emphasized 'slight.' Manchester United are talented enough to beat any team in the world, and their manager is intelligent enough to outsmart any manager in the world. If there's a team that can take down mighty Barcelona, Manchester United is that team.

For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.

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