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In about ten minutes (2:45pm Eastern Time), at Old Trafford in Manchester, FC Barcelona will take the pitch against Premier League giants Manchester United in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in the first leg at the Nou Camp in Barcelona last week. While Man United will be looking to get back on track for the EPL-Champions League double, after an extremely ill-timed defeat at Chelsea in league play this past weekend, while for Barcelona, this afternoon represents one of the two (potentially) remaining matches that could save this season from being considered anything other than a total failure.
Thanks in part to the home field advantage of Old Trafford, and in part to Barcelona’s inconsistent and subpar (that’s being very generous) play this season, Sir Alex Ferguson ’s United side come into this matchup as the heavy favorite. As usual, leading them into the match will be the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention the complete embarrassment of riches that makes up the rest of the club’s roster ( Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Anderson, Nani, Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, just to name a few). Make no mistake, most (if not all) logical assessments of what’s likely to happen in this match conclude in a ManU victory. However, it may not be that easy!
Despite their difficulties in depositing the ball into the net this season, and the fact that they will battle United without Ronaldinho, there is absolutely no questioning the firepower that Barcelona brings to this match: from one of the world’s truly transcendent talents in Lionel Messi, to their supremely talented duo of strikers, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry (who has played many a big game in the UK), to a pair of gifted, if yet unproven teenagers in search of a big stage on which to burst onto the world scene ( Giovanni and Bojan Krkic), not to mention the talents of midfield playmaker Andres Iniesta and the return (from suspension) of captain Carlos Puyol. Even without Ronaldinho (and probably Deco), there is simply too much talent on the Barcelona roster for this side not to accidentally hit its stride for a match or two- and possibly just as frightening as the thought of playing this side when they are in form is the thought of having to contend with them when they are so obviously overdue for a game in which they fulfill they rather great potential.
The 0-0 aggregate score is another factor working in Barcelona’s favor, as the lack of an away goal will likely influence United’s tactical plan. While ManU will undoubtedly be playing to win this semifinal outright and avoid penalty kicks, the home side will be equally concerned with keeping Barça off the scoreboard, as even one goal scored by the visitors will put United in the extremely uncomfortable position of having to score two goals of their own, while making sure not to concede again. Against this backdrop, Barcelona is in a position to play a defensive-but-wide-open style of game this afternoon, as even falling behind United by a one-goal margin will not be disastrous, since the equalizer (provided they can find it) would in fact be the game-winning goal.
So there you have it. One game, two of the world’s most offensively talented clubs, on one of world football’s great stages, both with a very strong incentive to score– is that any good? Sit back and enjoy!