Man United has become something of a fixture in the UEFA Champions league final it seems. The English club has graced three of the last four finals but even so, its achievements have been overshadowed by the mighty Barcelona. Twice have the Catalan giants toppled United and left them utterly bemused by their ever flowing, quick possession tiki taka football. Possession is key for Barcelona. The opposition cannot score if you have the ball, and if you do, then the possibilities of what you can do are endless.
Andres Iniesta once remarked about the training he received at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy – receive, pass, offer…receive, pass, offer. At La Masia the young players do everything together, learning each other’s strengths, weaknesses and habits. That familiarity which is bred from years of socializing and living together transmits itself clearly on the field. It has often been said that Iniesta and Xavi are telepathic, continuously linking up and passing the ball between each other on the pitch as if they were on a playground. It is this central midfield combination in particular which has so far proven to be the bane of Manchester United. Once they have the ball, it is nigh on impossible to take it off them, so well do they use their bodies to shield the ball and when they do pass, they passes are crisp, quick and direct.
As if their possession game was not enough, the Barcelona players also possess the skill needed to beat players in one on one situations. Iniesta, Pedro and David Villa can all turn on a dime in order to lose a defender, though they all pale in comparison to the little Argentine genius that is Lionel Messi. Messi is widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not already the greatest football player of all time. Small, quick and agile, his low center of gravity often sees him making cuts and turns that leave bigger defenders flailing. He also boasts a brilliant footballing brain, an eye for goal and can read the game extremely well. With so many weapons to call upon it looks a hard task for Man United to triumph in this fixture, especially against the so called golden generation of Catalonia. The game is played on the pitch however, and stranger things have happened before.