Who's the Best?

>> Tuesday

While the words "Dream Final" often get tossed around, Wednesday's UEFA Champions League final in Rome comes as close to fitting the bill as any. Manchester United vs. Barcelona represents the two best teams from the two best national leagues in the world, boasting a cavalcade of stars, including arguably the two greatest players in the world (Man U's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca's Lionel Messi). It is quite possible that Wednesday will see Ronaldo, Messi, Wayne Rooney, Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Dimitir Berbatov, and Carlos Tevez all on the field at the same time.

Naturally, the game will likely never live up to the hype.

After scouring the soccer internet mediasphere (real word?), the general consensus is that everyone is pulling for Barcelona, but that Man United just have too many weapons.

Barcelona reached the Final in dramatic fashion.

Down a goal, down to 10 men, on the road, and with second-half stoppage time ticking away against Chelsea, the Blaugrana looked finished. The West London crowd was already singing "We're going to Rome!" and were making plans for a holiday in the Eternal City. Then Barca scored to level the game at 1-1 and go through on the away goals tiebreaker. It was possibly the most dramatic finish to a European game I had seen since Man United's come-from-behind victory in the 1999 Champions League Final.

Man United reached the Final thanks to a rout of Arsenal in the Semifinal. The Red Devils are chasing their record-setting fourth trophy this season (Having already won the Carling Cup, English Premier League, and FIFA Club World Cup). Man United is also seeking to be the first team to retain the Champions League title since AC Milan pulled the feat in 1989 and 1990. If United walk out of the Stadio Olimpico with the trophy, they will be the first English team to repeat in this competition since Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980. Their lineup is a veritable gattling gun of firepower. I can't see Man U getting shut out in this final. Starting from that assumption, that means Barca is going to have to get at least 2 goals to win (or luck out on PKs).

However, if any team can pull that off, it is Barca. Their 1-1 scoreline over 180 minutes in the semifinals was the product of a number of factors Most notably the injury bug, and a Chelsea team that never dreamed of playing attacking football in the whole series, and reduced the game to a streetfight. Barca is the kind of team that would rather win a game 5-4 than 1-0. Their 104 goals scored leads the Spanish league, but their backline is more than capable as well. Their meager 34 goals surrendered also leads La Liga. However, Chelsea (despite not winning the series), gave Man United the playbook on how to neutralize Barca's attack. Foul Foul Foul.

I'm going to pick Man United to take the game. 2-1.


Vinnie 4:06 PM  

At first I thought the title said "Who's the Boss?" and get really excited, thinking that the post would be about Tony Danza. Way to disappoint me.

Anonymous,  8:21 PM  

Oh Vinnie, you showed your incredible gift with the written word by summing up the American's approach to and interest in soccer in just two sentences.
Also Mike, there are some Italians who would disagree with that "two best leagues in the world" claim.

Mike 5:57 PM  

There are some Italians who are wrong then.

No Italian team made it past the first knockout stage of this year's tournament. The EPL in contrast sent 4 teams to the quarterfinals, 3 to the Semifinals, and almost sent 2 to the Final for the second year running.

Serie A's ranking in the UEFA Coefficient pecking order (determined by the results of teams in Champions League and UEFA Cup play) is similarly placed.

The last time Serie A was ranked higher than third was 2004-05.

One of the reasons why Serie A is forming an EPL-style breakaway league is due in large part to their inability to compete with Spanish and English sides on the European stage.

Italian sides have only won two European trophies (Champions League or UEFA Cup) since 2000 (AC Milan won the Champions League in 2003 and 2007.)

In contrast, Spanish Clubs have won the two competitions 7 times. (Barcelona won the UCL in 2006 and 2009. Real Madrid won the UCL in 2000 and 2003. Sevilla won the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007. Valencia won the UEFA Cup in 2004.) English sides have won European silverware a surprisingly low three times. (Liverpool UCL in 2005; UEFA Cup in 2001, Man United UCL in 2008).

Dan 11:58 AM  

"It was possibly the most dramatic finish to a European game I had seen since Man United's come-from-behind victory in the 1999 Champions League Final."

Please tell me you were asleep during the Istanbul final in 2005.

Liverpool 3 goals down at half, equalize, get an improbable save on Shevchenko, and then win in penalties?

Call me biased, but that's hard to top.

Mike 3:25 PM  

Well aware of Istanbul, my Liverpudlian friend.

However, the key word in that sentence is "finish." Liverpool scored their three goals at about the hour mark, so while the game as a whole was arguably the most dramatic in the history of the competition, its ending on penalty kicks was no different from the 2008 Final or any other final that ended on PKs.

No slight meant.

Anonymous,  8:13 PM  

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