Date: 27th May 2009 at 6:04pm
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Alan Hansen, pundit for the New Football Pools gives his views on tonight’s Champions League Final.

‘Tonight’s Champions League final should be a great occasion with two great attacking sides on show. However, don’t expect Manchester United to go out and attack Barcelona gung ho as they will be more than aware of the talent of the Catalans in terms of attacking open spaces.

Barcelona play a wonderful brand of attacking football with sensational players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all pleasing on the eye. Despite this, I’d back United to win the trophy for the simple reason that defensively they are far the better side. If you look at Barca’s performances in the semi against Chelsea, the Londoners did unbelievably well to contain them. In fact, with a better referee and better finishing Chelsea could quite easily have scored 4 goals. Guus Hiddink’s side really should be in the final as up until the 92nd minute Barcelona didn’t look like they’d score in a million years.

Without a shadow of a doubt United will play tactics almost identical to the ones they used to beat Arsenal at the Emirates in their semi-final. For that reason I’m sure Darren Fletcher would have started the match tonight if he wasn’t suspended. Fletcher is a box-to-box midfielder who can close down the opposition quickly and get up and down the park so ideal for this match. The counter-attacking game perfectly suits the players Sir Alex has at his disposal as they can defend but also possess lightning quick players in attack.

Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s main man and is likely to line-up on the right-hand side so will be up against Patrice Evra. I’d also expect Ji-Sung Park to be brought in on the left-hand side of midfield so United can double up on the little Argentinian. They will look to frustrate him as much as they can and deal with him in a similar manner to that which both Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole did in their matches against Messi. If you allow the Argentine time and space, then he’ll hurt you but if you defend properly it will be hard to see the real Messi in action. The Barca star hasn’t had the best of times against English opposition for the simple reason that these clubs defend properly, hold their shape and double up limiting the winger’s space.

This match will see arguably the best two players in the world up against each other in the shape of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a tough call to separate them in terms of just who is best. There`s no doubt Messi is technically a better player and possesses more ability than Ronaldo but the United star has many attributes the Barcelona man doesn’t. Ronaldo is great in the air while Messi barely heads the ball and the Portuguese winger also has incredible pace and free-kicks in his arsenal. There’s not a lot in it to be honest but one thing’s for certain, I wouldn’t enjoy playing against either.

The key to this game may rest on Barcelona’s ability to open up the United defence. Xavi and Iniesta may be wonderful creative players but time and time again we’ve seen that if the opposition keeps two banks of four in place, it’s extremely difficult to break them down. The problem with keeping a rigid defensive system in place is that you may struggle to keep possession of the ball but I don’t see this affecting United. After all, they have plenty of box-to-box players and can break with the ball with pace to devastating effect.

Barcelona have some defensive problems themselves with full-backs Dani Alves and Eric Abidal both missing through suspension. They will miss Alves in an attacking capacity but I`m not so sure about Abidal. Every time I see the French defender he looks as though he has a mistake in him so a different defender in his position may well improve Barca’s chances.

Another interesting factor of this game will be the inexperienced Josep Guardiola up against a man who has seen it and done it all in the shape of Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Alex still possesses a great hunger to win and knows full well what it takes to win this trophy having done it twice already.

Guardiola has had a great first season winning the domestic double and reaching the Champions League final although he did inherit a squad packed with quality players. He has got those players that underachieved last season playing again but it`s easier to get top stars returning to form rather than building a new team with an average set of players. In some ways, Guardiola has done a similar job to Guus Hiddink at Chelsea who arrived at Stamford Bridge and revitalised a very good squad of players and in return restored confidence.

The players will enjoy playing at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico tonight as it’s a great venue to play in. I was lucky enough to have played in a European Cup final there myself and it counts as one of my best footballing memories.

Manchester United have the chance to win back-to-back Champions League trophies tonight which would be a tremendous achievement, even for a man who has done it all like Sir Alex. I played in four finals, winning three times and I can tell you that the 5 minutes after winning the cup is one of the best feelings in your life. I fully expect Manchester United players to be feeling that way tonight. Enjoy the game.’

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