The men who could win, or lose, the trophy for their side
Two sides that need no introduction, Barcelona and Manchester United will clash for their second Champions League final showdown in three years. The Spanish champions won the day in 2009.
Time Out takes a look at the key men in a battle of some of the world’s best attacking players (which will almost certainly guarantee a dull game ...)
These comparisons are not based on individual battles or opposite numbers, more what each player brings to the table for their respective clubs.
This clash will be more than just Rooney and Messi. But, for argument’s sake, let’s start the run-down with Rooney and Messi ...
Wayne Rooney v Lionel Messi
Rooney has hit some of the best for of his career at just the right time. Different to his opposite number 10, Rooney is strong and powerful, but with a football mind to match Messi. His link-up play with strike partner Hernandez could be key to the outcome of the final.
A classic number 10, Messi has revelled in the ‘false 9’ position afforded him by Barca coach Pep Guardiola, scoring more than 50 goals this season. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will surely not allow Messi the space he lapped up behind Carrick and Anderson in 2009.
Javier Hernandez v David Villa
When Sir Alex described the signing of Hernandez as ‘a good bit of work’, he was offering one of the understatements of his life. United snapped up the 22-year-old Mexican goalpoacher for £7million last summer. Twenty goals later and some are calling ‘Chicharito’ the signing of the century.
From one of the world’s most lethal strikers, Villa has accepted a subservient role for the La Liga champions. Nonetheless, Villa will stay lively and goals will come. Likely to start from wide-right in a fluid, switching Barcelona front three.
Antonio Valencia v Pedro
An old-fashioned outside-right when Paul Jewell signed him for Wigan in 2006, the lightening-quick Ecuadorian has worked tremendously hard on his possession play and defensive discipline. Could make the final ahead of fellow winger Nani due to a greater reliability and superior crossing ability.
Pedro has proved a versatile attacker since his surprise emergence in late 2009. The ambidextrous speedster can comfortably play on and from either flank. Appears to have finally bought into Guardiola’s pressing style and should be rewarded with the nod for European football’s biggest game.
Ryan Giggs v Xavi
After 20 years at the very top of club football, Giggs could personally keep Mr Sheen in business with a vast trophy collection, both for his club and individually. The Welsh winger’s game has inevitably changed since he burst on the scene as a precocious teen. Now fills a more central role which suits his experience and passing ability.
No player better embodies the ideology of Barcelona’s model of play, Xavi is the physical form of his manager, himself a deep-lying playmaker in his playing days for the club. He may lend the ball to his teammates on occasion, but it will usually return. Possession is his to dictate.
Ji-Sung Park v Andres Iniesta
Hard work, energy and an ability to read the game have made the South Korean a Sir Alex big-game favourite for six seasons. Will likely start wide-left, but will be asked to come inside to disrupt the fluency of Barcelona’s ‘tiki-taka’ midfield passing style.
Xavi’s more mobile equivalent, he thrives on a remarkable spatial awareness and strength on the ball, picking his moments to dribble into opposition territory to sometimes devastating effect. One worry may be his vulnerability to pick up muscular strains as the season comes to a head.
Nemanja Vidic v Carles Puyol
Vidic is to Ferdinand what Puyol is to Pique. The team’s captain and the League’s player of the year has had one of his strongest seasons as a United player. Combative and supreme in the air, Vidic’s strengths lie in administering ruthless efficiency as he carries out the archetypal number 4.
Puyol is the only true destructor in one of the most creative side’s in the history of world football. ‘The Rock’ has enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts in the twilight of his career, offering great leadership to the Catalan side. Has a reckless side which can put his teammates in trouble.
Michael Carrick v Sergio Busquets
Remarkably, Michael Carrick holds the greatest win proportion (66%) of any player who has played more than 50 games in Europe. His positioning and distribution is similar to Busquets, though Carrick has superior ability with long-range passing.
Busquets is a most unusual holding midfielder. Technically immaculate yet lacking vision, in any other team he would likely play either in a slightly more advanced position or else be partnered by a more destructive player. Won’t shy away from a midfield battle.
Rio Ferdinand v Gerard Pique
Will be remembered as defender in the mould of Maldini, Cannavaro and Baresi. Calm and composed, he has a peerless ability to be able to read the game and repel danger with ease. Rio has committed just five fouls this season. Powerful in the air and excellent in the pass.
Ex-Manchester United centre-back Pique is one in the mould of his former mentor, Ferdinand. Much like his former mentor, Ferdinand, the Spaniard prefers to intercept the ball rather than be forced into the tackle. Physically strong, at times this season his concentration has been shaky, but is a threat from set-pieces.
Patrice Evra v Daniel Alves
Oft accused of inconsistency, Evra is without a doubt one of the best left-backs of his generation on his day. His duel with Alves could be an influential one, Evra’s opportunism in the final third could open up crucial space for his United teammates.
Only Messi created more goals for teammates this season, Alves’s swashbuckling style from right-back suits Barca’s style perfectly. Claims to have developed his formidable stamina levels as a result of having to run 11km to school every day as a boy in Brazil.
Fabio v Javier Mascherano
Usually a left-back, the young Brazilian’s excellent form towards the end of the season and ability to play with both feet could see him usurp his twin brother Rafael’s spot on the opposite side of defence. Patience and professional, he is strong in the tackle and will be asked to help marshal Messi.
Nobody outside Cataluña would have expected to see Mascherano take a place at the centre of Barcelona’s defence for the Euro final, but Guardiola trusted him in the role in the semi-final against Real Madrid and he let no one down. His ability to break down attacks is second-to-none.
Edwin van der Sar v Victor Valdes
One of the game’s finest-ever custodians, the 40-year-old has enjoyed some of the best form of his life in his final season. Will be desperate to go out on top by collecting a third Champions League-winners medal, which would be a fitting tribute.
Not commanding in the air, Valdes is a ‘sweeper-keeper’ and shot-stopper. The 29-year old has grown from an erratic exhibitionist to an authoritative member of the defence. Distributes the ball as well as any goalkeeper in the world.