Barca must overcome injuries and suspensions
Lucy Turner speaks to former Barcelona and Chelsea defender Albert Ferrer, a European Cup winner with Barcelona in 1992, and Terry Venables - who managed Barcelona in the 1986 European Cup final - ahead of Wednesday night's Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in Rome.
Would you say this final is between the two best European clubs? Is it the best final we could expect?
Albert Ferrer: Yes, I think so. They are the teams in the best form, the two champions of their own domestic leagues and that means they are well above the rest of their rivals at the moment. I think it's the final all supporters wished for.
Terry Venables: We have got two of the best teams and they obviously seem to beat everybody that's around and now it's a question of who can beat the other best team. They've both had excellent seasons and it's almost like the proverbial dream come true for most people, not the case for Chelsea or Real Madrid supporters, I'm sure, but everybody else will be really gasping at the prospect of this game. Let's hope it lives up to that and I'm pretty sure it will. With such masters playing, with all the individuals involved, with Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo and on the other side you have Iniesta, Messi, Henry, and Xavi.
You know both sides quite well. What kind of match do you think is in store?
AF: From what I see, this final, from Barcelona's point of view, will be like any other game because this team knows its style and that style is to have ball possession and attack. Barça won't ever change its philosophy. They will try to have ball possession and create chances to score, that's what I think Barcelona will do. As for Manchester United, I have my doubts. They're a very strong side with a strong attack, with various attacking styles, but I think they will probably be more defensive against Barça, either wait at the back or attack from the start. But I think they will wait to see what happens, wait at the back so Barcelona doesn't create too many chances and after that, they will start attacking.
TV: They both keep the ball but I don't think they'll be sending the ball forward and then all piling in. They both think their games out and there's enough artistry and a good enough set of players to make things work as a spectacle. I'm pretty sure that they'll both want to make a big fuss of the ball and not want to give it away because the team that doesn't have it is going to have to run to get it back. They are both very precious and tight-fisted when it comes to sharing the ball around.
Do you think, for the good of football, it's a more attractive final when the contenders belong to different leagues?
AF: From the spectators' point of view, it is the most attractive final. Other than a display of two very different styles from two different leagues. Barcelona is above lots of other teams at the moment, but it's true that, in recent years, English teams have prevailed and that says a lot. It's true that in Spain there's a lot more expectation if Barça's in it, even countries like France or Germany could be more interested in watching it because Barça is always enjoyable to watch. I think it's interesting to have two teams from different leagues.
TV: From a Premier League point of view, there is a little bit more mystery about it. I mean there are so many competitions in England and the Liverpools, Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas and Arsenals play so many times. So, yes, if you're not biased in any way and you're neutral you would wonder what it would be like to have Manchester United play Barcelona. I think it would be a thrill, we've got the thrill hopefully and we hope it's going to be a classic.
Looking at the coaches, we have one of the most experienced ones with Alex Ferguson and one with less experience, Josep Guardiola. What do you think are the strong points of one and the other?
AF: Alex Ferguson's strong point is, without a doubt, his experience. He has been at lots of finals, he knows how to handle and manage the team in high-pressure situations and, therefore, he's used to that. In that respect, Manchester United as a club knows it has a coach that won't get nervous because experience has taught him well throughout the years. Barça's case is different. Pep's inexperience is counteracted with his awareness, his wisdom and knowledge of football. He's done away with the cliché of big clubs needing an experienced coach. He's proved that you don't need that. It's true Pep has a lot less experience than Ferguson, but he has lots of other virtues: the virtue of youth, ambition and mental preparation. He's facing a new situation and that's transmitted to the rest of the team a lot more than for a team coached by a manager who's been there for years. Pep has to play his cards and I'm sure he'll know how.
TV: Well, I think it's fair to say that I do remember Guardiola when I was at Barcelona and he was a young lad. He was an exceptional talent then and he's had a great career as a player and he was always a student of the game so I'm glad he's come through at Barcelona. He always seemed to be that way. He loved the game, wanted to be the best and the whole history of Barcelona itself is what makes these people want to be the best. The inexperience Guardiola has is quite frightening because he's certainly done a fantastic job in a short time and I can see why Barcelona's directors obviously have great faith in him after he put them straight into this position after Rijkaard left.
Back at the start of the season, no one thought Guardiola would reach the end of the season as La Liga and Copa del Rey winner and in the final of the Champions League. What do you think is the key to Barça's form?
AF: There are several key points, but the most important thing is that Pep knows the club like the back of his hand; he knows how everything works, he knows that you go from being the best to the worst in a week, he knows how the press works and he knows the players. He's also known how to rebuild the squad. He's done away with the players that weren't motivated enough to grow or win titles and he's brought players in that do have that motivation. He's transformed the squad until he was left with a team that's eager to win titles and that's very important. He's also contributed in football terms. The philosophy is the same one but he's modernised the team and made it more aggressive, more enthusiastic, a versatile team let's say, that fights under any kind of circumstances.
TV: It's basically because of the amount of great players they have and the confidence they now have to keep the ball and move it around quickly, sharing it around. They're good at doing one or two touches, move it quickly before the tackles come in. They're very tight-fisted, as I said, because they don't like losing the ball to the opposition, that's why they're so difficult to beat because they always have the ball. They are good passers but they also have individuals that will do something magical in any moment, especially in and around the area.
Manchester United started off as the reigning champions and could become the first team to win the Champions League back-to-back, something no team has accomplished in the European Cup since 1990.
AF: That's what makes us respect Manchester United so much and not just for making it into this final, but because recently they always manage to reach the last stages of the Champions League. What United are achieving with the same coach during so many years is unusual. The motivational level of a team under the same coach can drop and sometimes and you need a new face in charge. You have to applaud Alex Ferguson. Manchester is very powerful. If at the start of the season they didn't start off very well, their reputation is such that people forgive their bad runs because of the greatness of the club. People believe so much in the team, that despite the bad start to the season, they believed they would reach the final. That's what United have done. They have a lot of self-confidence and the club lets them work.
TV: I do feel Manchester United are very strong. They are masters. It's going to be a fascinating game, a mouth-watering proposition that none of us can wait for.
Both sides have players suspended for Rome, but Barcelona will face the final with serious problems in defence without Abidal, Márquez and Alves. Do you think that is a serious handicap?
AF: Yes, it's an important handicap. Barça will dominate the match and will have most of the possession. If we compare Manchester to Chelsea, Chelsea is a very solid team, hard-working, but I fear Manchester more than I do Chelsea. They have players that can score goals and create dangerous situations, so for Barça with a weak back four, having to invent a new defence, that's dangerous. Manchester has one of the best midfield and attacking lines and will face players who are performing very well but need more games playing in their new positions and lack technique. So yes, it's a very weak point.
TV: Yes, it is a blow. I suppose they will play Puyol and Piqué and they have to find someone for left-back. We will have to wait and see, but whoever plays I think it's going to be a really good game.
Henry and Iniesta are doubtful for the final too. Do you think Barcelona's form drops without these two players?
AF: Yes, it changes a lot, especially without Andrés [Iniesta] because that player is capable of turning the match around, capable of creating something when no one else can. I think Andrés is very important. Can Barcelona win without him? Yes, but they will win a lot more with him in the team. Then Thierry [Henry] is a former Premier League player and faced Manchester while at Arsenal and that adds a degree of motivation. I think to have both of them back is important. As there are so many other absentees which are creative, these two key players have to be in the team from the start.
TV: Yes, it will drop a lot without those two players. United's would drop a lot if it was Rooney and Ronaldo who couldn't play so, in this situation, United are the favourites for the title. I would love to see Barcelona do well especially because of the time that I was there. But going into the game, I think United might just have the edge over it taking into account the absentees on Barça's side. Iniesta has been the best this season. He's been excellent, superb, and when Henry's been out injured he's been able to do that job as well as Henry does it, I think. He would be a miss, there's no doubt about it. But Barça has got plenty of good players.
Despite Barcelona not having their best back four available, which defence do you consider stronger? Ferdinand and Vidic are strong defenders, and in addition to that, Vidic can also score goals.
AF: Yes, Manchester is very solid. The two central defenders have played together for a long time, also with Evra, so there's a lot of understanding between them. It's a solid defence, with a lot of self-confidence and it's true it's one of United's strong points, especially the defence and the attack. The midfield is more about containment and a bit plain, especially in the centre of the midfield.
In midfield, Xavi and Iniesta versus Carrick and Scholes.
AF: Yes, I'm sure those two will play for United. There's a very clear reading here and that's that, looking at what Chelsea did, they made life very complicated for Barça blocking Xavi and Iniesta. It's not about what Carrick and Scholes might do but the root of it are the Barca players that provide the crosses and passes. That's where United has the key to the match. If they're capable of stopping Xavi and Iniesta, who are the ones sending the balls to the front, they have won something there. I think it'll be slightly uneven: constructors against destructors. Scholes and Carrick won't take part of the attack and will just focus on Xavi and Iniesta, if he plays.
TV: They are just different sorts of players. Barcelona with a fit team would have the edge but with the possible injuries I don't know who will finally play. They will miss Iniesta and Manchester United have a fantastically strong squad. Barcelona also has a great team but the injuries will hurt Barcelona if they're not able to play the team they would like but that's football for you.
Messi, Henry and Eto'o or Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov/Tévez - which is the best attack and why?
AF: Manchester plays a 4-2-3-1 in a way, so I would also include Park, who I think is a very important player. Then the doubt will probably be between Berbatov and Tévez, but any of those four are dangerous. United's advantage is that, apart from those four defenders and three defending midfielders, who are all quite static, the rest play freely and that's what makes them dangerous. They move from left to right and move up and down, so it's difficult to guard those four players because they move around so much. They have very different profiles but in the same way Ronaldo is a star and can score a goal at any given moment, you can't forget about Park, a hard-working player who helps the attack a lot. They're all very strong. With those four players, it's enough to be worried because they can hurt you at all times.
TV: They're all world class. It's what's going to happen on the night. The best players must perform on these nights and when that doesn't happen, then that's the team that often loses. If you've got really special players that can turn the game around for you, they must play and they must play well. If they end up disappointing, it all goes flat and they can't produce what we expect from them. You can't get better in the world than Messi, Eto'o with his pace, you've also got Henry, but it's very difficult to say when we don't know if he'll be fit.
What will be Manchester United's strong points?
AF: Those four defenders and three midfielders will hold the match back and any ball they get, they will quickly pass to the front, like that goal against Arsenal in the semi-finals. So I wouldn't just highlight their counter-attack because it's a very fast team with Park, Rooney and Ronaldo and you have to watch out for that, but then they can also create problems with a static attack. They can create problems with a variety of options during the match and the counter-attack in just one of them.
TV: The counter-attack, the pace and the breaks, that's what Barça has got to look out for. But if they keep the ball and move forward, it means that when it breaks down, when they lose the ball and they try to win it back, that's when Manchester United's got to be careful.
AF: Barça's strong point is just one which is enough: to have control over the match. Having that control, learning from the Chelsea match and being patient. I wouldn't be surprised if the final was like the Chelsea-Manchester match last season, with a tight team waiting and Barcelona having to seek the ball out, play opening spaces and forced into being very patient. That's the key point. The English know that sooner or later they will score a goal and a goal in a final is quite decisive, so they have to have the ball possession, which won't be a problem for them, and then wait for their moment.
TV: The way that they can keep the ball, pass it quickly which will make United work really hard to get the ball back. They know each other particularly well, so I think they'll stick to keeping the ball, make a pass, moving it around, circling it around because Man United will be quick into the tackle. Ronaldo and Rooney are the fast breakers and Berbatov will be clicking it all together.
Who do you think will win?
AF: I don't know. Any result which gives Barcelona the victory will suit me.
TV: I think Man United seem to have the edge when it comes to injuries and replacements.