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Revenge? Roberto Di Matteo has restored lost pride – but Barcelona too good for Chelsea . . . and so are Real Madrid & Bayern Munich!

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Blues skipper John Terry is still launted by Barca's injury time winner in 2009

Blues skipper John Terry is still haunted by Barca's injury time winner from Andres Iniesta in 2009

BY JOHN GUBBA

Winning the Champions League has become an obsession for Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo has kept the Russian’s dream alive against all the odds by guiding Chelsea into a semi-final showdown with defending champions Barcelona. But the harsh reality is that the Blues are unlikely to feature in next season’s competition unless they go on to win the tournament – and in the final four they are the rank outsiders.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have a touch of class a cut above the men from Stamford Bridge. Barca, in the semi-finals for the fifth successive season, are bidding to become the first side to successfully defend the European Cup since AC Milan in 1990 – and if they achieve that goal it will add weight to the argument that this is the greatest club side the beautiful game has ever seen.

But the beauty of the world’s most popular sport is you can never take anything for granted. And that is what makes Chelsea’s semi-final with the favourites so fascinating. It is a scenario that suits interim manager Di Matteo because the experts all agree they are the weakest team left in the competition, despite beating Benfica in both legs of their quarter-final.

http://youtu.be/FCGRyOJB6Ms

No one expects Chelsea to go any further and that is what gives  them a fighter’s chance of pulling off a shock because they have nothing to lose. The Blues will also remember how they took Barca to the brink the last time they met at this stage in 2009 and the Catalans were rescued by a last gasp winner after surviving a remarkable number of strong penalty appeals.

I still expect Lionel Messi and his team-mates to progress to the final. But do not be surprised if  Di Matteo’s men push Barcelona all the way in their two-legged contest for the right to play Real or Bayern in the Final in Munich’s Allianz Arena on 19 May.

FLASHBACK: Arguably Chelsea’s greatest European triumph came against Barcelona in 2005 when  John Terry’s header sealed a 5-4 aggregate win and sent the Blues into the last eight of the Champions League. It was the night. Chelsea raced into a three-goal lead in 19 minutes, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff on target for Jose Mourinho’s side. Barca pulled two goals back before half-time, Ronaldinho scoring from the spot after Paolo Ferreira handled. Then Ronaldinho  scored a stunning second. But Terry’s 75th minutes strike made it a decisive 4-2 win on the night.

http://youtu.be/gr2N2A_M_Bo

 

 You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football

 

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BRILLIANT BARCELONA HAVE RAISED THE BAR AND MAGICAL MESSI IS ALREADY ARGUABLY THE GREATEST PLAYER OF ALL TIME

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Messi mesmerised United when he made it 2-1 before David Villa added the third

Messi mesmerised United when he made it 2-1 before David Villa added the third

BY JOHN GUBBA

If there was any doubt before Barcelona’s intoxicating Champions League Final triumph over Manchester United, surely there is no argument now. Barcelona boast the best football team in the world – and their talisman Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet.

Still only 23, Messi is the already arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.

Before the Argentinian adopted son of Catalonia came on the scene Pele and Maradona were the undisputed masters of The Beautiful Game. Now the pint-sized genius – around whom Barcelona have built probably the greatest football team ever assembled – is staking his claim to be the No.1

It is frightening to think just how great the magical Messi can become when you consider that footballers rarely hit their peak before they reach their 27th birthday. In a world increasingly dominated by giants it is reassuring and refreshing to see that small can be beautiful. At 5 ft 61⁄2 in Messi is dwarfed by Cristiano Ronaldo at 6ft 1. But Messi stands tall as the undisputed king of football.

20th century greats Pele and Maradona

20th century greats Pele and Maradona

Manchester United entered the record books and became English football’s most successful side by winning their 19th League title, finishing a runaway nine points clear of Chelsea and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. In the Champions League Sir Alex Ferguson’s men hadn’t even conceded a goal away from Old Trafford until Barca’s crushing 3-1 win in the Final.

But Barca were simply too good for United at Wembley – repeating their win two years earlier in the 2009 Final – and showed the rest of the world why they are simply the best. There is absolutely no disgrace, only pride for the cream of Manchester, who can rightly calm to be the second best team on the planet after reaching their third Champions League Final in four years. And yet the gulf between the top two has never been bigger. Wayne Rooney gave United short-lived hope with an outstanding strike that levelled Pedero’s equally brilliant opener. But Messi with a long-range effort and David Villa with an exquisite finish blew the English champions away in the second half with football from another planet.

United’s beaten boss Ferguson honestly summed it up when he said: “In my time as a manager it is the best team we have faced. I think everyone acknowledges that. I accept that. It’s not easy when you have been well beaten like that to think any other way.

A global TV audience of up to 400 million viewers were treated to a spectacular exhibtion of The Beautiful Game at Wembley

A global TV audience of up to 400 million viewers were treated to a spectacular exhibtion of The Beautiful Game at Wembley

“No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and they enjoy their football.

“They mesmerise you with their passing and we never really controlled Messi. When we got the lifeline of Wayne Rooney I expected us to do better in the second half but it wasn’t to be.”

Barcelona have set the bar at a new level of excellence and it will take much more than money for any club to match their brilliance because the Catalans have mastered a new way of playing the game and they have created a team, the nucleus of which has grown up together playing their own brand of carousel football.

Barca embarked on a long term plan that has taken a nearly a decade to evolve when they persuaded Messi to commit his career to their dream for fantasy football.  Andres Iniesta and Xavi are the other mini maestros who complete the most devastating trio that is the heartbeat of this majestic side. But this is a team where every player has an important role and they are all 100  per cent comfortable with playing their stylish brand of total football.

Whether or not Barcelona have hit their peak remains to be seen. This was not a heavyweight showdown that hung in the balance beyond the first half because Pep Guardiola’s men were untouchable in the final 45 minutes. All their star men hit the top of their form in a breathtaking display that was as close to perfection as you will ever see.

Maybe this was the best Barca will ever play. God help us all if they are to raise the bar any higher.  

Barcelona the undisputed champions celebrate their fourth European Cup triumph in 2011

Barcelona the undisputed champions celebrate their fourth European Cup triumph in 2011

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL: WHY BARCA AGAINST MAN UNITED IS DESTINED TO BE ULTIMATE SHOWPIECE FOR BEAUTIFUL GAME

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How will United deal with the mejestic football played by Iniesta, Messi and Xavi?

How will United deal with the mejestic football played by Iniesta, Messi and Xavi?

BY JOHN GUBBA

Forget the FIFA World Cup Final. This is the big one. The Champions League Final. The biggest game on the planet bar none. And never has a game been more eagerly anticipated. The 2011 Final at Wembley on Saturday (May 28) could be the ultimate showpiece for The Beautiful Game. It will certainly draw one of the biggest TV audiences of all time – and my prediction is that this time we will be treated to a contest to match the hype and delight the purists.

There is no doubt it is absolutely the dream final. Between the two most exciting teams in world football, whose history and fans demand entertainment as well as glory. Fortune favours the bold and with both sides committed to goals and glamour the recipe for a classic is surely guaranteed.

Two years ago Barca triumphed when Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi scored the goals in a 2-0 win against a Manchester United side weighed down by a shocking contribution by Cristiano Ronaldo – playing his final game in a red shirt before his £80 million move to Real Madrid.

Hernandez and Rooney - United's unstoppable force up front

Hernandez and Rooney - United

But this time the Catalans know they face a much tougher challenge to their status as the World’s top ranked club. United have got better and better all season making the critics – who keep telling us this is not an outstanding team – look more and more ridiculous.

At times this season United have hit extraordinary heights to match any in the epic 25 year resign of the world’s greatest football manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The twin threat of a Wayne Rooney back to his glorious best and Mexican sensation Javier Hernandez is as good as it gets. Edwin Van Der Sar will be retiring as the world’s best goalkeeper and skipper Nemanja Vidic is an absolute rock alongside the elegance of Rio Ferdinand.

Sir Alex Ferguson aiming to get his hands on the Champions League trophy for a third time

Sir Alex Ferguson aiming to get his hands on the Champions League trophy for a third time

Ryan Giggs has never played better and his reinvention as a central midfield playmaker gives United an extra creative dimension that at times this season has mirrored the famous Barca carousel orchestrated by Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the incomparable Lionel Messi.

As David Beckham said earlier this week: “If anyone can beat Barcelona at their peak Man United can.” With the width offered by any combination of Antonio Valencia, Ji Sung Park, Nani, Patrice Evra and the Da Silva twins this United team has the ammunition to hit Barca where it hurts.

Barca are certainly not underestimating the Red Devils. “This Manchester United team is much more unpredictable without Cristiano Ronaldo,” says wing-back Davi Alves “They have formed a more balanced group and they are stronger than they were two years ago.” Striker David Villa added: “Ronaldo’s departure has liberated them. Many great players come and go and that has allowed them to remain at the top for so long.” Andres Iniesta belives United have “grown as a team”.

Pep Guardiola admires the strength of Man Utd

Pep Guardiola admires the strength of Man Utd

And coach Pep Guardiola – who watched in awe as United’s second string completed a staggering 6-1 aggregate win over Schalke in the semi-final – admits: “We have been looking at the 2009 game and they were better than us in the first half.

“The level is equal, they are strong, competitive and they can play with four or five different formations and they stay competitive. They are one of the best teams in the world, and not just this year. We are proud to be playing them.”

As Steve Bruce, a European Cup Winners’ Cup winner with the Red Devils against Barcelona 20 years ago, says, Sir Alex will “want to win the trophy the Manchester United way.” And Bruce predicts the Boss has a master plan that will confirm why he is the greatest: “If anyone can get it right on the night the great man can.”

Whoever lifts the trophy The Beautiful Game will be the winner if both sides come out without inhibition and a determination to show the world just how good they really are.

1999 – THE GREATEST FINISH EVER TO A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL

http://www.visionsport.tv/          ROAD TO WEMBLEY: HERNANDEZ THE HERO – VALENCIA 0-1 MAN UTD

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2-goal hero Mark Hughes lifts the European Cup Winners' Cup after United's 2-1 win over Barcelona in 1991

2-goal hero Mark Hughes lifts the European Cup Winners

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