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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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MANCHESTER IS THE NEW MILAN: A CITY UNITED AS THE CENTRE OF THE FOOTBALLING UNIVERSE. CAN LIVERPOOL STRIKE BACK?

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A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day - but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City's FA Cup win

A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day – but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City’s FA Cup win

BY JOHN GUBBA

Welcome to the dawning of a new era with the City of Manchester now well and truly the centre of the footballing universe. And mark my words this is great news for United because there is nothing like a new challenge to keep you on your toes.

In case you needed a reminder the United are still the top dog, it was sweet irony that once again United eclipsed City on the day Roberto Mancini’s men claimed their first trophy in 35 years.

As City beat Stoke 1-0 at Wembley to win the FA Cup thanks to Yaya Toure’s late strike, United fans were already back in Manchester celebrating another Premier League triumph and a record-breaking 19th League title courtesy of their 1-1 draw at Blackburn secured by Wayne Rooney’s penalty.

Does anyone doubt Rooney's dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds' 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number '19' into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

Does anyone doubt Rooney’s dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds’ 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number ’19’ into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

But this was a day for Manchester to be United in celebration. Not just because the City can proudly boast the unique feat of winning two trophies on the same day. It is great for Manchester to be the undisputed Mecca of fooball. Even Milan can no longer match the glamour of England’s hotbed of football. And the odds are that the new intensity is here to stay.

I remember the end of the 60s when United and City last dominated football in this country. It was great for both clubs. And this time that great rivalry can last much longer than it did back in the days of Best, Law, Charlton and Lee, Bell, Summerbee.

With Liverpool getting their act together under the legendary Kenny Dalglish, what are the odds on the North-West giants occupying the top three positions in the Premier League next season and eclipsing the fading stars of Chelsea and Arsenal.

My bet is that Sir Alex Ferguson’s record-breakers will face a rejuvenated challenge from Liverpool next season as the Merseysiders seek to match United’s 19th League title. When Chelsea frivolously handed the Pool £50million for Fernando Torres Dalglish invested the money wisely and now has a good mix of established stars and exciting upcoming youngsters.

But the real fascination will be how much ground can neighbours City make up on Fergie’s champions after ending their 35 year wait for a trophy to add to their qualification for the Champions League.

There is no doubt City must spend another vast fortune if they want to rival the Reds at the top table. But that will be harder said than done despite their untold riches and their Champions League status.

The reason is the introduction of UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules.

Michel Platini has warned that the likes of big-spending Manchester City and Chelsea, and some of Europe’s biggest clubs, will have to ‘face the music’ if they do not comply with the new FFP regulations.

UEFA’s latest figures show that financial problems affecting European clubs are getting worse, with spending on player wages up almost 10 per cent – and increasing at a faster rate than income.

Under their new rules, clubs will face possible bans from European competition from the 2014/15 season if they spend more than they earn in the three years before.

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title - both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title – both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

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Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

NOT ONLY HAS FERGIE "KNOCKED LIVERPOOL OFF THEIR BLOODY PERCH" – HE’S THE GREATEST FOOTBALL MANAGER EVER

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All salute Sir Alex Ferguson - the greatest football manager of all time

All salute Sir Alex Ferguson – the greatest football manager of all time

BY JOHN GUBBA

OK it’s never over until the Fat Lady sings and Manchester United still need one more point to confirm that record-breaking 19th title that will finally achieve Sir Alex Ferguson’s mission of “knocking Liverpool off their bloody perch.”

But the party has already started – and no one will stop The Red Devils now after a pulsating 2-1 win against Chelsea that will deservedly bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.

The really big question now  is can United crown arguably Fergie’s greatest ever season by beating Barcelona at Wembley to win the Champions League? With Ryan Giggs playing the best football of his career, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez an unstoppable force, and the brilliant Edwin Van Der Saar playing behind  the best back four in Europe, United have the ammunition to end the season with the ultimate victory.

And that will make a mockery of the critics who keep telling us this is not a great United team. While other clubs have squandered millions, United’s miracle worker has quietly re-built yet another team capable of winning everything. And it’s the unerring longevity of the Glaswegian that makes him so special.

When Ferguson famously arrived at Old Trafford 25 years ago and said his aim was to emulate Liverpool as the most prolific club in England, this is what he was talking about. Remarkably, when United complete the Premier League formalities, this will be Fergie’s 12th title. United’s previous seven titles came between 1908 and 1967.

Not only has the greatest football manager of all time achieved yet another impossible dream. But once again he has made fools of the Southern-biased media who can’t wait to see him fail.

Seven months ago Chelsea looked odds-on to retain the Premier League title and the prophets of gloom were writing off Manchester United and their manager as a spent force. But then came Fergie’s masterful handing of the Wayne Rooney saga that – as I predicted at the time – re-ignited United’s latest trophy haul.

At a time when the stakes have never been higher and other football clubs have much bigger budgets than the Red half of Manchester, United have proved why they are the greatest football club on the planet. If United can add victory over Barca on May 28 no one will be able to deny that Fergie is simply the best.

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