Plenty has changed since the 2011 Champions League Final clash between Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Both created sensational ripples in their fan bases with purchases of high quality players and promotions of true-blooded academy cadets. Both took part in a friendly in August 2011, with Ferguson’s men narrowly grabbing the win in a hot and sticky American summer afternoon. Both teams put up valiant fights throughout the last two seasons, attaining a significant amount of glory and silverware. Both teams stumbled off their continental perches to see their league crowns narrowly swiped from under their noses by cunning adversaries. But many will agree that these are still the two best teams in club football today.
With Manchester City no longer in the rearview mirror, Sir Alex has traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden with likely many questions to ask of his players, particularly new signing and attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese international showed promise in recent matches, especially against Shanghai Shenhua, and will likely be thrown in the mix.
Ferguson is without Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling who are in different stages of recovery, as well as missing his two Brazilian defenders Fabio and Rafael, who are away on loan and international duty, respectively.
With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic back in the heart of the Red Devil defense, through balls and slaloming runs from the Illusionista and la Pulga could be slightly less of a headache for the English side, however.
Despite the fact this is a preseason friendly, Fergie still has something to prove, and that revolves partially around what Barcelona is made of.
Arguably boasting the best youth academy in history – one could make a strong case for United’s – Barcelona is more likely to feature a core of youngsters than United, who has a longer road to match fitness given their recent return from holiday.
Both teams have had issues at opposite ends of the field this preseason. While it comes as no surprise to any Barça aficionado that the attack always outweighs the defense, Manchester United’s attack has looked surprisingly flaccid scoring only three goals in four matches.
This could prove interesting for Barcelona’s backline, particularly for the center backs and Sergio Busquets, who will have much to relay to head coach Tito Vilanova ahead of the grueling season.
Other highlights of the trip appear to be David Villa, as well as the rest of the recently Euro Champion contingent, traveling with the team. Despite not having a medical green light, the 30-year-old’s presence is a hopeful sign for the team.
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Nani, Young, Kagawa; Rooney
Barcelona: Valdés; Alves, Puyol, Bartra, Alba; Busquets, Fàbregas, Rafinha; Afellay, Messi, Sanchez
Prediction: After a solid 45 minutes from Messi (a brace maybe?), I expect Barcelona will eventually concede something. 2-1 Barcelona.