On Saturday 28th May 2011, at Wembley Stadium in London, Manchester United will face FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final. The match kicks off at 20.45 CET (19.45 local time) and will see Europe’s top clubs go head-to-head for the ultimate club title in football.
A Hungarian refereeing team will officiate the match. Viktor Kassai is the referee, assisted by Gabor Eros and György Ring. The 4th official will be Istvan Vad and the two additional assistant referees are Mihaly Fabian and Tamas Bognar. Robert Kispal is the reserve assistant referee.
Barcelona beat Manchester United in a previous Champions League final in 2009 in Rome where they triumphed 2-0 thanks to goals from Messi and Eto’o. Barcelona also reached the 2010 final against Inter Milan. Another meeting of this year’s finalists in the 2008 UEFA Champions League semi-final saw Manchester United win 1-0 on aggregate.
Both teams are seeking a fourth European Cup, which would take them level with AFC Ajax and FC Bayern München. Liverpool FC have five European Cups, AC Milan have seven and Real Madrid have nine.
If successful, Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s manager, would join Liverpool’s Bob Paisley (1977, 1978, 1981) as the manager with most European Cup victories. He would also earn the dubious title of being the second eldest-ever cup-winning coach – The United boss will be 69 years and 148 days old on the days of the final – second only to Belgian Raymond Goethals, who was 71 years and 232 days when his Olympique de Marseille team triumphed in 1993.
United have plenty of experience on their side, having played nine times at the new Wembley stadium already. However, the side will have to compete with Lionel Messi, who is the competition’s top scorer. He has scored eleven goals – seven more than United’s best, Javier Hernández. He has also had 36 shots on target – more than any other player.
As for the team sheet, Barcelona defender Carles Puyol is fit but has been plagued by the knee and hamstring problems since January and last played on 3 May. Bojan Krkić was expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering knee ligament damage on 9 April but returned on 15 May.
Maxwell and Adriano are back in action, as is Éric Abidal, who had a liver tumour removed on 17th March before returning for the semi-final second leg against Real Madrid.
Martín Montoya’s first start for Barcelona against Real Sociedad on 30th April lasted 14 minutes as he broke his collarbone and dislocated a shoulder. Gabriel Milito tore a thigh muscle in the same game but is back in training.
John O’Shea has been out since 8 May with a leg problem. Darren Fletcher played 90 minutes for the first time since 1st March against Blackpool. The midfielder has been suffering from a virus and has otherwise been restricted to two substitute appearances. Anders Lindegaard has been out of first-team action since early March with a knee problem.
United goalkeeper Van der Saar will retire after the Champions League final at the age of 40, marking a distinguished career in the nets.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Nemanja Vidić were named Premier League manager and player of the season respectively. Sir Alex will also be made a Doctor of the University of Stirling on 29 June in recognition of his outstanding contribution to sport.
United have confirmed Owen Hargreaves, who made only 39 appearances in four years at the club and who is not in the UEFA Champions League squad, will leave Old Trafford when his contract expires this summer.
Fans of both clubs are eagerly anticipating the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final, which pits Manchester United, the newly crowned English Premier League Champions, against a Barcelona outfit many describe as “the best club side in the world.”