Saturday, 28 May 2011

4 Finals in 3 Days

It's a massive weekend of football, both domestic and European and there'll be a lot of very happy and a similar number of utterly depressed fans by the time the next 4 days have passed.

Obviously the centre piece of the weekend is the Champions League final at Wembley tonight, between Manchester United and Barcelona, and i'll get to that in a bit but there are 3 other very important games this weekend which will fail to get the recognition and attention they deserve because of UEFA's flagship competition.

Playing as i type is the League Two Play off between Torquay and Stevenage. Due to the CL final being played at Wembley, the Play Off finals for Leagues One and Two have been moved to Old Trafford. Apparently a crash on the M6 has caused a large number of Stevenage fans to be delayed in getting to the ground but even so there is a decent atmosphere in the ground despite a nervy start from both sides. Obviously promotion would be an incredible result for either of these teams but as a neutral and fan of the underdog i'm rooting for Stevenage as it would be the first time they'd played in League One, after only gaining promotion to the Football League last summer. Both sides finished the season in good form and got through the semi-finals moderately easily but finals are exciting one off games and form in the league season or even the semi-finals can often bare no relation to performances in the big game.

Tomorrow it is Peterborough and Huddersfield's turn at Old Trafford in the League One Final and that one has a lot of potential. I've seen both sides play a couple of times this year and they're both entertaining, attacking sides. Peterborough especially have been one of the best sides to watch this season from a neutral's perspective scoring for fun but also leaking goals far too frequently for the fans or their manager Darren Ferguson's liking. The two semi-finals these teams were involved in provided a total of 15 goals in the 4 games and there's no reason to believe the final will be any different. A lot of the attention of the media and several Championship managers will be on Craig Mackail-Smith, top scorer in League One with 27 goals and the prolific striker is in my opinion likely to be playing Championship football next season regardless of whether Peterborough are promoted or not.

On Monday it's the Championship's turn when Swansea take on Reading at Wembley in another game with the potential to be a great footballing spectacle. Swansea are a great side, playing high quality passing football and in Sinclair, Dyer and Borini have 3 potential match winners. For Reading a lot will depend on how well top scorer Long and key creative outlet Jobi McAnuff play and whether Jimmy Kebe plays at all. Those 3 players have been crucial all season, particularly in their charge up the table after Christmas. I'm going to be supporting Swansea on Monday both because they were easily the 3rd best side over the course of the season and because they beat Forest in the semis and i try to support the team that knocks us out of a competition, unless they're Leeds, Derby or either Sheffield team. I think Swansea may prove to be a little bit too good for Reading but as always in this kind of game a lot will simply depend on which side manages to emulate their league form in this final match.

However, sat in between all these Football League games is the Champions League Final this evening and the media attention is going into hyper drive as the hours tick down towards the 19.45 kick off. Barcelona are favourites with bookies and pundits but Manchester United should never be dismissed before big games. One of my earliest football memories is the 1999 final between United and Bayern Munich where after 89 minutes it seemed almost certain to be the German sides day as they were leading 1-0, but those two desperately late goals by Sheringham and Solskjaer sent every Manchester United fan and a fair few neutrals including myself into hysterical celebrations.

However the Barcelona side they face tonight is in my opinion a much better side than the Munich one while United's side is arguably weaker than in 99 when they had Schmeichel, Giggs, Cole, Yorke, Beckham, Scholes etc all in their prime. This United team has never quite reached the levels of previous Ferguson teams but they're still a great side and in Hernandez and Rooney they have an incredibly dangerous and hard working strike force. They're going to have to use that hard working attitude throughout because Barcelona will keep the ball from them for long periods and any lapses in attention or effort can be abruptly punished by the creative triumvirate of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Obviously a lot of attention will be on Messi and as a neutral i'm hoping he has a great game because on his day there is no better player to watch, but i suspect the match winner/man of the match will be someone else, perhaps Villa or Hernandez.

At half time the Stevenage-Torquay game is 1-0 to Stevenage after a superb strike from distance by their centre midfielder Mousinho; here's to a whole heap more goals and incidents before the weekend is over.

To finish this blog i'm going to post a song that i forgot to mention yesterday in my post about the music i was loving; i've known about these guys for a while and am still not that convinced by them over the course of a whole album, but this is a great song.

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