May 28, 2011
This is it. Manchester United play Barcelona at Wembley Stadium in London in what has become the most watched annual sporting event in the world. It's a rematch of the 2009 UEFA Champions League final (which Barcelona won 2-0) and both sides are looking to claim the cup for the fourth time. Are you excited? Because Dimitar Berbatov certainly is. Ha-HA!
You can find serious business previews and primers for this match pretty much everywhere else online and in print. So here we'll just do it the Dirty Tackle way.
How They Got Here
Barcelona: Playing fierce rivals Real Madrid a dizzying five times across three competitions this season (including four times in 18 days last month), Barcelona won their third straight Spanish league title this season. Making through that gauntlet against Real was more demanding than a Champions League final in many ways. But according to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, they were only able to do so thanks to a conspiracy that involved both UEFA and club sponsor/internationally respected charity organization UNICEF. Although, this could just be what the Make a Wish Foundation wanted him to think.
Manchester United: While besting a relatively weak Premier League field on their way to an English record 19th top flight league title, they made it past Marseille, Chelsea and over-matched Schalke in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. They won their semifinal over the German side by an aggregate score of 6-1. Which is kind of like preparing for a final exam by reading a Dr. Seuss book.
Manchester United: Took a team trip to see "Jersey Boys" in the West End.
Barcelona: Messed around with pictures of Cesc Fabregas at their temporary training ground.
Pep Guardiola (manager): The Golden Pep has already developed a supernatural reputation in his mere three years in charge of the club he was with for most of his playing career. In those three years, he's won an astonishing nine trophies and worn a wide array of vests. He walks on water whenever he doesn't feel like swimming.
Lionel Messi (goal machine): Though Cristiano Ronaldo scored nine more La Liga goals this season, Messi's 31 goals in 33 league matches and 11 goals in 10 Champions League matches were often dazzling and matched his childlike joy for game. Which is symbolized by his completely made up love for playing with Lego toys in his down time.
Andres Iniesta and Xavi (midfield masters): You may remember Iniesta from such moments as "Scoring the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final" and "staring in a fictitious film called Vampire Babies: Transylvanian Knee Suckers." You may not remember Xavi, though, because he rarely gets the accolades he deserves.
Sir Alex Ferguson (manager): Legendary manager who has already accomplished great things with a team that isn't the best he's ever had. He's famous for giving his players the "hairdryer treatment" -- which involves yelling so close to someone's face that their hair melts out of their head -- when he's angry and maintaining a telekinetic power over match officials that causes them to add a ridiculous amount of injury time to the end of matches in which his team is losing. Oh, and if you mention scandalous midfielder Ryan Giggs around him, he will try to ban you from events that he doesn't have the power to ban you from.
Edwin van der Sar (goalkeeper): He's been a key to their success for years, but this season especially. It's his final match before retirement and it's already been announced that if Man United win, he will be the one who lifts the trophy -- an honor that usually goes to the team captain. Not that he needs any extra incentive to play like the best in the world.
Nemanja Vidic (terminator): Team captain. Relentless defender. Deadly cyborg.
Wayne Rooney (angry goal scorer): Recovered from abysmal form at the World Cup and during the first part of this season to finish strong. In October he received death threats from Man United fans when he demanded a move away from the club because he thought they couldn't match his ambitions for success. He changed his mind when they offered him a fat new five-year contract. Now it's like nothing ever happened.
Chicharito (happy goal scorer): Surprised many by scoring 20 goals (and using just about every part of his body to do so) in his first season with the club. He is obsessed with "sweating this shirt to death" and says he will "never stop running." In Mexico he is known as The Baby Killer. Fear him.
And, just to cover all the bases, let's say every other player on both teams is key, too. If someone not listed here by name scores or does something important, we'll pretend we talked about him at length. Deal? Deal.
How They Win
Manchester United: Battle for 90 minutes, scoring goals through sheer determination. Then getting a winner when the referee mysteriously adds 15 minutes of injury time (also known as "Fergie Time").
Barcelona: Pass the ball several thousand times, maintaining possession until the opposition collectively slip into a coma, at which point Messi scores several wonder goals and giggles.
Commentator Talking Points
Some words, phrases and points you're likely to hear from the match commentators...
-Compulsively calling Messi "Little" as if it's part of his name.
-Describing Barcelona's style as "the way football should be played" and every other team's as "anti-football." Because tailoring your style of play to your team's strengths/limitations is basically evil.
-Referring Barcelona's midfielders as "geniuses." I'm pretty sure none of them have cured any diseases, though. But Xavi might be close to one for the common cold.
-This Man United team "isn't the greatest, but it's Ferguson's greatest accomplishment." It's like a compliment and put down all in one!
-Quips about how Alex Ferguson likes to drink wine with opposing managers after matches. Not because he's a raging alcoholic, but because he's a cultured gentleman, you see.
-Constant reminders that this is van der Sar's last match. And how it would be a fairytale ending for him if his side won. And we all want fairytales to be real, don't we?
-Lots of other stuff that you will try your best to ignore.
What To Do After The Match
If you support the team that wins: Celebrate until you forget your name and your neighbors try to have you deported.
If you support the team that loses: Pretend you didn't really care in the first place. That it's just one game and you were planning on crying and listening to The Smiths all night anyway.
If you're a neutral: Pretend you support the team that wins.
Enjoy the game, everybody.
Photos: Getty, AP