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Man United Aims For Biggest Surprise Against Barcelona

London, May 27: For once, it would be a surprise if Manchester United wins this weekend.Barcelona has already clinched a third straight Spanish title and such is the fashion in which Lionel Messi and his
PTI May 27, 2011 20:12 IST

London, May 27: For once, it would be a surprise if Manchester United wins this weekend.

Barcelona has already clinched a third straight Spanish title and such is the fashion in which Lionel Messi and his teammates routinely frustrate and dismantle opponents that few expect to see United victorious when the teams meet in Saturday's Champions League final.

A Barcelona win is so widely anticipated that British bookmakers rate a side that has just won a record 19th English title the biggest Champions League final outsider for more than a decade.

But odds of 3-1 against United winning are more a reflection of the amount of money wagered on 21-20 shot Barcelona than any shortcomings in a side that advanced to the final without conceding an away goal and is drawing close to two decades of dominance in England.

"It doesn't bother us who is favorite and who is not," United midfielder Michael Carrick said. "It is about performing in a one-off game. We respect them for what they are, the way they play the game and the strengths they have. We are well aware of how they play but at the same time it is about us as well.

"We have gained a lot of experience over recent years and hopefully it will all come together on Saturday night."

With a third Champions League final appearance in four seasons headed United's way, part of that experience came against Barcelona in the final two years ago.

Defending champion United dominated the opening 10 minutes in Rome before Samuel Eto'o put Barcelona ahead. Barcelona then eased through the rest of the match against a rattled opponent before Messi's 70th-minute header put the result beyond all doubt.

"I've got a bigger buzz about this one than I did the first one," Carrick said. "A Champions League final at Wembley against Barcelona doesn't come much bigger than that."

Carrick is likely to start Saturday, with the veteran Ryan Giggs or more defensive Darren Fletcher alongside him. It will be their job to keep the ball from the likes of Messi and Spanish world champions Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets.

Barcelona's passing football has secured close to two-thirds possession in this seasons Champions League matches against supposedly Europe's best sides.

But if United can score first at a venue where both teams won the first of their three European Cup titles, things could be very different to 2009.

"They haven't only got talent; they work well in defense, they are compact, they have many variants in attack," Xavi said. "If they score a goal, they close up at the back and play on the counter, they have a lot of tactical options."

England striker Wayne Rooney is likely to sit deep behind Mexico international Javier Hernandez for United, with David Villa dovetailing with Messi for Barcelona.

With a penalty shootout to follow if neither team wins through regular or extra time, one side will depart Wembley on Saturday level with Bayern Munich and Ajax on four titles. Only Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool have won more.

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi  is being considered  Barcelona's key to a win.

Messi may not have single-handedly guided Barcelona into Saturday's Champions League final against Manchester United, but the diminutive Argentine's sublime talent and knack for spectacular goals sometimes make it seem that way.

Messi has scored 52 goals in 54 games this season to become the first Spanish league player to top the half-century mark, although he was soon joined by Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid.

But "The Flea" -- as he is often referred to for his ability to buzz around defenders -- has 11 goals to lead the tournament for a third straight season as the Catalan club narrows in on a second European Cup over that same period. AP

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