The world is watching. A huge weekend for…
Some fairly predictable entries this week but, to be fair, it is the biggest game of the season for all concerned. Last one for a while, so enjoy:
Winning the Premier League title in a year in which none of you competitors have displayed enough quality or quantity of performances is one thing, but beating the greatest club side in the world at your national stadium is most certainly another.
And yet Manchester United have reason to be optimistic. The performances of Javier Hernandez, Ji-Sung Park and a returning Antonio Valencia have given Pep Guardiola something to think about other than Wayne Rooney. And given that Lionel Messi has not scored in 4 games (a pitifully low amount, I grant you) and Barca’s travel plans have been significantly altered, why not? These are small hopes to cling to but, as Gary Linekar opined this week, if Manchester United are to win then Barcelona cannot play their best.
Tactically, I would suggest that United’s best chance is for both Rooney and Hernadez to drop off when Barcelona’s defenders have the ball. These two players can then act as secondary markers of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, and will combine with two of Park, Carrick, Scholes and Fletcher in this role. If this pressure pays off, and United are able to turn over possession in midfield, then Rooney, Valencia and Hernandez need to break as quickly as possible in order to exploit the lack of pace of Puyol.
Predicted United team: VDS, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Hernandez
I state my guess because it raises a crucial question. Does Sir Alex play Giggs and Scholes, Gigg or Scholes or neither?
One has to feel sorry for Huddersfield Town. Their points total of 87 would have seen them promoted in all but one of the last eleven seasons in League Two, but because of the dominance of Brighton and the sheer quality of Southampton, they are left to try their hand in the playoffs.
What is interesting for Huddersfield is that despite not being in the second tier since 2001, they have been more than ambitious this season. Eight players were signed permanently, and throughout the season 12 players have arrived at the Galpharm, nine of which were playing at a higher level than League One.
If you have had a home season ticket at London Road this season, then the rest of the country is jealous. Peterborough are the crazy team of the land at the moment.
The club, relegated comfortably from the Championship last time out, were always going to be challenging towards the top of the league, but it is their penchant for scoring goals that has been most surprising: exactly three goals a game at home, and over 1.5 away from home. In total, there were 181 goals in Posh’s 46 league games this season, an average of 3.93 a game (Hull City’s contained just 2.23).
Like Huddersfield, Peterborough will feel that they need promotion this time round. Top scorer Craig Mackail-Smith, George Boyd and Joe Lewis would surely move on if not, and Peterborough would undoubtedly struggle to replace.
One thing is for certain: Sunday’s game should be the most entertaining of the playoff finals.
Reading possess exactly what you need coming into the playoffs: form. They have lost of their last nineteen games in the league, and the way they dispatched Cardiff last week was damn impressive.
In Shane Long they also have a striker in frightening form, and in Jimmy Kebe have, in my opinion, the most underrated player in the Football League.
There is a lot to be said for coming up on the inside in the playoffs, if you will excuse the horrendous double entendre, and Reading’s stay outside of the Premier League may be shorter than many expected.
The bookies are even undecided at to who will prevail in Monday’s showpiece, with both sides available at almost identical odds across the board. In truth, it potentially comes down to the performance of Swansea’s three attacking players: Dyer, Sinclair and Borini. If all perform, then Reading’s defence will have to be at their best.
This game is a watershed moment for Swansea, and possibly Welsh football. If they fail to gain promotion, then Fabio Borini will leave the club and not return (a move to Parma is reported to already be agreed), and the likelihood would be that Premier League clubs would sniff around Scott Sinclair.
The Premier League opportunities that may come the way of Brendan Rogers are a different matter entirely. He may not have to win a game against his former club to move to the Premier League, but Swansea would sure like him to do it that way.
For what it is worth, and because I am constantly nagged to do so, my predictions are for Barcelona, Swansea, Huddersfield and Torquay to prevail.