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Possession paramount for Barcelona aces

Published: Monday 23 May 2011, 10.25CET
Finalist profile: FC Barcelona dominate possession like no other side yet also owe a debt of gratitude to goalkeeper Víctor Valdés as they target their fourth European crown.
by Graham Hunter
from Barcelona

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Published: Monday 23 May 2011, 10.25CET

Possession paramount for Barcelona aces

Finalist profile: FC Barcelona dominate possession like no other side yet also owe a debt of gratitude to goalkeeper Víctor Valdés as they target their fourth European crown.

It was beneath the old Twin Towers of Wembley in 1992 that FC Barcelona won their first European crown. England's rebuilt national stadium now beckons the Azulgrana again as they meet Manchester United FC in a repeat of the clubs' 2009 UEFA Champions League final.

Barcelona came out on top two seasons ago and will be slight favourites to prevail again given their wonderfully attractive, incisive passing football which has yielded 27 goals en route to London. After topping Group D ahead of FC København, the Catalans overcame Arsenal FC and FC Shakhtar Donetsk before surviving a tough semi-final with arch-rivals Real Madrid CF.

Coach Josep Guardiola lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup as a player at Wembley two decades ago and, on his return, will hope to guide his side to a fourth continental title. It could be his penultimate chance to do so given that, since renewing his contract until 2012, he has said he is "closer to the end than the beginning" of his reign.

UEFA club competition honours (runners-up in brackets)
• European Champion Clubs' Cup: 1992, 2006, 2009; (1961), (1986), (1994)
• UEFA Cup Winners' Cup: 1979, 1982, 1989, 1997; (1969), (1991)
• UEFA Super Cup: 1992, 1997, 2009; (1979), (1982), (1989), (2006)

Domestic honours (most recent triumph in brackets)
• League title: 21 (2011)
• Spanish Cup: 25 (2009)

Previous European Champion Clubs' Cup finals
6 (won 3, lost 3)

UEFA club ranking
2 (opponents Manchester United are 1st)

Leading scorer
Liga: Lionel Messi 31
UEFA Champions League: Lionel Messi 11

Strengths and weaknesses
The instinct to retain possession seems almost programmed into the genetic makeup of a Barcelona player. Barça have seen more of the ball than their opponents in every match, home and away, since a 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in May 2008. In terms of individuals, Lionel Messi is the obvious jewel in the crown, the Argentina forward having struck 52 goals in all competitions this term, including 11 in 12 UEFA Champions League outings. Yet there are potential chinks in the armour: concerns over their accumulated mental and physical tiredness, the potential after-effects of Carles Puyol's four-month battle with a knee problem; and David Villa's dry spell in front of goal.

Key moment
For all their scintillating creativity and relentless scoring, Barça's presence in the final owes much to Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner missing a late chance at the Camp Nou which might have sent the hosts out in the last 16. Arsenal dispossessed Adriano down the right, Andrey Arshavin fed Jack Wilshere and he picked out Bendtner, only for a heavy touch from the forward to allow Víctor Valdés to gather the ball. "If Bendtner's control had been better, we would probably have been out," Guardiola reflected.

Unsung hero
It has to be the remarkable Valdés. The Azulgrana press so high up the pitch that many of his saves come from one-on-ones, when the onrushing attacker would usually be expected to score. The 29-year-old's concentration levels need to be extraordinarily high, given he can often go an hour or more without having to do any serious work – and then suddenly be required to produce split-second reactions. He has conceded just 18 times in his last 22 appearances in the competition, and his litany of stops in the quarter-final should give Shakhtar's front men nightmares for months to come.

Form
League position: 1 (Last five games: LWDDW)
Spain's dominant team of the last three seasons, Barcelona may finally be paying the price for playing so many high-tempo, high-stakes games, with Guardiola's key men also performing regularly for their national sides. They continue to control possession yet appear to have lost some cutting edge in front of goal, while a lack of pace at the back has afforded opponents more chances than is customary. Although crowned Liga champions once more, they have not produced their trademark verve and invention for some time.

Killer stat
In addition to their 140 goals in all competitions this term, Barça's players have also hit the woodwork 28 times.

What their opponents say
Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United
"They play excellently, with good football. They showed that in the final in 2009. We have to make sure we've learned our lesson from that one and be better prepared and deal with them in a different way than we did then."

Last updated: 07/12/13 4.43CET

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http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=1621435.html#possession+paramount+barcelona+aces

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