Manchester United FC have come full circle to the scene of their first European triumph as they prepare to meet FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final at English football's spiritual home, Wembley.
It was at the old Wembley where the Old Trafford club had their name etched on the European Champion Clubs' Cup for the first time, with victory over SL Benfica in 1968, and it is there that they will return on Saturday seeking revenge for their 2009 final defeat by the Spanish club – and with it, their fourth continental crown.
Unbeaten United have been in miserly form in the competition, conceding only four goals. They topped Group C ahead of Valencia CF, recording four wins and two draws, then overcame Olympique de Marseille 2-1 on aggregate in the round of 16 before stepping up a gear to record home-and-away wins over domestic rivals Chelsea FC in the quarter-finals and FC Schalke 04 in the semi-finals.
UEFA club competition honours (runners-up in brackets)
• European Champion Clubs' Cup: 1968, 1999, 2008 (2009)
• UEFA Cup Winners' Cup: 1991
• UEFA Super Cup: 1991 (2008)
Domestic honours (most recent triumph in brackets)
• League title: 19 (2011)
• FA Cup: 11 (2004)
• League Cup: 4 (2010)
Previous European Champion Clubs' Cup finals
4 (won 3, lost 1)
UEFA club ranking
1 (opponents FC Barcelona are 2nd)
Premier League: Dimitar Berbatov, 21
UEFA Champions League: Javier Hernández, 4
Strengths and weaknesses
United's progress has been built on a rock-solid defence with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar still assured at 40 and Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić as formidable a central pairing as there is. United were the lowest-scoring semi-finalists with 12 goals but then put six past FC Schalke 04, a show of force underlining Wayne Rooney's return to top form and his increasingly impressive dovetailing with Javier Hernández, a revelation in his first season. Ryan Giggs' enduring excellence and Michael Carrick's spring-time resurgence have helped United compensate for Darren Fletcher's lay-off though some critics maintain they still lack a dominant central midfielder; a possible cause for concern given Barcelona's strength in that area.
United set the template for their campaign on their Matchday 2 visit to Valencia CF when Hernández stepped off the bench to decide a close contest with a late winner, his first UEFA Champions League goal. It was an early sign of the young Mexican's impact and, moreover, a taste of things to come: prior to facing Schalke six of United's seven victories were by a single goal. The Premier League winners have reached the final without conceding once outside Old Trafford and, with their vast European experience, have an enviable know-how when it comes to winning games.
The softly spoken Park Ji-Sung is hardly the type to seek the spotlight but he earned deserved acclaim after his winner in the quarter-final second leg against Chelsea. Park's strike – his first since his December league decider against Arsenal FC – underlined his knack of performing in the big games for United. Sir Alex left him out of his 2008 final squad but Park's versatility and energy make him key to the cause. "We want to know what he eats – he must have a different diet to all of us because the way he runs and the energy he has got is phenomenal," said Rio Ferdinand of the Korean.
League position: 1 (Last five games: WLWDW)
The Old Trafford team sewed up their 19th domestic championship on 14 May with a 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers FC – a major cause for celebration as it took them past Liverpool FC's long-standing landmark of 18. United, who concluded their campaign by beating Blackpool FC 4-2 on Sunday, showed they are experts at negotiating the spring run-in, winning six and drawing two of their final nine league games.
United are the first team in the UEFA Champions League era to have reached the final without conceding a single away goal.
What their opponents say
Pep Guardiola, Barcelona coach
"Manchester United are extraordinarily strong, very similar to Real Madrid. They are a hard-working side and it's very hard to hurt them. We have to be very careful because they can score against you on the break."
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