LONDON (AP) — 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 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 team that has just won a record 19th English title the biggest Champions League final underdog in more than a decade.
But the odds of 3-1 against United winning are more a reflection of the amount of money wagered on Barcelona than any shortcomings on a club that reached 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 favourite 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.”
This is the third Champions League final appearance in four seasons for United, which played Barcelona in the title game 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 game has resulted in close to two-thirds possession in this season’s Champions League matches against supposedly Europe’s best clubs. 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 from 2009.
“They haven’t only got talent; they work well in defence, 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 regulation or extra time, one team will depart Wembley tied with Bayern Munich and Ajax with four titles. Only Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool have won more.