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Champions League: Showdown in Moscow
United clinched the Premier League title on the last day of the season with a victory at Wigan whilst Chelsea drew at home to Bolton Wanderers.
United may hold the bragging rights in the domestic campaign but with an immediate opportunity for Chelsea to hit back in Moscow, how is the Champions League final going to pan out?
Transfer Targets: The Goalscorers
One of the interesting sub-plots to look out for, and possibly place a bet on is will there be any goals from Didier Drogba and Christiano Ronaldo. Both player have carried the goal scoring hopes of their clubs this season but if you listen to the rumours, neither are overly happy with their current club.
Drogba has spent the majority of this season with the look of a man who would rather be anywhere else in the world and has repeatedly made comments about leaving. If Jose Mourinho turns up at a new club then Drogba could be packing his bags and leaving the English Premier League behind him. The strong forward does have his critics but there can be no argument that he is one of the best attackers in the world at the moment. Moscow may be his last game for the club but you would expect a big game player like Didier Drogba to leave his mark on the occasion.
Christiano Ronaldo has been leaving defenders flummoxed all season with his tricks and skills but his recent response to yet more questioning about his future will have caused a few sleepless nights for Manchester United fans and Alex Ferguson. With 41 goals to his name before the Moscow final there is no doubt that Ronaldo is in great form and it is no surprise why a club like Real Madrid would be interested in him.
What has caused surprise has been the Portuguese star's decision to announce that he would re-examine his career options after the Champions League final. Is this a way of the United star to put off any gossip to allow him to focus on the Moscow final or is it a subtle 'Come and get me' plea to Spain’s champions?
Italy and Spain may be the likely destination if either of the players decides to change their club but both will be keen to have a major say in the big final. Football is a team game but if any of these two players performs to their highest level then either could have a massive say in the destination of the Champions League.
Last Chance to Perform on the Big Stage
Away from the goal threat, a lot of focus is falling on the midfield of Manchester United. The two midfield veterans of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have been instrumental in United’s success over the past decade and a half and both will have huge reasons for performing well in Moscow. Paul Scholes was forced to sit out United's 1999 Champions League triumph due to suspension so this year offers the player a chance to play in his first Champions League final. This would be no sentimental selection as Scholes' performance and goal in the semi-final versus Barcelona proves he still has a lot to offer.
With respect to Ryan Giggs, if the Welsh winger plays any part in the game he will break the appearance record of United legend Bobby Charlton. Giggs may no longer be guaranteed of performing for a strong 90 minutes but his appearance from the bench last week to score the goal that clinched the league showed he still has a lot of class to bring to the occasion.
Away from these two, there is a choice for Ferguson to make between Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves. On recent form, Carrick looks likely to be given the nod over the ex Bayern Munich player but it shows the strength in depth that is available to Manchester United.
Losers and Cheaters
Chelsea may not have as many intriguing subplots to their squad but there will be two players who will be keen to avoid Champions League heartbreak.
Michael Ballack suffered defeat in the final during his time with Bayer Leverkusen when they were defeated by Zinedine Zidane's wonder strike in Glasgow. Similarly, Ashley Cole was in the Arsenal team that were mugged by a Henrik Larsson inspired Barcelona revival. There will be many who will say that Cole deserves to suffer for his attitude and greed and questions definitely have to be asked about the man who would cheat on Cheryl Tweedy from Girls Aloud but no doubt both players will have an extra incentive to win.
Chelsea do have plenty of players with experience of winning the Champions League with Carvalho, Anelka, Schevchenko, Belletti and Makelele all knowing what it takes to walk away a winner in this tournament. This experience may prove vital in splitting both teams on Wednesday night and who would bet against a past winner of the big cup having the final say in Moscow.
Who Will Be the Number One No.1 ?
With both teams knowing each other so well, it may take a mistake or a moment of genius to separate the sides so it is just as well that both teams have more than a few special players who can turn a game in an instant.
Of course, looking to stop any moments of genius going into the net will be the two goalkeepers.
Edwin van der Sar and Petr Cech are two of the most reliable keepers in all of Europe and both will be looking for club glory before heading off to Euro 2008.
Cech may still be playing with the protective headgear but it hasn't affected his form any and van der Sar will surely be looking at this years final as his last attempt to win another major final. It is likely that one of the two of them will have a major say in the destination of this years Champions League final.
The All-English element of this year's final adds an extra level of incentive and motivation for the teams involved but in all honesty, no extra encouragement would be needed.
The Champions League final is the biggest competition for club sides in the world and the match in Moscow is likely to be one of the most intriguing matches of the year.
By Andrew Reilly
for The Silver Circle at www.footballtip.co.uk
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