Commentary

Barca will win Champions League final

Even without home-field advantage, Barcelona should beat Man U

Originally Published: May 26, 2011
By Albert Larcada | ESPN Stats & Information
MessiJasper Juinen/Getty ImagesIt should be a good match against Manchester United, but look for Messi and Barca to win.

The closing match on the European schedule will be played Saturday night in London, as Spanish champions Barcelona will play English winners Manchester United in the Champions League final. This is a rematch of the 2009 final in Rome, where Barca defeated United 2-0.

There are many similarities between this match and the one played two years ago. For one, the managers and overall style of play have remained constant for both teams. Barcelona is still a "pass first, pass second, pass third and then maybe take a shot" squad. It led the Champions League this season, completing a staggering 8.2 passes per minute. Bayern Munich was second, completing 6.2 passes per minute.

United, on the other hand, likes to cross the ball into the attacking area as quickly and as often as possible. It leads the Champions League with 18.8 aerial challenges per 90 minutes in the final third.

Another similarity is the players. Ten of the 11 United starters from the 2009 match are still on the roster -- only Cristiano Ronaldo has left. Seven of the 11 Barca starters are also still around, along with the two subs from that match.

One thing that won't be the same, though, is the atmosphere at the venue. United will have the benefit of playing in its home country this time around, and home-country squads are 2-0 in Champions League finals.

United has the equivalent of the home-continent advantage countries receive for the World Cup. On an international level, this advantage is quite large. As an example, a European team has won 10 of the 11 World Cups played in Europe, but until Spain's triumph last year in South Africa, Europe was 0-for-8 in World Cups outside of its continent. A similar phenomenon may be in play on the club level as well.

Albert Larcada is an Analytics Specialist in ESPN's Stats & Information group. Among other analytics projects, he maintains, advances and writes about ESPN's Soccer Power Index (SPI) algorithm.