Ozzy Neav


With the first all English final in the history of the Champions League just around the corner, the rumours, mind games and injury updates are spreading rampantly through European football fans faster than the Black Plague. Thankfully, the former will be far more enjoyable and secure (we hope) and might even create more of a stir than the latter.

While the two British behemoths have retreated to their respective corners to gather composure, lick wounds and rally the troops, this is merely a temporary truce that will be absolved when the two biggest clubs in world Football step into Luzhniki Stadium for the final battle of the 2007-08 season.

The injury bug has bitten Chelsea at the most inopportune moment. Mere days before the final in Moscow, there are concerned question marks revolving around John Terry and Didier Drogba, who were both injured in the disappointing draw against Bolton which saw United claim their 17 league title in the team’s history. Terry, who was stretchered off the pitch, sounded confident about his match fitness.

Terry: “I need three or four days to recover, but I believe that I will be match fit for Moscow.”

While Chelsea have played with some success without the Chelsea and England captain, there is no denying that his possible unavailability for the cup final may be a direct cause for an Avram Grant ulcer. Grant was his normal pessimistic self when asked about his captain’s injury.

Grant: “He is strong enough to recover, but you never know.”

In the event that Terry, who injured his hand in a collision with Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, is unable to participate, Grant will most likely shift midfielder Michael Essien to defence and even though Essien has played the role amicably for Chelsea in the past, there is not doubt that The Pensioners would rather see their captain at the back, who is not only a sterling footballer, but the heart and soul of the Chelsea lineup. Unlike Terry, Drogba was able to play the full fixture against Bolton, but his knee remains a question mark and Grant was insightful yet again when he remarked about the Ivory Coast international’s injury.

Grant: “Didier’s condition isn’t good. Well will have to wait and see what happens.”

Speaking of Grant, the “new special one” is already delving into his bag of crafty witchery. The Blues boss has publicly and boisterously (for Grant) praised Sir Alex Ferguson for emerging victorious in the Premiership battle, thus placing Fergie in an awkward position should he use the media to attack Grant or Chelsea. Ferguson, whose bag of tricks is just as impressive as Grant’s, has been known to employ mind game tactics prior to important fixtures. Don’t be surprised if the sneaky Scotsman uses his stinging British humour on Grant once or twice before the glorious night in Moscow.

Unlike Chelsea, Manchester United are riding a wave of triumph which is sure to bolster their confidence in next week’s finale. Aside from gaining a double, Ferguson was awarded the coveted LMA manager of the year award. Without any notable injuries, Sir Alex’s squad will be at full strength, with the only headache being which of the talented Man Utd bunch he must leave out of the final. According to Ferguson, the main challenge is deciding on the match day substitutes.

Ferguson: "I think picking the team will be easier than picking the substitutes," he said on Sky Sports News. "I’m going to have to leave some fantastic players out of the squad completely next week, which I won’t enjoy doing."

United’s streak of positivity continued recently when Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best football player on the planet shunned an advance from Real Madrid who were under the impression that the virtuoso attacker would gladly make the jump to the La Liga. Ronaldo was firm in his desire to stay with United and gave his continued improvement as the most important reason.

Ronaldo: "I’m at the right club, playing with the right players and I learn things all the time," Ronaldo told MUTV. "That’s what great about being at United. I improve all the time and I want to improve every season. I think I’m a better player now than five years ago." 

All the excess fat surrounding the Champions League Final will sizzle and disappear once we arrive for a taste of football’s best meal at club level. We will endure the idiocy from those who claim that Chelsea’s inexperience will lead to their eventual downfall, even though their squad is just as experienced in European club competition.

The cloak and dagger tactics, mind games and brave predictions will fill the back pages to no end. Yet on Wednesday night, in front of a capacity crowd at the Luzhniki, Russia’s biggest stadium, we will finally get the answer to the most important contemporary question in the game. Are Manchester United really the best club side in Europe? Can Chelsea take it to the next level? And will Grant be saved yet again by his ass?