Jamie Carragher: It's time for Wayne Rooney to join the legends

28 May 2011 12:42
ShareThe Champions League final is a game that can define a career. When you think of the true greats, they were elevated to exalted levels by doing something spectacular on this kind of stage. Take Zinedine Zidane, for example. He was a phenomenon who became a legend thanks to goals when it mattered for France and Real Madrid.

He, though, is not alone and you can almost tie the big names to one key moment. Steven Gerrard has Istanbul in 2005. The 1986 World Cup finals belonged to Diego Maradona. Ronaldo lifted Brazil to the 2002 World Cup, while Johan Cruyff won Ajax the European Cup in 1972.

Magic moment: Wayne Rooney's overhead kick in the Manchester derby

So, as Manchester United prepare to tackle Barcelona, the challenge facing Wayne Rooney is an obvious one: can he move through the gears to conjure the performance that will see him spoken of in similarly glowing terms in years to come?

For United to stand any chance of beating Barcelona, they need Wayne to be on top form. After all, he is undoubtedly one of the top players in Europe. He has played in two Champions League finals so far. When United lost to Barcelona in Rome two years ago , he played on the left and sacrificed himself for the team; 12 months earlier, he was substituted in the penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea.

Two World Cups sandwich those games and, for whatever reason, he did n ot p erfor m quite as well in Germany or South Africa as he did when he lit up the European Championship in 2004.

Should he put in that massive performance or score the winning goal at Wembley, it would complete an already distinguished c.v. and Wayne has definitely looked much better in the last three months than he did at the start of the season.

The partnership he has struck up with Javier Hernandez has flourished and you can see why people are saying he is suited to playing the 'No 10' role.

Don't, however, overlook what he can do as a striker - it was only last year, remember, that he scored 34 goals for United playing through the middle.

I expect United to start as they did against Chelsea with a 4-4-1-1 formation but I would also expect Barcelona to have at least 60 per cent of the possession. I just hope that does not mean Wayne will end up being shuffled out wide.

If he gets the chances to show what he is about, he will have the opportunity to join the legends.

Case for the defence: The perception is that Pep Guardiola's men will crack under pressure

Barca's defenceTHERE is a theory that Barcelona's bid to win a third Champions League in five years will be undermined by their defence. The perception is that Pep Guardiola's men are there to be got at and they will end up cracking under pressure.

While defending is not necessarily Barcelona's greatest strength, take a closer look at their statistics. In 38 La Liga matches, they only conceded 21 goals. In the Champions League, meanwhile, their 'against' column after 12 matches stands at eight. It is madness to think Barcelona have got a creaking back four.

Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique are two of the best defenders in the business, while Dani Alves is arguably the best right back in the world. But if Javier Mascherano ends up at centre back, he could be the weak link for United to exploit.

However, his performances against Real Madrid in the semi-finals were top class. Maybe people are getting a bit blas? about Barcelona. Some think it's boring that all they do is pass, pass, pass. They are not a team that get at your throat like United or Real Madrid.

But if you go to the Bernabeu and enjoy more than 70 per cent possession, it is a phenomenal achievement. You could not do that in a more hostile environment. If they score first, it will be incredibly difficult for United. One way for United to stop them might be by copying Real's tactics in the Copa del Rey final. They were aggressive in the first 45 minutes but then played much deeper in the second period. That was a definite ploy from Jose Mourinho because there is no way you can go at Barcelona for 90 minutes.

Just champion: Bob Paisley leads Liverpool's celebrations after 1978 European Cup triumph

Ferguson v Paisley If Manchester United's manager wins his third European Cup and matches Bob Paisley, it will be a fantastic achievement. But I will just say this: Sir Alex has had 17 Champions League campaigns with United, while Bob's treble was recorded in six attempts. With another 11 more attempts, Bob would have added a few more!

Key clash: Midfield v midfieldWembley is not a very quick pitch and that could help United because if Barcelona start zipping the ball about, it is almost impossible to get it off them. So how will Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, if that is the pairing Sir Alex Ferguson chooses, contain Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta?

That is something I worry about for United but, then again, you look at the way Giggs and Carrick have been playing and they keep proving you wrong. They also have the option to tuck Park Ji-sung in the middle from out wide, as Ferguson did with Owen Hargreaves against Chelsea in Moscow three years ago.

One to watch: Xavi IF Lionel Mess i is being considered as one of the best players of all time, Xavi (left) has got to be considered as one of the greatest midfielders. Has there ever been anyone better than him? He plays the same every week, yet nobody can stop him.

 Barcelona v Manchester United is the perfect contest. now can they deliver?Barcelona v Manchester United - your complete guide to the Wembley line-ups

 Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Jamie Carragher, Ryan Giggs, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Michael Carrick, Jose Mourinho, Andres Iniesta, Johan Cruyff, Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-sung, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves Places: Barcelona, Moscow, Istanbul, Rome, France, Germany, South Africa, Brazil, Europe

Source: Daily_Mail