I'm not one for being premature (stop sniggering) but I'll confidently assert that Manchester United and Barcelona will lock horns in this season's Champions League final at Wembley. United stayed patient to overcome the inspired resistance of Manuel Neuer in Germany on Tuesday while Lionel Messi brilliantly gilded a hitherto disgraceful 'football match' in Madrid on Wednesday. With the return leg of each tie rendered a mere formality, thoughts will now undoubtedly shift towards the re-run of the 2009 final, when the artistry of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi tortured Sir Alex Ferguson?s side into a meek surrender. On that occasion, the intensity of Barcelona's fabled pressing game suffocated the metronomic stylings of Michael Carrick and United, shorn of any fluency, melted in the Roman heat. It wasn't supposed to be like that. United were the reigning European champions and went into the match with some of world football's most stellar names printed on their team sheet, while Barcelona's backline assumed a haphazard look with Eric Abidal and Daniel Alves missing through suspension. In practice though United's side lacked balance and cohesion, thanks to a team selection overly geared towards positioning Cristiano Ronaldo as the centre piece. Ronaldo soon departed for sunnier climes, while Carlos Tevez defected to Manchester City, and the widely held view was that United had been shorn of vital attacking inspiration. Almost two years later, apparently devoid of their characteristic fantasy, United's current side seem primed to exorcise their demons and exact some sweet revenge on Pep Guardiola's pass-masters. Ferguson has constructed a European system that is ruthlessly effective and an epitomisation of the maxim "the sum is greater than the parts." The defensive triumvirate of Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidi? gives United a real obduracy. Carrick, who has quietly returned to his best form, conscientiously screens the defence and affords the side additional insurance in light of the frequent forays made by the firebrand full backs Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva. Impressively, United have conceded just three goals in this season's competition, but their defensive solidity will be given its sternest examination by Barcelona's mesmeric attackers. However, it is the growing influence of two attacking players that have had a transformative effect on United?s fortunes. Javier Hernández and Antonio Valencia have been increasingly vital contributors, to the detriment of both Dimitar Berbatov and Nani. It is well documented that Hernández, with his explosive pace and generally unerring finishing, forces opponents to retreat towards their own penalty box. His mere presence creates space and time for the likes of Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney to creatively operate in. By the same token, Valencia's penchant for getting chalk on his boots helps stretch the game and provide a vital outball in a manner not to dissimilar to Daniel Alves for Barcelona. Nani has enjoyed a fantastically productive season, but he doesn't possess the positional discipline of Ecuadorian, such is his tendency to make outside to inside runs. Perhaps most pertinent to United's prospects is the form of Wayne Rooney who, after enduring an annus horribilis in 2010, has stunningly rediscovered his form playing as the side's "number 10". Rooney has enjoyed a glittering career at United since moving from Merseyside in 2004, but there is a sense that he has been a member of the supporting cast for the club's truly hallmark moments rather than the leading man. He finally became the club's pivotal player last term, as he plundered 34 goals, yet his and United's season ended ignominiously. Rooney will also be mindful of the fact that he has been a peripheral figure in his previous two appearances in Champions League finals. Barcelona are fully capable of monopolising the ball and respectfully embarrassing their opponents. The Catalans will rightly go into the final as favourites to lift "Big Ears", but United will approach their task buoyed by the improved balance of their side compared with the 2009 version. This seems somewhat paradoxical given that four of the front six - Ji-Sung Park, Giggs, Carrick and Rooney - that started the mauling in Rome are likely to line up at Wembley, but the introduction of Hernández and Valencia makes a massive difference. This quiet, unassuming and relatively unfancied pair are the embodiment of United's current side. Hernández has taken to English football as though he was a seasoned professional and belied the notion that young, foreign players need to be afforded the luxury of a bedding in period. Meanwhile, Valencia has impressed everyone by stoically returning following his horrific leg break. No frills. Barcelona will be encountering a Manchester United side with infinitely less star quality than in 2009 and yet a feeling pervades that United can avenge the humiliation that was inflicted upon them in The Eternal City. It promises to be an absolute cracker?