Sadly on a night billed as one of the best Champions League finals ever, once again it was Barcelona who played to their full potential last night, as they rather comfortably beat Manchester United at Wembley to win their fourth European Cup.
It was a night of frustration for United and our manager Sir Alex Ferguson as just as in Rome two years earlier, Barcelona performed a masterclass for the world to see and despite our best efforts strolled to a win over us.
On the face of it, for us realistically to have kept Barcelona’s three amigos – Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and Leo Messi – at bay was always going to be a challenge given the fact that in the last three years, hardly anybody has been able to contain them.
That alone shows you just how well they’ve played in that time and that it was always going to be a tough ask for us to get a grip on the game without enabling them time and space on the ball.
Disappointingly for Sir Alex and the fans we failed to do neither, as after a bright start through no real fault of our own, Barca as they do just took control and like the great team that they are never once let go of it really.
After some close scares for Barca in defence, after the quarter hour they clicked into gears with Pedro and David Villa both missing chances to grab the opener. Spain’s champions were now looking more dangerous and but for a superb last-ditch challenge by Nemanja Vidic, Lionel Messi would have got a shot on in goal to finish of a slick counter attack.
With United pressing upfield, Iniesta’s pass found Xavi in space in the heart of midfield. With our back four in two minds whether to stop Xavi or hold back and mark their men, Xavi brilliantly picked out Pedro and the pacey forward clinically slotted the ball past Edwin Van der Sar to put Barca ahead after 27 minutes.
Perhaps Patrice Evra could have chosen to stay with Pedro instead of switching his attention to Messi in the build up to the move, but it’s hard to criticise Evra as it was still a good finish by Pedro in which he deliberately wrong-footed Edwin in goal.
Very few teams this year have bounced straight back after conceding a goal to Pep Guardiola’s men but incredibly we bounced back and got an equaliser six minutes later.
Some slack Barca defending from an Eric Abidal throw-in enabled United to win the ball and after Rooney exchanged a quick pass with Michael Carrick, he pushed forward into the box and played a one-two with Ryan Giggs before burying the ball past Victor Valdes in goal.
It was an excellent strike from Rooney who was probably United’s best player on the night. Giggsy did look offside when he picked up Rooney’s ball into the box, but the linesman didn’t put his flag up and the goal was given.
After that United defended well to get into half time level, but only after Messi failed to prod a ball home at the back post from Villa. On paper we were just glad to still be in the game, as despite getting back on level terms through Rooney we had in the main barley tested Valdes at all.
No matter who you were or where you were watching the game, you knew that for United to stand a chance of winning the game, we had to start the second half well and stop Barca from seemingly ‘comfortabily’ passing the ball about.
Barca though just didn’t let that happen and you just sensed that a second goal for Guardiola’s men was coming. And when that goal did arrive on 53 minutes, it was just typical of everything Messi has come to stand for over the last five years or so.
Yes we perhaps we did give him too much space 25-30 yards out on goal and that regardless of Evra not getting out to block him, that Park Ji-Sung should have been marking him better, but Messi’s strike was just too powerful for Edwin to save.
Yes Edwin’s positioning could have been better but the swerve on the little Argentine’s shot was too much and with that goal, the game was put to bed. Barca continued their dominance after and despite us continuing to try and launch a counter attack, despite Rooney’s best efforts our moves kept on being broken down.
Sir Alex decided to bring on Nani to try and inject some pace and much needed energy to our midfield. Fate though wasn’t to be on our club’s players’ player of the year as within seconds of being on in the pitch, he unluckily had a hand in Villa’s goal which really was the final nail on the coffin for us.
First Messi brilliantly beat him down on the wing before making his way into the box past. After going past Evra, Nani then won the ball back and unluckily fouled to control Carrick’s ball back to him. Sergio Busquets was quick to lay it off to Villa who stylishly curled the ball into the far post to send Barca’s fans into ecstasy.
Paul Scholes then came on for Carrick in what could perhaps be the 36 year old’s last game for the club but the game faded out for the final 20 minutes as with Barca happy with their 2-goal lead they just kept the ball and stopped United playing with it.
There’s no shame in losing to Barca as they are undeniably the world’s best football team not just now, but possibly in the last 20-30 years in the game. However the fact is we did not perform to our best and there’s no doubt that for each of their goals, they were preventable.
Yes we should be upset about losing a Champions League final, as no matter how good we are no club has a given-right to get to the Final every year. We can come back stronger next year and with abit more energy and youth in midfield we will definitely be challenging again on all fronts next year.
The scary thing not just for us, but for all the top teams in the Champions League for the next decade or so is that the way Barca are playing in their current team cycle, they could very well be unstoppable in this competition for some years to come.
Over the next couple of days the media and fans alike will probably criticise Sir Alex and the boys for failing again againgst Barca and that our team selection wasn’t right. But sometimes you have to hold up your hands and say that we were beaten by the better team, which is exactly what Sir Alex and the boys did last night.
Our season has still been a good one, as again we’ve challenged on all fronts this years. But for two defeats at Wembley we could have won another Treble, which for all the criticism our team has had this year of being a ‘poor’ team would have been some feat indeed.
Of course we can only get better next year and there’s no doubt our poor away form will improve next year, so we can only pick up more points surely considering that.
Lionel Messi. His display proved too much for United as he had a hand in all 3 Barca goals and looked dangerous every time he touched the ball. 53 goals in a season is some achievement for Barca’s number 10, who at 23 and already the world’s current best player has all the talent to become the greatest player ever.
By Adam Dennehey – @ADennehey87
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