In the aftermath of his teams destruction by Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League Final, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has declared Pep Guardiola's team as "the best team I have ever faced."
La Blaugrana beat the Red Devils in a one sided affair in 2009. Last night was more of the same as bar an opening ten minute salvo, Barca dominated the game from start to finish with a sublime showing of their footballing philosophy.
"Nobody's given us a hiding like that but they deserve it," Ferguson said in reference to the difference between the two teams.Despite Wayne Rooney equalising almost immediately from Pedro's deft opening strike, the gulf in class between the two teams was apparent to all involved. Barcelona passed the ball around the pitch with laser like precision as United chased shadows and it only seemed a matter of time before they scored a second.
Fittingly, that goal came from Man-of-the-Match Lionel Messi before David Villa scored a wonderful curling effort to put the game beyond doubt.
"They play the right way and they enjoy their football. They do mesmerize you with their passing and we never really did control Messi. But many people have said that," added Ferguson.Initially, United dominated the first ten minutes of the game as they literally burst out of the trap, but Barcelona finally found their feet and from being under severe pressure they turned the game on its head and forced the Premier League champions to play on the back foot for the rest of the game.
Barcelona were simply a joy to watch. Every time one of their players picked the ball up in midfield he was given a multitude of options as his team mates superior running off the ball made them almost impossible for Manchester United's shell shocked team to pick up.
Despite being crowned Premier League champions for the 12th time since 1992, many questions will now be asked of Sir Alex Ferguson and his much heralded club. Without doubt, Barcelona have now set a very high standard that every team and manager will want and need to match if they are to be considered potential Champions League challengers in the years to come.
Ferguson added,"in my time as manager, it's the best team I've faced - I think everyone acknowledges that and I accept it."
"It's not going to be easy, but that's the challenge," Ferguson said. "You shouldn't be afraid of a challenge. The one thing we have shown is that we are consistent in Europe.
"This may be the kind of stepping stone that we had some years ago when we got beaten 4-0. [Barcelona beat United 4-0 in 1994 before losing to AC Milan in the final] We improved after that and we want to improve after tonight."
"We now have a challenge, we all do - It's no consolation to say that you're the second best team. Teams like AC Milan and Real Madrid would say the exact same thing."After claiming their third Champions League title in six years, there is no argument that this current Barcelona team are one of the greatest teams of all time. They will rightly go down in history and be talked about in the same breath as the Real Madrid team of the late '50s, the Ajax and Bayern Munich teams of the '70s, Liverpool of the '80s and AC Milan of the early 1990's.
It is hard to remember, but this is only Pep Guardiola's third year in charge of La Blaugrana since taking over from Frank Rijkaard and although La Masia, Barcelona's youth academy, deserves huge credit, seven of their starting XI is home grown, it should not be underestimated just how much influence the manager has on his team.
He has instilled a certain steely edge to their philosophy and has improved the psychology of the club as they now possess a drive and ambition that has only been seen a few times before, such as in the teams mentioned earlier.
"I think that great teams do go in cycles, and I think the cycle they're in at the moment makes them the best in Europe, there's no question of that," said the Scot.
"How long it lasts, whether they can replace that team at a certain point, who knows? But they certainly have the philosophy.
"It's always difficult to say whether you'll be able to replace players like Xavi and Iniesta at a certain point. Probably not. But they are enjoying the moment and they deserve to [be champions] because they play football the right way."It is fair to say that Sir Alex Ferguson has been more than magnanimous in defeat and that now that he has been given the chance to observe Barcelona up close and personal he will know exactly what must be done to his team to raise them up to the standard he desires.
Players will come and go at Old Trafford over the next couple of months as the Scot looks to rebuild his team as they sit on the pinnacle of English football for what could be the last task he has before retirement; overtaking Barcelona.