Saturday, May 28, 2011

Beautiful Barcelona and Mesmerising Messi Give Man Utd a Lesson in Football

Barcelona, inspired by the magnificent Lionel Messi, has beaten Manchester United 3-1 in the 2011 Champions League Final in Wembley tonight. But in truth, La Blaugrana destroyed the Premier League champions in one of the most one sided finals of all time.

The game saw four fantastic goals scored as Pedro and Wayne Rooney exchanged efforts before Lionel Messi and an inspirational goal by David Villa gave Barca the trophy their dominance and play deserved.

Even before a ball was kicked, the Internet went wild with rumours that Carles Puyol would be dropped for Javier Mascherano. In the end the Argentinian came in for the Spanish international. One must presume that the centre half was dropped because of fitness concerns because Barcelona win almost every match when he starts.

The United starting XI was as expected with Sir Alex Ferguson going with the 4-4-2 formation that has served him so well this season. The big shock for the Red Devils was Dimitar Berbatov being dropped from the squad completely despite being the leading scorer in the Premier League this season and after that snub one must feel that his days at Old Trafford are numbered.

The game kicked off like a whirlwind with Dani Alves instantly being put into a one-on-one with Ji-Sung Park with the South Korean easily dispossessing the Barcelona right full and instigating the first attack of the game, only for Rooney to cross to closely to Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal.

From there it was a full four minutes before Barca actually got out of their own half as the Red Devils closed down every La Blaugrana player like they were guard dogs. The pressurising tactic seemed to upset the Spanish champions whose team shape was stretched so much so that Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique literally sat on their own 18-yard line.

The pressurisation also had the added effect that Barca just could not find a way out of their box and in a very unusual twist, Valdes was actually forced to kick long from his box as every single option was closed down early.

With Barcelona finding their options in midfield limited, they were giving the ball away very cheaply and Michael Carrick seized upon one of the loose balls to send Javier Hernandez clear on goal. Pique came across to sweep up the danger but did not see Valdes racing out off his line, the defenders heavy touch cannoning off his 'keeper who knew little about the pass back.

Despite the pressure, it was Barcelona, however, who created the first real opening of the game as Lionel Messi fed David Villa from the edge of the United box only for Rio Ferdinand to make a last ditch slide tackle just as the forward was about the pull the trigger.

Minutes later, and with Barcelona starting to find the pace of the game, David Villa, Xavi, Messi, and Dani Alves combined out on the right to cross into the box. Pedro had ghosted out of his position on the right as Xavi slotted tight in. His cross from the little winger in space on the edge of the six yard box and he really should have opened the scoring as his effort squeezed past the post.

Firmly in control, and Lionel Messi becoming more and more influential, Barcelona started knocking the ball around as United’s midfield chased shadows. Messi danced past Park and found Villa whose snap shot literally scraped the paint off the post it was that close.

The Barcelona No.7 then forced Van der Sar into making the first save of the game after Messi had fed him the ball on the right hand corner of the 18 yard box.

The early swagger and pressure of United seemed like something from an age ago as Barca started to dominate possession. And from Barcelona finding it difficult to get out of their half, United started to find it difficult to get out of their box. Thrice in the space of three minutes United defenders were forced to make last ditch tackles as Messi raced ominously through.

It was only a matter of time before it happened, and on 27, Lionel Messi's superb run inside dragged Patrice Evra out of position, Xavi instinctively found Pedro who had wandered into the vacant space and he calmly slotted it past van der Sar as the Dutchman dived the wrong way. 1-0 Barcelona.

By this stage you could see the confidence draining from every single Manchester United player. The Red Devils had barely mounted a passing movement never mind an attack since the opening minutes and it was Barcelona who looked closer to scoring the next goal.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Wayne Rooney duly obliged.

United won a poor throw from Abidal on the right and Valencia instantly fed Rooney. He drove at the very heart of the Barcelona defence as they backed off nervously and he played a fortuitous one-two with Javier Hernandez before firing an unstoppable shot into the top corner as Valdes dived full stretch to try and keep in out. 1-1 Manchester United.

The Red Devils had thrown down the gauntlet with a tornado like start but Barcelona had returned in kind and deservedly taken the lead before a moment of magic from Rooney had wrestled their vice like grip on the game away from and had in effect given his team a chance in the second half, despite the task in hand looking Everest like.

The second half began exactly as Barcelona would have liked as they forced corner after corner and pressurised United at every chance.

With La Blaugrana dictating the game, and Dani Alves bombing up and down the right hand side unmarked, it was only a matter of time before a chance was carved out.

Xavi, Busquets, and Messi combined in an intricate move before Iniesta picked up the ball in space; his first time pass found Alves tearing into the box unopposed but his effort was saved superbly by Edwin van der Sar when a goal looked certain.

Not to be put off, Barca continued to probe and dominate possession. United, looking shell shocked and lacking answers to the questions Barca were asking of them, Patrice Evra backed off instead of pressurising and left Messi in acres of space dead centre of the pitch around 30 yards from goal.

The little wizard from Rosario killed the ball with one perfect touch and turned instantly, with only one thing on his mind. One more touch set up the shot perfectly and an exocet missile was unleashed that van der Sar really should have done better against. The end result was the net billowing in spectacular fashion as Messi wheeled away to celebrate his first goal on English soil and his 100th in the last two seasons. 2-1 Barcelona.

2-1 down and looking dog tired, the game was beginning to slip away from United. Sir Alex Ferguson was going to have to pull something out of his wide repertoire if his team were to have any chance of winning this game but his problems were all based in central midfield where the players he had on the pitch and the ones he had on the bench were all very slow and static.

Barcelona continued to turn the screw and Lionel Messi went close twice in mere minutes as firstly, Edwin van der Sar saved well before Fabio cleared a back heeled effort off the line.

Sensing blood, Xavi then tried his luck from outside the box but was again denied by a world class save as, van der Sar dived full length to tip the ball past the post.

By this stage shots were raining down on the Dutchman with such frequency and accuracy that one would almost think that a goalkeeping training session was in place.

It was a long time coming, but in the 69th minute it did come.

Messi, so often United's tormentor, tore into the box and past the Red Devils static defenders before Patrice Evra blocked his way. The ball cannoned out to Busquets who calmly slid the ball back to David Villa on the edge of the box, his curled effort into the top corner will go down as one of the greatest Champions League games of all time. 3-1 Barcelona.

Villa's goal was simply amazing, and in truth it was a microcosm of the game in general as Barcelona were head and shoulders above anything United could offer all night. It was the same in 2009 and tonight with arguably an inferior team to then, it was more than true.

With the game all but over, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to introduce Paul Scholes for what could be the united legends last ever game. His presence, combined with the game being as good as over and Barcelona backing off, saw United enjoy their best period of the game. Two half chances were carved out in quick succession as Valdes punched the ball off Hernandez's head as the little Mexican struggled to control Ryan Giggs' pass, before Luis Nani, a late substitute, fired well wide.

Like all great managers, Pep Guardiola berated his team for giving the ball away cheaply. One of the first signs of any true great is a demand and systematic need for perfection in every instant of the game, anything less is simply unacceptable.

The final real gesture of the game was made by Guardiola as he brought club captain Carles Puyol on for the inspired Dani Alves. The cheer the centre half received was a big as any his team got for their goals, and was fitting for the club legend.

There can be little doubt that Barcelona was the rightful winners of this final. With this victory, Pep Guardiola's team with definitely go down as one of if not the greatest team of all time.

The way that Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and co. plays the game is nothing short of phenomenal. This victory, this team, and these players will inspire the next generation of footballers just as many of these players were inspired by great teams of the past.

On the night there was practically nothing Sir Alex Ferguson could have done to stem the flowing red and blue tide, and in hindsight the first ten minutes account to being little more than his team putting a finger in the dam.

If you think back to football over the last 12 months, we, as fans, have been subjected to one of the worst periods in our history.

Last year Jose Mourinho guided Inter Milan to the title by employing a defensive pragmatic style even when the odds were heavily stacked in his teams favour.

This year, the Portuguese had shamed the game by asking his players to be sent off on purpose and in instructing his team to use anti-football tactics in trying to beat Barcelona in the semi finals.

Think back to the shameful world cup final where Holland went out intent on kicking Spain off the pitch.

Think of Sir Alex Ferguson's constant belittlement and goading of the press and opposition managers.

Now, think of this current Barcelona team.

They play the game they way you dream of it. They play the game the way you want to see it played. They are truly, one of the games greatest teams of all time.

As they went up to receive the Champions League trophy, Carles Puyol handed his armband to Abidal. The Frenchman has only just recovered from major surgery after a cancer scare.

His courage is the very embodiment of the way Barcelona play. Deserved winners of the Champions League 2011.

Team Line-ups and Player Ratings


01 Valdes 6
02 Alves 8 (Puyol 88)
03 Pique 7
22 Abidal 7
06 Xavi 9
08 Iniesta 8
14 Mascherano 8
16 Busquets 7
07 Villa 8 (Keita 86)
10 Messi 9
17 Pedrito 7 (Afellay 91)
Manchester United

01 Van der Sar 8
03 Evra 5
05 Ferdinand 6
15 Vidic 6
20 Fabio Da Silva 4 (Nani 69 3)
11 Giggs 3
13 Park Ji-Sung 2
16 Carrick 3 (Scholes 76 4)
25 Valencia 4
10 Rooney 6
14 Hernandez 4