Barcelona proved themselves to be once more Champions of Europe last night, in the UEFA Champions League 2010/2011 Final, as they defeated Barclays Premier League Champions of England, Manchester United, 3-1, after providing a Masterclass of football in London’s Wembley Stadium.
Despite United starting better than many had anticipated, and having much of the play for the opening ten minutes of an atmospheric encounter at Wembley, Bercelona, following this, got their feet on the ball, and began their passing game with mesmeric beauty and metronomic consistency and accuracy.
Manchester United, playing in white, as the administrative “away” team, definitely had the bulk of the support in the ground, which swelled with a cacophony of noise, quite contrary to pre-match reports of tickets having been given over to corporate men and touts.
If the majority of the 87,695 who filed into Wembley Stadium were hoping for a Man Utd victory, they were soon to get a dose of realism, as Pedro put Barca ahead after 27 minutes following a string of passes. The lesser light – relatively speaking – of the phenomenal goal-scoring triumvirate at the head of Barcelona’s rich footballing ship proved good enough to latch onto a simple through-ball and beat Van der Sar, who was playing his last match for United, at 40, at his near post from just inside the area.
1-0 Barcelona, and United appeared to be rocking, particularly given they had not touched the ball for more than one or two passes since the opening ten minutes.
But, just seven minutes later, it was United’s talisman, Wayne Rooney, who proved the catalyst for change.
A throw-in from Barcelona was pinched and passed to Rooney, who played a one-two with Michael Carrick before powering towards the Barcelona box and playing the ball through to Hernandez, whose first touch, off his thigh, fell perfectly just inside the penalty area, to provide the return pass to Rooney, who was still storming towards goal. Rooney wasted no time in taking a touch from such a sublime tee-up, and swept the ball into the top-left corner of Victor Valdes’ net before racing towards the stands and sliding on his knees.
1-1, and Rooney had brought United back into a game which had been looking increasingly like getting away from them.
The United fans in the stadium switched back on, and began bouncing to emulate their Spanish counterparts just minutes previously.
The teams came in at half time with the score-line at 1-1, but with Barcelona having enjoyed over 65% of the possession of the football in a half which had demonstrated what both sides are capable of: Barcelona turning periods of possession into well-worked goals; while United can absorb pressure and produce from relatively few forays into opposition territory with a more direct approach.
The stage was set for a big 45 minutes of Champions League football.
In the second half, though, if it was possible, Barcelona were even better and United rarely got possession of the football for more than mere moments in half an hour which saw their hopes of a third UEFA Champions League winners’ medal under Sir Alex Ferguson extinguished.
Nine minutes into the second half, with Van der Sar already having been called into action more than once, Lionel Messi picked the ball up around thirty metres from goal, before taking two touches, and lashing a low, curling, left footed shot into the bottom right corner of the goal. Van der Sar looked stunned by this shot, which appeared, at first glance, to have been save-able, but was, in truth, a fierce shot, with very little backlift, from behind two United players. This goal, coming on 54 minutes, after United had barely touched the ball in the second half, sapped Man Utd noticeably.
When David Villa – the third, and, until then, unheralded member of Barcelona’s impressive strike-force – curled the ball into the top-right corner of Edwin Van der Sar’s net for a sublimely taken goal, just fifteen minutes later, on 69 minutes, the writing appeared to be on the wall, with United still yet to add another shot on target – or even off target – since Rooney’s strike.
So it would finish, with Bareclona soaking up minutes on end in possession of the ball, and with United restricted to occasional glimpses of counter-attacking promise which came to nought, before the final whistle blew to mark Barcelona’s second UEFA Champions League victory in three years.
As in the Rome Final of 2009, Barcelona had proved to be two goals the better of Manchester United. This time, however, they looked even better than that.
The team many have been hailing as “the best in football” showed, last night, that they are exactly that right now with as impressive a display of knock-out final football as you could ever hope to see.