Sir Alex fails to learn lessons from Rome while Messi breaks English duck

by Nicholas Godden

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

“We’ll be ready…We’re better prepared…The team has matured.” The positive noises coming from the Manchester United camp in the build-up to the highly anticipated Champions League final suggested that the tie would be a tightly contested one. Two European heavyweights standing toe-to-toe on the biggest of stages. United appearing in their third final in four years, Barcelona seeking their third success in six. Sir Alex promised a classic.

Barcelona rightly favorites. The Catalans had swept away all in their path but United approached the game with confidence and an optimism that commanded respect from their Spanish opposition. The classic that was promised appeared possible as the Premier League champions started brightly in front of an expectant Wembley crowd. The false hope was rapidly extinguished however, as Barcelona soon took control of the game and United’s players became mere spectators at a gallery as the Catalans exhibited their artistic talents.

The Spanish champions produced an imperious display. The best England has to offer completely blown away, substantiating claims this Barcelona team are the best in history. Even the most tendentious of United fans could not eschew from the fact the 3-1 scoreline flattered Sir Alex’s men.

A near carbon-copy of Rome two years earlier, the only difference – the gulf between the two sides had increased. Ferguson’s team selection suggested lessons had not been learnt from the 2009 final. The decision to play two central midfielders to combat Barcelona’s three appeared a puzzling one. And so it proved. United, completely overrun in the middle, and powerless to get close to the Barca triumvirate. Ryan Giggs made to look every bit his age by the pass-masters, Xavi and Iniesta, as the match passed by deprived of the Welshman’s influence.

Rooney’s attempts to drop deep and make it a three were futile as Barcelona were afforded time and space to thread their majestically precise passes. With consummate ease the forwards found pockets of space between United’s defence and midfield. Playing between these lines the Catalans are at their devastating best. United had to suffocate that space, stifle their opponents. Instead, Barcelona took advantage of a midfield lacking agility and dynamism. It was far too easy.

Rooney’s superbly crafted equalizer aside, United barely threatened the Barcelona goal. Hernandez cut an isolated figure, the little pea appeared out of his depth, while at the other end Messi stole the show. The little Argentine, elegance personified with the ball at his feet, once again pronounced himself as the greatest footballer on the planet with another mesmorising performance. His goal, in the final that he made his own, propelled Barcelona to European glory. It was the little magician’s twelfth in this season’s Champions League, equaling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record, and his first on English soil at his ninth attempt – a fitting stage to banish that hoodoo.

Messi epitomizes everything that is great about Barcelona. Speed, style, technique and utter class. The Spanish giants are in a league of their own. The great Manchester United made to look like amateurs in comparison. The Catalans brilliance is undeniable, their eminence unquestionable. Probably the greatest club side of all time. However, Barcelona’s excellence is masking Sir Alex’s failure to learn the lessons of Rome.

by Nicholas Godden

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