In the season finale, champions of England Manchester United took on champions of Spain Barcelona in a clash of arguably the two best sides in world football. Memories of the 2009 final in Rome between the two sides left Barcelona the outstanding favourites, however United in the unusual under dog position were keen to avenge that defeat 2 years ago with a historic 4th European cup triumph. In what promised to be a superb spectacle, both sides fielded their strongest available XI’s, with United opting for their preferred 4-4-1-1 formation with Rooney and Hernandez up front, and Barcelona with their renowned 4-3-3 with fearsome triumvirate Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and Anres Iniesta all on show for the Catalonians.
The first half followed a very similar pattern to the 2009 final, with United beginning the game in a very positive fashion, as the reds snapped into tackles and denied Barca the ball. However, significantly United failed to make their early pressure count in terms of goal scoring opportunities, and the inevitable Barca backlash was simply inevitable. It was the Spanish side who created the initial goal scoring opportunities, with firstly David Villa’s shot blocked, and then Lionel Messi’s mesmerizing run let down by an overhit pass to Pedro. It was therefore with the run of play when Barca took the lead, after some intricate build up play on the edge of the box, Xavi’s dinked pass found Pedro in acres of space and the Spanish international made no mistake in finishing off with a low drive.
With the crucial first goal having gone to the Spaniards, it appeared United’s task was a near impossible ones the reds now had the unenviable challenge of chasing the game. However, United were handed an immediate route back into the match with a moment of absolute genius courtesy of Wayne Rooney, who exchanged a sublime 1-2 with Ryan Giggs, before emphatically curling into the top corner past Victor Valdes. Having secured a route back into the game, United endured a torrid period before half time as Barca continued their dominance, and in truth the reds were thankful for the half time whistle and an opportunity to catch their breath.
Although United were still in the game, it was clear that Fergie would have to work some half time magic if United were to be spared a second half hiding by what appeared to be a very determined looking Barca side. However, the second half began much as the first had ended, with the Catalonians dominating the ball and weaving their way through the United midfield with relative ease and aplomb. Edwin Van Der Sar on his last game for the club displayed why he will be sorely missed in the coming years, after rolling back the years with a superb stop from Danny Alves from point blank range. Yet the Dutchman would have been slightly disappointed when on 54 minutes, Lionel Messi’s curling shot from the edge of the area found its way past the United keeper, and all but ended the game as a contest as United looked powerless to stop a rampant Barca.
With time ticking, United gave their best effort to get back into the match, enjoying a slightly better spell of possession, however, it was Barca again who applied the cutting edge to their play, as David Villa capitalised on some poor defending from substitute Nani, to magnificently curl a shot in from the edge of the area and in the process ensuring another Barca European cup triumph. A token shot from Wayne Rooney from the edge of the area summed up what was a night to forget for United, as again Fergie’s side were humbled by arguably the greatest football team of all time. Although there can be no satisfaction in a defeat of this magnitude, United must come away with their heads held high, having achieved so much this season against the odds. This Barcelona side will be remembered for years to come, and undoubtedly go down in football folklore for their immense ability to keep the ball, and win games with such style. It is a cruel twist of fate for United that on two occasions, we have come up against them at their very best, and been found wanting when up against opponents of such high calibre.
With the season now over, United have to move on to continue their domestic dominance, having won the title for a record 19th time, and 4 out of the last 5. With this platform in place and a few additions in the summer, the reds will continue to march on and be a major force in Europe, having achieved such success in the past 5 years. With 3 tedious months of football-less summer ahead, we will now have to wait until August for our United fix to return.
Quick thanks to everyone who has read my match reports this season, really enjoyed writing for The Faithful, and appreciated your comments throughout. For me, its been a really great season for United, its just a shame it didn’t end the way we wanted it too. Like a wounded beast though, United will be hurting badly, and hungry for more success and to prove the doubters who say this United side is in decline wrong. See you all next season! Cheers. Jan Metcalf