It was one of the biggest European nights for Sir Alex Ferguson's newest team—a team that he built to challenge Arsenal's stranglehold on the league and Chelsea's power monetarily. They seemed to literally buy every trophy that was in existence.
In that sense this team is about three to four years old or may be half a year more to the good. And in all fairness, the team has evolved over time and has gone from strength to strength blending into a fine mix of youth and experience.
Some have even claimed this team to be the best of all time. But regardless of how old or new you are, all that matters is winning. The current team was on the cusp of greatness and glory till before this woeful night.
They may still go on to be great and win many more things in the future, but this was one glorious moment that, SAF will admit, could have been a turning point, if not a make-break situation for this young side.
Sir Alex Ferguson has always said fondly, "We like to do it the hard way." For once, he might want to retract his evergreen one-liner because United did not do it the hard way. They lost their European Crown, but they kept it neat, clean and most importantly, simple. This is how it was done.
This probably was not the blood group of the majority in United's squad but definitely the hypothetical type that the boss injected into his team going into the big one.
Playing a winger as your center forward does not exactly send shivers down the spine of many defenses. Yet this might be a unique case as we are talking about one of the meanest scorers in the English league, who has bedazzled many top-class defenders for the last few seasons.
All said and done, United gave a clear signal to Barca that they would play a counter attacking game and literally gave into submission even before kick-off.
It would have been worth it had United sacrificed their attacking flair for a cause, but they did not. Though United were more like an away side, their strategy of playing on the counter attack from the kick-off was ill-advised and short-sighted.
The Barcelona team's defense, though having creative players in abundance, is not one that many teams are envious of. Also, the absence of the likes of Danny Alves and Abidal further weakened Barca's attacking prowess to a large extent.
That made the defensive unit fragile as well, which had already shown gaping holes against Chelsea on a few instances.
Rather than going for the jugular, United hoped to sit back and counter, as they did at the Emirates.
But two things worked against them. One was that Barcelona carried a much more creative and attacking threat than the Arsenal side United beat in the semis. Secondly, the little bit of luck that is needed on a bad day would just not be United's.
Chase shadows on the pitch
Most of United's midfield was left chasing shadows and ghosts on the night. The likes of Giggs could not even get closer to those shadows.
Such was the plight of United's midfield. One of the world's most expensive and apparently talented midfield was made to look ordinary at most.
Barcelona clinched the tie in the midfield. Barca's retention of the ball was simply fabulous. They did not show one bit of complacency even after scoring early in the game. It was not even the case of sitting behind the ball and defending in numbers.
Barcelona simply overawed United by not letting them retain the ball. Most credit should go to the midfield trio of Barcelona in general and the creative genius of Xavi and Iniesta in particular.
Carrick was uncharacteristically slow on the pitch and hopelessly awful with the ball. Giggs and Anderson were non-existent for whatever time they spent on the pitch.
Some probable changes to the lineup: Ryan 'The Legend' Giggs could have been taken off earlier. Ronaldo could have started on the right/left and could drift in slowly. The defense could have been tested more. Only if those 'coulds' could be for real...
Wear White Jerseys
United's pale display in their white jerseys was reminiscent of the drubbing they received by AC Milan a couple of seasons ago in the semi-finals of the Cup. Though the jerseys may not actually have a bearing, their display today was amazingly similar to that against Milan.
First, they were short of ideas. After Ronaldo's free kick in the second minute, the Catalan keeper was hardly ever tested throughout the game—something that would leave many flabbergasted, to say the least.
Second, they tried too little and too late, or at least were made to look like that. The Champions of the World, England and formerly Europe, were made to look ordinary and foolish. Such was the might of Barcelona's passing game.
Last, United depended too much on Ronaldo, again.
For a team that is not as physical as a Chelsea, Manchester United did not make full use of the opportunities from set pieces, corners or the aerial route. United could have exposed the voids left by Daniel Alves and Abidal better.
A Better Approach
1. A 4-5-1 that could contain Barcelona's midfield and compete for the ball better would have been a more optimistic and well equipped lineup. Ronaldo on the wings is any day better than the center-forward Ronaldo. Fergie needed to show more faith in his forwards.
2. Fergie failed to counter Guardiola's tactics when the latter moved Messi to the center so as to escape Evra's attention. Rather, it was a tad too late as he had already replaced Anderson—a midfield personnel with a center forward in Tevez.
3. The role of Giggs should have been defined better. He failed to make any sort of a contribution to the midfield or to the attacking play of United. Worst, he even failed to do creatively what Paul Scholes could have done by his pin-point crosses.
The night would have been a dream come true to the millions of Barcelona fans around the world. Not only did their beloved team win Europe's most prestigious trophy, they did so in style, making one of their better opponents look ordinary.
They stuck to their game and killed their opposition in a fashion that was demeaning to the holders, all with a depleted defense.
As for Manchester United, this is definitely a step back in their quest to be the best in the world. Every television pundit will think twice before purring on United and its stars.
The team was more than often found wanting for some magic from Ronaldo. In fairness to the lad, he had a good few games in the knock-out stages of the competition. But neither him nor his teammates stepped up when it mattered most.
It will be a long and painful break for United and all us fans. And to those sadist rival fans who are overjoyed just to see United lose...up yours.
Barcelona were worthy winners and United were worthy finalists.
It would have been great to see the winner of an evenly matched contest, but it just couldn't be. United can hold their heads high for what they achieved this season, though they couldn't cap it off to their liking.
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