Man United came into the UEFA Champion’s League final as the favourites but were duly played off the pitch by the slick Spaniards.
Man United took the pitch in a workmanlike fashion, several players with their hands on their hips during the UEFA anthem, as if to say “Let’s get this show on the road.” After beating Arsenal handily in the semifinal, wrapping up the Premiership title on Sunday, and with many experts predicting a repeat, Man United may have come into the final with an exaggerated sense of self-worth.
Man United took the game to Barcelona in the opening minutes, showing little respect for their opponents. Their midfield pushed up-field, applying pressure on Barcelona’s midfield and back four.
Cristiano Ronaldo was not lacking in confidence, trying several ambitious shots from distance.
On the ten minute mark, Eto beat Vidic and fired past the Van Der Sar to give Barcelona the lead. Man United looked prepared to fight their way back from the deficit, Ronaldo waving his arms in a calming motion to his teammates.
However, the goal marked a gradual turning point, like a slow rising tide, Barcelona found their composure, and with it, their ground game. Messi became the focal point for Barca’s forays into Man United’s defensive half, while Xavi and Iniesta asserted themselves in the second quarter.
Ronaldo—ever-present in the first 15 minutes—could only watch in frustration as Barca dominated possession. On several occasions he lost his cool; once throwing a slight elbow at Puyol in the middle of the pitch and later going in with harsh tackles.
The latter half of the opening 45 minutes saw Barca push forward with Messi pulling the strings as playmaker and providing a clinic with his ball skills, the ball looking attached to his feet with a tether.
The second half played out contrary to expectations: Barca came out the much stronger of the two sides with Iniesta and Xavi running at the Man United back-line. The Spaniards dominated through their short passing game which United had no answer for.
Man United’s ineffectual midfield proved to be its downfall. Carrick and Giggs were invisible, with barely a touch on the ball, the Brazilian midfielder Anderson taken off at half-time. Ferguson introduced Tevez, Berbatov, and Scholes to little effect.
There must have been some head-scratching by Man United fans as to why Ferguson opted to leave and in-form Tevez and healthy Scholes on the bench.
At full-time, the 2-0 score line could not have been more indicative of the game itself, with Manchester creating little or next to no scoring chances in the second half and Barcelona’s midfield dominating.
Messi capped a fine display scoring on a jumping header from a cross put in by Xavi from the outside the 18-yard box.
It was a fine display by Barcelona and a well-deserved win. On this day they were simply too slick for the English champs and served them a cup of humble tea.