Awesome. Breathtaking. Scintillating. All these words were used to describe FC Barcelona's performance in the UEFA Champions League Final 2011, and rightly so. The battering they handed Manchester United on Saturday night was probably the performance of the decade.
This will certainly go down as one of the most one-sided Champions League Finals ever. Barca were better than United in all departments. Earlier, I couldn't quite see myself saying it, but now I will—the Red Devils were completely outclassed on the day.
Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi once again showed that they are on a completely different level. Taking nothing away from them, I was rather surprised with Sir Alex Ferguson and his approach to the game.
Just like the last time the two met, which was in Rome back in 2009. United made a fast start to the game, but slowly ran out of steam. Like the time before, it was almost all Barca after that, with Wayne Rooney's goal being the only real good moment for the English heavyweights.
But it was Fergie's tactics for this type of game that left me baffled. He said he would be seeking Jose Mourinho's advice on getting the better of the Catalans in the biggest game of European club football. Now I'd be surprised if Jose suggested anything other than parking the bus in front of the goal and then hitting Barca on the counter.
And let's all face it, if there is a way of stopping Barca from running a riot, that is it.
Is the Mourinho way the right way of toppling Barcelona?
Many ex-footballers criticized the Special One's tactics in the El Classico games played recently. Johan Cruyff labelled his tactics as disgraceful, even suggesting Real were scared of their eternal rivals.
That, I think, is just unfair. It's not like deploying such tactics is illegal or something. And there is something such as playing according to the situation. Everyone knows that you can't play your own football against Barcelona.
In fact, the very first Classico of the season saw Mourinho trying to get his Real team to play expansive attacking football, and we all know what the outcome was, a 5-0 spanking. The whole point is that the "parking the bus in front of the goal" approach really does work against the kings of Europe.
The first two of the four Classicos are good examples of that. It could have worked for a third time too, had it not been for Portuguese defender Pepe's red card. The Inter-Barca semifinal of 2009-10 is an even better example.
Now, let us look at what happened in the final. Sir Alex picked a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Valencia, Carrick, Giggs and Park in midfield. Certainly a midfield that contributes defensively. However, I'd say putting Paul Scholes in the starting lineup would have been a good decision, considering the aim should have been to stop Barca's free-flowing football.
I had rather expected United to line up in a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3, with three central midfielders like Real Madrid did. The Real trio of Alonso, Pepe and Khedira worked wonders against Barca in the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu and the King's Cup win.
This is where Sir Alex and United got it wrong. They didn't really take the Special One's advice. The formation was such that it allowed Xavi and Iniesta to enter pockets of space in the middle of the pitch and Messi to run straight at the defense.
David Villa and Messi were thus granted a lot of room to get shots away. And United certainly didn't get away with this. They were duly punished, with two of Barca's goals coming from long-range efforts.
Also, this was certainly not the kind of game where Javier Hernandez should have started. Having him in the team makes sense when you can feed him with quality balls, which was never going to be the case against this particular opposition. The poor lad cut an isolated figure throughout.
I'm sure Ferguson would acknowledge that putting another midfielder in the starting XI at Chicharito's expense would have yielded a better defensive display.
In the past week, the whole world has been showering Barcelona with praise. I'll say it once again, they thoroughly deserve it. But this victory overshadowed the fact that there was no clear game plan for Man United.
They are not the only ones who learned a lesson from what happened a week back. This is a lesson for all the big clubs of Europe. If you want to stop Barcelona from being the dominating force in football, from winning Champions League after Champions League, there's only one way.
THE MOURINHO WAY.