Beautiful Barcelona give Man United a lesson in football

Barcelona, inspired by the magnificent Lionel Messi, has beaten Manchester United 3-1 in the Champions League Final in Wembley. In truth, La Blaugrana destroyed the Premier League champions in one of the most one sided finals of all time.

The game saw four fantastic goals scored as Pedro and Wayne Rooney exchanged efforts before Lionel Messi and an inspirational goal by David Villa gave Barcelona the trophy their dominance and play deserved.

Even before a ball was kicked, the Internet went wild with rumours that Carles Puyol would be dropped for Javier Mascherano. In the end the Argentinian came in for the Spanish international. One must presume that the centre half was dropped because of fitness concerns because Barcelona win almost every match when he starts.

The United starting XI was as expected with Sir Alex Ferguson going with the 4-4-2 formation that has served him so well this season. The big shock for the Red Devils was Dimitar Berbatov being dropped from the squad completely despite being the leading scorer in the Premier League this season and after that snub one must feel that his days at Old Trafford are numbered.

The game kicked off like a whirlwind with Dani Alves instantly being put into a one-on-one with Ji-Sung Park with the South Korean easily dispossessing the Barcelona right full and instigating the first attack of the game, only for Rooney to cross to closely to Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal.

From there it was a full four minutes before Barca actually got out of their own half as the Red Devils closed down every La Blaugrana player like they were guard dogs. The pressurising tactic seemed to upset the Spanish champions whose team shape was stretched so much so that Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique literally sat on their own 18-yard line.

The pressurisation also had the added effect that Barca just could not find a way out of their box and in a very unusual twist, Valdes was actually forced to kick long from his box as every single option was closed down early.

With Barcelona finding their options in midfield limited, they were giving the ball away very cheaply and Michael Carrick seized upon one of the loose balls to send Javier Hernandez clear on goal. Pique came across to sweep up the danger but did not see Valdes racing out off his line, the defenders heavy touch cannoning off his ‘keeper who knew little about the pass back.

Despite the pressure, it was Barcelona, however, who created the first real opening of the game as Lionel Messi fed David Villa from the edge of the United box only for Rio Ferdinand to make a last ditch slide tackle just as the forward was about the pull the trigger.

Minutes later, and with Barcelona starting to find the pace of the game, David Villa, Xavi, Messi, and Dani Alves combined out on the right to cross into the box. Pedro had ghosted out of his position on the right as Xavi slotted tight in. His cross from the little winger in space on the edge of the six yard box and he really should have opened the scoring as his effort squeezed past the post.

Firmly in control, and Lionel Messi becoming more and more influential, Barcelona started knocking the ball around as United’s midfield chased shadows. Messi danced past Park and found Villa whose snap shot literally scraped the paint off the post it was that close.

The Barcelona No.7 then forced Van der Sar into making the first save of the game after Messi had fed him the ball on the right hand corner of the 18 yard box.

The early swagger and pressure of United seemed like something from an age ago as Barca started to dominate possession. And from Barcelona finding it difficult to get out of their half, United started to find it difficult to get out of their box. Thrice in the space of three minutes United defenders were forced to make last ditch tackles as Messi raced ominously through.

It was only a matter of time before it happened, and on 27, Lionel Messi’s superb run inside dragged Patrice Evra out of position, Xavi instinctively found Pedro who had wandered into the vacant space and he calmly slotted it past van der Sar as the Dutchman dived the wrong way. 1-0 Barcelona.

By this stage you could see the confidence draining from every single Manchester United player. The Red Devils had barely mounted a passing movement never mind an attack since the opening minutes and it was Barcelona who looked closer to scoring the next goal.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Wayne Rooney duly obliged.

United won a poor throw from Abidal on the right and Valencia instantly fed Rooney. He drove at the very heart of the Barcelona defence as they backed off nervously and he played a fortuitous one-two with Ryan Giggs before firing an unstoppable shot into the top corner as Valdes dived full stretch to try and keep in out. 1-1 Manchester United.

The Red Devils had thrown down the gauntlet with a tornado like start but Barcelona had returned in kind and deservedly taken the lead before a moment of magic from Rooney had wrestled their vice like grip on the game away from and had in effect given his team a chance in the second half, despite the task in hand looking Everest like.

The second half began exactly as Barcelona would have liked as they forced corner after corner and pressurised United at every chance.

With La Blaugrana dictating the game, and Dani Alves bombing up and down the right hand side unmarked, it was only a matter of time before a chance was carved out.

Xavi, Busquets, and Messi combined in an intricate move before Iniesta picked up the ball in space; his first time pass found Alves tearing into the box unopposed but his effort was saved superbly by Edwin van der Sar when a goal looked certain.

Not to be put off, Barca continued to probe and dominate possession. United, looking shell shocked and lacking answers to the questions Barca were asking of them, Patrice Evra backed off instead of pressurising and left Messi in acres of space dead centre of the pitch around 30 yards from goal.

The little wizard from Rosario killed the ball with one perfect touch and turned instantly, with only one thing on his mind. One more touch set up the shot perfectly and an exocet missile was unleashed that van der Sar really should have done better against. The end result was the net billowing in spectacular fashion as Messi wheeled away to celebrate his first goal on English soil and his 100th in the last two seasons. 2-1 Barcelona.

2-1 down and looking dog tired, the game was beginning to slip away from United. Sir Alex Ferguson was going to have to pull something out of his wide repertoire if his team were to have any chance of winning this game but his problems were all based in central midfield where the players he had on the pitch and the ones he had on the bench were all very slow and static.

Barcelona continued to turn the screw and Lionel Messi went close twice in mere minutes as firstly, Edwin van der Sar saved well before Fabio cleared a back heeled effort off the line.

Sensing blood, Xavi then tried his luck from outside the box but was again denied by a world class save as, van der Sar dived full length to tip the ball past the post.

By this stage shots were raining down on the Dutchman with such frequency and accuracy that one would almost think that a goalkeeping training session was in place.

It was a long time coming, but in the 69th minute it did come.

Messi, so often United’s tormentor, tore into the box and past the Red Devils static defenders before Patrice Evra blocked his way. The ball cannoned out to Busquets who calmly slid the ball back to David Villa on the edge of the box, his curled effort into the top corner will go down as one of the greatest Champions League games of all time. 3-1 Barcelona.

Villa’s goal was simply amazing, and in truth it was a microcosm of the game in general as Barcelona were head and shoulders above anything United could offer all night. It was the same in 2009 and tonight with arguably an inferior team to then, it was more than true.

With the game all but over, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to introduce Paul Scholes for what could be the united legends last ever game. His presence, combined with the game being as good as over and Barcelona backing off, saw United enjoy their best period of the game. Two half chances were carved out in quick succession as Valdes punched the ball off Hernandez’s head as the little Mexican struggled to control Ryan Giggs’ pass, before Luis Nani, a late substitute, fired well wide.

Like all great managers, Pep Guardiola berated his team for giving the ball away cheaply. One of the first signs of any true great is a demand and systematic need for perfection in every instant of the game, anything less is simply unacceptable.

The final real gesture of the game was made by Guardiola as he brought club captain Carles Puyol on for the inspired Dani Alves. The cheer the centre half received was a big as any his team got for their goals, and was fitting for the club legend.

There can be little doubt that Barcelona was the rightful winners of this final. With this victory, Pep Guardiola’s team with definitely go down as one of if not the greatest team of all time.

The way that Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and co. plays the game is nothing short of phenomenal. This victory, this team, and these players will inspire the next generation of footballers just as many of these players were inspired by great teams of the past.

On the night there was practically nothing Sir Alex Ferguson could have done to stem the flowing red and blue tide, and in hindsight the first ten minutes account to being little more than his team putting a finger in the dam.

If you think back to football over the last 12 months, we, as fans, have been subjected to one of the worst periods in our history.

Last year Jose Mourinho guided Inter Milan to the title by employing a defensive pragmatic style even when the odds were heavily stacked in his teams favour.

This year, the Portuguese had shamed the game by asking his players to be sent off on purpose and in instructing his team to use anti-football tactics in trying to beat Barcelona in the semi finals.

Think back to the shameful world cup final where Holland went out intent on kicking Spain off the pitch.

Think of Sir Alex Ferguson’s constant belittlement and goading of the press and opposition managers.

Now, think of this current Barcelona team.

They play the game they way you dream of it. They play the game the way you want to see it played. They are truly, one of the games greatest teams of all time.

As they went up to receive the Champions League trophy, Carles Puyol handed his armband to Abidal. The Frenchman has only just recovered from major surgery after a cancer scare.

His courage is the very embodiment of the way Barcelona play. Deserved winners of the Champions League 2011.

Team Line-ups and Player Ratings


  • 01 Valdes 6
  • 02 Alves 8 (Puyol 88)
  • 03 Pique 7
  • 22 Abidal 7
  • 06 Xavi 9
  • 08 Iniesta 8
  • 14 Mascherano 8
  • 16 Busquets 7
  • 07 Villa 8 (Keita 86)
  • 10 Messi 9
  • 17 Pedrito 7 (Afellay 91)


Manchester United

  • 01 Van der Sar 8
  • 03 Evra 5
  • 05 Ferdinand 6
  • 15 Vidic 6
  • 20 Fabio Da Silva 4 (Nani 69 3)
  • 11 Giggs 3
  • 13 Park Ji-Sung 2
  • 16 Carrick 3 (Scholes 76 4)
  • 25 Valencia 4
  • 10 Rooney 6
  • 14 Hernandez 4

Author Details

Willie Gannon
Willie Gannon

Willie Gannon is a football writer with a number of coaching badges who is lucky enough to cover the greatest and most debated sport in the world for Backpage Football. He specializes in the English Premier League, Champions League, European and International football. His work has been featured on Fox Sports, CBSSports, the Daily Mirror Football Online, the LA Times Online, Tiger Beer Football, Bleacher Report and the International Business Times.

20 thoughts on “Beautiful Barcelona give Man United a lesson in football

  1. To the author, if u are going to write such a lengthy piece on a football match get your facts right and watch what actually happens. There was nothing fortuitous about rooney’s goal it was a brilliant one two with giggs – not Hernandez

    1. Cheers Simon.

      As this post was written and up around 10 minutes after the final whistle I’ll forgive myself the error in calling Giggs Hernandez.

      Given the Welshman’s current state of affairs I’d say he’d love to swap places with the little Mexican.

      If, you’re going to leave a comment, at least get your facts right. I said the one-two was fortuitous, not the finish which was sublime.

  2. Good match report but I’m sorry to say I have a serious bone to pick about those player ratings. Those are the kinds of ratings reserved for teams who lost a game 7 nil, not a team who give a great 1st 45 minutes and then are beaten by a better team playing sharp incisive football. This was a far more competitive final than 2009. Your ratings read like “I hate Man United but I’ll give van der Saar an 8 because its his last game”. He was arguably poorly positioned for 2 of the goals.

    I agree a lot of 5s and 6s should be doled out but giving Park a 2 is sensationalist at best. 2 would imply that he scored a few own goals, was directly responsible for the goals, found row Z or an opposition player every time he touched the ball, or was serially diving. None of which are the case.


    Vidic and Ferdinand were excellent. They single handedly kept United in the game at times.

    You say in your own match report that Scholes coming on and Barca easing up gave 2 good chances, then give him a 4? Get a grip. He didn’t actually do a whole lot wrong, and I was watching again this morning.

    Nani gets a 3 despite being one of the few players to create openings in the final 15 mins when the game was dead and buried?

    Evra was battling Valencia for Uniteds worst player by a mile, he was culpable for 2 of the goals.

    Park was ok given he had an impossible task of trying to contain that midfield. He covered more ground than any other player except Giggs and Xavi.

    Fabio had quite a good game, didn’t do a whole lot wrong. Giving him a 4 is pathetic as is giving Park a 2. The goals all came from plays down the left channel. Fabio did a good job (albeit he didn’t have to handle Alves but that’s no reason to rate him abysmally)

    The go-to scapegoat Carrick, who I am usually an ardent critic of, had an ok game considering the defeat.

    They were just beaten by the better team. They have no reason to be ashamed.

    More objectivity and less bias next time!

    1. Agree – Evra and Valencia worst players on pitch, Fabio actually did really well….

      How exactly does Rooney get a 5? He scored a brilliant goal and was United best player by a mile.

    2. Cheers Neil,

      “Those are the kinds of ratings reserved for teams who lost a game 7 nil, not a team who give a great 1st 45 minutes”

      We all see different things in football Neil. I saw a United team who were brilliant for 10 minutes and were then outplayed quite conclusively for the remaining 80, to such an extent that they were given a lesson in football.

      United had one shot on target all night and were so far second best it was almost unbelievable.

      The scoreline doesn’t effect the ratings – by that standard if Barca had of won 1-0 with the same performance United’s players would have all had better ratings.

      For me, Vidic and Ferdinand did ok, no more than that. They were opened up time after time and if it wasn’t for van der Sar making some crucial saves the scoreline would have been 7-1, that’s why he got an 8.

      He didn’t get a 10 because he was partially to blame for the second goal – along with Park and Evra.

      The first goal, I can forgive him for going the wrong way because Pedro sold him a sublime dummy and sent him the wrong way – effectively he took his goal so calmly it was almost a penalty.

      Scholes played for 15 minutes, at best he was a 5.

      Nani…gave the ball away for the 3rd goal, was continuously out of position, and offered nothing defensively while he was on the pitch, he had a nightmare.

      Park… had a horror performance. He ran around like a headless chicken, picked up nobody, marked nobody, barely put a tackle in, and offered absolutely nothing all night long.

      People are blaming Evra for 2 goals, but I’d ask who did Messi jog past for the 2nd goal before Evra did not come out?

      And who did Evra track to get pulled out of position? Messi.

      Yeah, Evra made mistakes, but so did many many others.

      Fabio, I thought he was terrible and did nothing.

      Carrick, I was tougher on than anyone, and I probably shouldn’t have been, even still that would raise him to maybe a 4 or 5.

      They were beaten by the better team and have no reason to feel ashamed by how outplayed they were.

      They were hammered despite the 3-1 scoreline.

  3. ManU’s goal was offside as well.
    Sad that it got so little analyzing.

    Have to fair to every bad decision, but the Ref was good overall, he is in fact younger than Giggs, Scholes and VDS, incredible.

    1. Glad you mention the ref i thought he was brilliant. United goal wasnt offside, he was level. I presume you have watched the replays so you can look at it either way i guess.

  4. Willie great read as always! But you are very biased when you say:

    “Now, think of this current Barcelona team. They play the game they way you dream of it. They play the game the way you want to see it played”

    I will never condone the Dutch in the WC final nor some of Real Madrids tactics re yellows to miss games. BUT you are very conveniently forgetting the disgusting play acting of Barcelona, deliberately trying to get players sent off by either massively over-reacting and simulating great pain or worse pretending to be struck in the face knowing that this will result in a red rather than yellow for contact above the neck…. it is so premediated it makes me sick. What Busquets did in 2010 and what Pedro did more recently (he actually failed to get Arbeloa sent off and it shouldnt have even been a yellow). In my opinion this is the most disgusting behaviour in football today – but hey they are great footballers so lets not tarnish this wonderful moment.

    It is like Barcelona have an injunction on the MEdia stopping them from saying anything about their cheating, because it pretty much goes unmentioned – and now you have joined them!

    Please tell me why you single out Barcelona as a team in contrast to cheaters who play the game the right way – are you blind to it, or was that it would really be an appropriate end to the article.

    1. Cheers Tom,

      We all have our own opinions but I think you’d be doing well to find someone who would think that Barcelona’s playing style was not attractive or the way people would like to see the game played.

      Like you, I agree, nobody could condone the way Holland played in the WC final, although a few people did try. And again, I think everyone is disappointed with the way Real Madrid went about their game with Barca.

      I also abhor diving and play acting, and it was a mistake on my part not to include that in that paragraph.

      While the players you mention, did cheat, I wouldn’t consider Barcelona a diving or cheating team any more than I would consider United a diving or cheating team when Ronaldo was there, or any other team for that matter.

      I’ve watched Barcelona play as much as the next man and wouldn’t consider them a base team or club by any stretch of the imagination, sure they have players who sometimes cheat, but so does every other team.

      That’s the problem in football – that cheating has become a way of life.

    2. So can i call ManU a team which is disgusting and an embarrassment to football because Roone yin the past has gone down too easily in the D and Nani goes down even before the contact seems to be made and in the past CR7….???

      And can i call Barca is greatest proponents of fair play and a team which never fakes stuff because “Messi Never Dives” (youtube this)????

      Stop generalizing and stick to the players AND the particular match in question.

      ohhh “The Most Disgusting” is also subjective, I personally find excessively hard tackling which is prone to breaking legs more disgusting than going down easily or trying to influence the Ref.

      Bottom line: Main some perspective and stop generalizing.

      1. Good point. l think some people just like to believe the worst of people. When people ignore the 5-0 at the Camp Nou, or the 2-2 at the Emirates but choose to define Barcelona by the Madrid classicos this season, its hard to get across objectively.

      2. I didnt call Barcelona disgusting, I called the behavious of some of their players disgusting – I am a Chelsea fan and I find Drogba’s behavious disgusting, I find Nani and Ronaldo disgusting, and I think it is a horrible disease spreading through football. Horrendous leg breaking tackles are more damaging and I would agree it is MORE important to get rid of these so thank you for raising this, but I think that it is very very difficult to judge who has made a genuine attpt to win a tackle and who has gone in with malice. If it can be proven that a [player has had the intention to cause harm then I think that they should receive long bans as with cheating – and it should all be post game, as the ref has no chance to judge accurately during a game.

        As for going off topic which i have done again, that is the beauty of discussing football, that everything is interlinked and you do not know where the debate will go…. in my opinion of course :-)

        1. “I didnt call Barcelona disgusting”

          “BUT you are very conveniently forgetting the disgusting play acting of Barcelona”

          Very inconsistent to me at least on 1st read, Thats bringing the whole club into it b4 you list 2 players.

          ” but I think that it is very very difficult to judge who has made a genuine attpt to win a tackle and who has gone in with malice.”

          No, Not really.

          By that logic it can be similarly argued, players like Alves/DiMaria/Nani or others who go down easily and whine have a lower physical pain threshold,
          ya sure sounds silly but not entirely stupid and on par with the assertion that its difficult to judge if a tackle is dangerous.

          If its dangerous its dangerous,
          going for the ball doesn’t necessarily matter,
          this isn’t 1960’s where the now “self-proclaimed we are so tough english” were butchered constantly by teams from a culture which were even more brutal (South American teams).

          Times have changed mentalities need to as well.

          Besides i am for retrospective punishment being introduced in Football, so a committee in a league looks the matches after each match days and gives score/de-marks the players/clubs for unsporting behavior, etc
          and then later on(on accumulation) or immediately get fined like shit crazy in $$ and in matches.

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