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A Catalan fairytale

Ah, well, a disappointing end to the season. Manchester United went to Rome with great expectations and a chance to create history. Barcelona had a similar agenda, trying to be the first Spanish club to win the treble. With the La Liga title and Copa del Rey already in the bag, they capped off a fairytale finish to a historic fortnight by winning the Champions League final in Rome 2–0, and, in the process, thoroughly outplaying their opponents. The prospect of making history proved too much for United on the night.

It wasn’t a vintage United performance by any means. Apart from a cracking start in the opening ten minutes of the game, they conceded a soft goal against the run of play and never recovered from that initial blow. Samuel Eto’o went past Vidic far too easily and beat Edwin Van der Sar—despite getting a touch on the ball—at his near post. Panic set in, far too many passes went astray, and we never had much possession. Ronaldo was the only United player who provided a few sparks on an otherwise forgettable night.

Having said that, I don’t want to take anything away from Barcelona’s performance. They were simply spectacular on the night, making life difficult for United’s stars to flourish. Much was made of their depleted back line, and United’s stellar pair of Ferdinand and Vidic were expected to be the telling difference between the two sides. And in a way they were, only opposite to expectations. Apart from a few half chances, United never really posed a goal threat, and I don’t remember Victor Valdes—the Barcelona goalie—ever making a save throughout the game. On the other hand, Barcelona’s attacking prowess was a treat to watch. Henry, Eto’o, and Messi—the holy trinity—hovered around United’s penalty box like hungry scavengers, and Iniesta and Xavi constantly kept feeding them with an endless supply of passes. The second goal, a brilliant header from Lionel Messi, where he seemed to be airborne forever, underlined Barcelona’s overall supremacy in the game. The scoreline could’ve been 4–0 but for a couple of very good saves from VDS.

What went wrong for United? The tactic of playing Rooney on the left flank just didn’t work, as he was severely under-used and failed to make any impact. He should’ve partnered Ronaldo as the second striker, and Fergie realized this a touch too late. The crucial difference between the two teams was the midfield, in my opinion. Barcelona’s pair of Iniesta and Xavi were unstoppable and almost telepathic in their passing, while their United counterparts in Giggs and Carrick completely lacklustre. They gave too many balls away far too easily, and United never really came to the party, forced to chase the game by Barcelona.

They were well and truly outplayed on the night, and the players accepted the fact at the final whistle. Not a tear was shed, their faces shell-shocked more than anything else. Fergie had a melancholy look on his face. Personally, it was sad not to see United lift the trophy, but Barcelona were deserving winners on the night. And as Carlos Puyol lifted the most coveted trophy in European football, even Fergie couldn’t help but stand and applaud the new European Champions.

Congratulations to Barcelona! I would’ve enjoyed the game a lot more had I not been tense with nervous anticipation for the whole length of it. Pep Guardiola deserves every accolade in his favour, delivering a season that is nothing short of magical for a rookie manager. Lionel Messi was better than Ronaldo on the night, and his goal was a true masterclass. I should also mention the solid performance of Gerard Pique in defence, his was simply outstanding, and obviously thrilled for winning the trophy twice in two years with two different teams—he was a United player until last season, if any of you don’t know.

Knowing Manchester United, they’ll bounce back after this defeat. They always do. Until next season then, aye?

Originally published: May 28, 2009

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