Report by Gareth Freeman
Champions League Final: Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United
Barcelona were supposed to be in the midst of a defensive crisis, their players hadn’t all played together since they sealed the Spanish title, there were question marks over the fitness of Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta and it was supposed to be United’s night.
Everything seemed to be going to plan in the early stages of the game. With barely two minutes on the clock Cristiano Ronaldo unleashed a powerful free-kick towards the Barca goal which keeper Victor Valdes could only push out into the crowd of players. It looked as if Park Ji Sung was going to open the scoring in the early stages but former United defender Gerard Pique was on hand to make an excellent block and deny the Korean a goal.
Ronaldo had another effort from a free-kick that went just wide before unleashing a long range effort and United had Barca rocking. However, with ten minutes on the clock Barca scored from their first attack as Samuel Eto’o skipped past Nemanja Vidic and fired a low toe-poke past Edwin Van der Sar.
As soon as Barca scored the whole complexion of the game changed as United were left chasing shadows. The absence of Darren Fletcher was plain too see as Fergie’s men offered very little, while Barca kept the ball comfortably thanks largely to the ever impressive duo of Iniesta and Xavi.
Carlos Tevez was introduced at half-time with Anderson, who had a very poor game, making way for the Argentine. Tevez showed his usual desire and work rate but could make no real contribution as Barca had United on the ropes. Xavi nearly doubled the Catalan side’s lead after 51 minutes with a clever free-kick but his effort came back off the upright.
Barca effectively killed the game off with 20 minutes to go when Lionel Messi doubled their advantage. The United defence switched off as Xavi chipped a cross into the penalty area and Messi rose unopposed to score his first goal against English opposition. It was a fantastic goal for the Spanish giants, Xavi’s initial cross was inch perfect and Messi rose and just allowed the ball to bounce off his head into the net way out of Van der Sar’s reach.
Moments earlier Dimitar Berbatov had been introduced by Ferguson and Tevez, Ronaldo, Rooney and Berbatov were all on the pitch at the same time. With the talented foursome on the pitch it would seem a fairly safe football bet that United would find the goal but chances were few and far between as Barca dominated possession. With just minutes remaining Berbatov connected with a corner kick but despite being unmarked he could only send his attempt way over the Barca crossbar.
Alex Ferguson gave an honest assessment of how his team had performed after the game, he pulled no punches and admitted Barca were the better side. He said: “We has some good half-chances in the second-half, and we perhaps should have done better – but in fairness we were beaten by a better team.
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Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Toure Yaya, Pique, Sylvinho, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Pedrito 90), Messi, Eto’o, Henry (Keita 72).
Subs Not Used: Pinto, Caceres, Muniesa, Gudjohnsen, Bojan.
Goals: Eto’o 10, Messi 70.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Anderson (Tevez 46), Carrick, Giggs (Scholes 75), Park (Berbatov 66), Ronaldo, Rooney.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Rafael Da Silva, Evans, Nani.
Booked: Ronaldo, Scholes, Vidic.
Ref: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).
Man of the match: Andres Iniesta
Many people would have gone for Lionel Messi, currently the betting favourite for the ballon d’Or, as man of the match after his goal but for me Iniesta was the star man. Before the game Ferguson said the Spanish midfielder could put opponents “on a carousel” with his passing and that is exactly what happened. His overall display was magnificent and the only thing he was missing was a goal.
Victor Valdés: Although he spilled Ronaldo’s free kick early on, but after that didn’t have much to do for the rest of the game. 6
Carles Puyol: Age was not a factor in this game as Puyol had got the better of Wayne Rooney. Not in his favourite position, but at the end of the day done his job. 8
Yaya Touré: Rose to the occasion, and had a comfortable game despite playing in an unfamiliar position. 7
Gerard Piqué: The former Manchester United man was impressive, and made a vital challenge early on to deny Park a clear goalscoring chance. 8
Sylvinho: For the 35 year old, job done. Not much was asked of the veteran and went forward without any real threat from the Red Devils. 6
Sergio Busquets: Barcelona’s anchoring midfielder was an important asset for the team. He stroked the ball around with consummate ease. 7
Xavi Hernández: Link up play was terrific. His pairing with Andres Iniesta made sure United had no rhythm and found it very comfortable in the middle. Terrific cross for Messi to set up the second killer goal. 8
Andrés Iniesta: Reluctant to give away the ball. Is there a better passer of the ball on the planet? Created the first goal, Iniesta pulled the strings for the team and is a strong candidate for player of the year. 9*
Lionel Messi: Played more centrally, but nonetheless he still managed to deliver. His second goal looked to have decided the game. 7
Thierry Henry: Not a great game for the former Arsenal man. Was subbed because he offered little to the side. 5
Samuel Eto’o: Brilliant technique for the first goal. The finish was exquisite and his overall performance was good, not great. 7
Edwin van der Sar: Was he at fault for the goals? Debatable, but at times he looked a bit dodgy. 6
John O’Shea: Not a bad game for the defender as Henry rarely threatened. Made some good tackles and showed some neat touches. 6
Rio Ferdinand: Out for a few weeks, but you could question his positioning for both goals. 6
Nemanja Vidic: Should not have let Eto turn him so easily. After that he was solid, but could not make up for his mistake. 6
Patrice Evra: Restricted very deep as he had no real chance to go forward. He put in a decent performance. 6
Anderson: Unconvincing was the word to describe him. Was subbed at half time as he failed to make any real impact. 4
Michael Carrick: Passed the ball well but the opposition midfield got the better of him today. It was a pity that he didn’t get the ball more. 6
Ryan Giggs: He was a weak link in the side today. Not very influential, showed some bad touches and was always in the wrong position. 5
Park Ji-sung: Replaced by Berbatov soon after as he failed to make a big impact. Some misplaced passes and his failure to do much with the ball was the story of his day. 5
Wayne Rooney: Was frustrated in his wide position. Puyol had contained him well, and saw so little of the ball. 5
Cristiano Ronaldo: Started positively, terrorising the defence at the early stages and his shots gave a few warning sings but as game grew on, was subdued. 7
The two of the finest teams in Europe contest for what is the greatest prize in the continent. Rome’s Stade Olympico will play host to what is sure to be a terrific final.
Manchester United will look to become the first club to ever retain the Champions League trophy, and Barcelona will attempt to win for the first time since 1992.
Whoever wins the game will also complete a season treble, Manchester United having already won the Premier League and Carling Cup while the Catalan Giants have won the Copa del Rey and the league title.
Expect the Red Devils to go for a 4-3-3 formation, with three central midfielders and three forwards. Michael Carrick, Anderson and either Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs will make up the midfield. Park and Rooney are likely to play as winger forwards with Ronaldo straight down the middle.
Barcelona will have a similar formation, Xavi, Iniesta and Keita possibly making up the midfield, and manager Pep Guardiola is likely to opt for his ever successful three forwards combination of Messi, Henry and Eto.
Barcelona have known to be weak at the back, especially now with the fact that Eric Abidal and Dani Alves are serving suspensions. Yaya Toure may make it as emergency centre back with former United defender Gerard Pique along side him. That inexperience at the back may spell trouble for Barca, so that is an area of vulnerability United have to exploit.
The danger of the Barcelona team lies in Leo Messi, who is arguably the world best player, as his abilty to change a game instantly with his dribbling, pace and vision.
With two of the best from Europe, or indeed the world, competing it is sure to be a great final. Who will be victorious on the day, Barcelona or Manchester United?
Patrice Evra vs Leo Messi
Messi may be one of the world’s finest but Evra believes he can deal with the threat the Argentinian poses. Can Evra deal with the pace of Messi? One of the areas where Messi can exploit is when Evra decides to go forward looking to help the wingers and forwards. Plus, Messi’s dibbling ability could be difficult to handle.
Verdict: Things could get Messi for United
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Gerard Pique
On paper, it looks a simple task for Ronaldo, but it will be far from it. Pique has improved since his move away from Old Trafford and is now a first team regular. But Ronaldo has been bang in form lately and always loves to perform on big games like these, it could be his night.
Verdict: Ronaldo to shine
Anderson & Michael Carrick vs Xavi & Andres Iniesta
This is going to be an interesting battle, and maybe the most important. Barcelona tend to rely on the central midfielders when going forward, with Xavi and Iniesta the foundation to most of their attacks. Carrick and Anderson have been exceptional in the heart of midfield, particularly in Europe. Against Arsenal, they gave them no breathing space and will attempt to do the same again.
Verdict: Too close to call
Nemanja Vidic vs Samuel Eto’o
Eto’o has been among the goals many times this season, but he will be up against Manchester United’s player of the season Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian has been like a rock at the back and featured in every single game during United’s 14 game run of consecutive clean sheets. Vidic rarely has an off day, and although he may be up against a side that has scored 106 league goals this year, but he can frustrate the opposition as he may be the best defender in Europe at the moment.
Verdict: Vidic too solid
After suffering heartbreak last season after missing out on the Champions League final against Chelsea, Park Ji-Sung is certain to be rewarded for his terrific performances this year with a place in United’s 11.
The 28-year-old described missing out on last year’s penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea as “the biggest disappointment in my career so far”. But it is unlikely he will miss this year’s game against Barcelona, thanks largely to some exceptional football played by the South Korean.
He is a worker on the field, an all round type of player that possesses many abilities. A few have given him nicknames such as “Oxygen Tank” and “Three Lungs”, he is a tireless, energetic player.
He is still not an accomplished player, but if maintains his good from week in week out then he can quickly rise to super stardom. Park knew after he’d missed last year’s final, that the chance will come again, and now that it has he has become more stronger.
“That I couldn’t be in that squad for Moscow was heartbreaking,” Park said. “It was the biggest disappointment of my career so far, but I used it as motivation.
“I believed United could get to the final again and I wanted to be there this time. I kept working hard and finally I have one more chance, so hopefully this time it is different to last season.”
Park has made 30 appearances in a United shirt this year, the South Korean midfielder was signed for just £4m from PSV, and from then on has been seen as a cult hero at Old Trafford. He has blossomed, and there is still more to come.
He may flourish against Barcelona, where he is expected to play on the right hand side, where he is likely to oppose former Arsenal left back Sylvinho. Due to Eric Abidal’s suspension, Park may find it easier taking on the veteran full back and it may be his night. We’ll just have to wait and see…
Hull City 0-1 Man Utd
An under strength Manchester United squad managed to see off a spirited Hull City, but despite the home side’s loss they managed to survive the drop.
Newcastle lost 1-0 against Aston Villa, while Middlesbrough were beaten 2-1 by West Ham and now means that both are relegated. Sunderland were also defeated, losing 3-2 to Chelsea but managed to stay up as results went their way.
Man Utd made 11 changes to the side that drew against Arsenal last weekend, with players such as Richie de Laet and Lee Martin just a number of young players in the United side today. With Wednesday’s Champions League showdown on the managers mind there were always going to be changes.
The champions started shaky, but it was always going to be difficult considering the squad that Sir Alex Ferguson put out today. But, it was one of their reserve player, Darron Gibson who scored the first and only goal of the game.
The Irishman hit a terrific 20-yard stike which found thee top corner. It could not have been hit more ferociously. Strike duo Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck had chances to double the lead, the former failed to convert Lee Martin’s cross. Welbeck also shot wide after making a good run, and United’s youngsters started to settle in the game.
Hull were soon celebrating, but it was not something on the field, but the news that Aston Villa had taken the lead against Newcastle.
After the interval, the Hull fans were focusing more on the other games than the one right in front of them, with every single fan listening intently for developments in those matches.
Nick Barmby, a Hull favourite, tried his luck with a volley and Macheda did blast a great chance wide. Substitute, Richard Eckersley drove a shot narrowly wide of the post.
As the final whistle sounded, the KC Stadium erupted as fans invaded the pitch. Hull once again make history, while Manchester United can now focus on making history in Rome whne they face Barcelona.