Manchester United defeated but not disgraced

Barcelona are synonymous with everything good. As they went to collect their winners’ medal, there was a shot of United’s players clapping as if they were resigned to defeat, as if this were an event of inevitability. Perhaps, it was. Indeed, they were outclassed – as many observers had predicted – by a team that are not destined for greatness, for they are already there. ‘Greatness’ is not on the agenda; ‘perfection’ is more apt for this side.

After Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Chelsea which virtually sealed their 19th league title, Jonathan Wilson wrote: “This was an annihilation, and in the rigor of its pressing, the pace and directness of its attacking, the intelligence of its movement, particularly in the opening half-hour, United looked a team that might perhaps be able to challenge Barcelona in the Champions league final.” But Wilson’s words could not reflect better on United’s opponents at Wembley, who themselves ‘annihilated’ the Red Devils, who themselves displayed pressing of the rigorous kind and whose movement dissected the United defence and with it, the very life of Sir Alex’s men. They witnessed a masterclass and were made to taste Barcelona’s humble paella. It was not a taste to savour.

It feels almost wrong to say Barcelona are invincible, but the gap between them and the second best team in Europe, which is United, is huge. While the standards of European football appears to be declining (look at the Serie A), Barca have emerged as the greatest team in living memory; even better than the Dream Team of Johan Cruyff or Brazil’s all-conquering side of the Seventies. Pep Guardiola, under the tutelage of Cruyff, has gone and done something unprecedented – overtake his mentor not by trophies won, (statistically, he has a trophy less than the Dutchman) but by infusing his ideology into his side and has appeared to have bettered everything he has done.

This is not to say Manchester United played badly; much like the final in Rome 2009, they started encouragingly and again Barcelona seemed to have been starstruck almost. However, the Catalan Giants are perennial slow-starters and this was nothing new; like an experienced batsman who sees off the swinging, new ball they gradually found their rhythm and punished the opposition.

Park ji-Sung started brightly, but perhaps overrun himself; even the man they call ‘three lungs’ cut an exhausted figure after 20 minutes. By then Barcelona were in the ascendancy. Xavi and Iniesta were playing pinball, while Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets formed a defensive barrier that required more than a spirited Wayne Rooney to breach. In fact, their only weakness appeared to be Victor Valdes, who was visibly shaken in the first quarter, huffing and puffing after a few instances of lapses in concentration. But creating chances to trouble him thereafter proved far too difficult. Javier Hernandez was isolated and suddenly the exclusion of Dimitar Berbatov seemed a mistake. However, even the delightful Bulgarian would not have prevented defeat.

When Pedro put Barcelona ahead, it was difficult to foresee an equaliser. Yet, it happened anyway. It was a moment of beauty and disbelief; Wayne Rooney scoring a goal that was even more magical than that acrobatic finish against City earlier this season. Rooney dispelled the myth that he wasn’t a big-game player and his goal, an excellent finish which saw intricate interplay beforehand, allowed United to go into half time with much belief. The Englishman has had somewhat of the clichéd rollercoaster season. After the intense media scrutiny in the first part of the season, Rooney has since come out and displayed the type of football that he is renown for; and again at Wembley, he tracked back and dropped deep trying his utmost to link up play. Make no mistake; Rooney is committed to Manchester United.

Hope was restored. 1-1, the scoreline read. Arsenal had already done the impossible and doggedly fought back in the first leg from 1-0 to win 2-1 in the last 16 of this competition. With all due respect, these were entirely different circumstances. Lionel Messi was the protagonist, as if there was going to be anybody else, and dribbled in such limited space, evoking memories of the great Garrincha and Maradona. He is a legend in the making. His goal, Barca’s second, typified and epitomised the Argentine wonder. A neat finish was followed by more dazzling with the ball, helping David Villa score the third and final goal which sealed United’s fate.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will certainly look back and rue this night; but both had showed great determination and character. Edwin van der Sar, in his final game, was blameless – he might have been able to prevent the first goal when he was wrongfooted by Pedro’s strike, but made a string of saves that kept the scoreline at respectability. Old Trafford will be without him next year; and the trophy that all of Europe desire. However, La Orejas is with its rightful owners. Barcelona will dominate the continent for years to come, but who’s to say this Manchester United side, passionate, spirited and with the potential to get better, will not cross their path once more in the near future?


13 responses to “Manchester United defeated but not disgraced”

  1. Douglas Crockett says :

    Barca were playing 5 midfielders to ManU’s 4. And Barca’s 3 central midfielders were of higher quality. No shame in that such is Barca’s quality in MF.

    As a result Hernandez seemed peripheral and for the most part it seemed almost 11 against 10.

    The place where ManU need help is central midfield. The rest of the team is really very good.

    • The Gaffer says :

      Hernandez was isolated but his selection was justified on basis of form; such a shame that he was ineffective but that was because Barca were so good as you point out. Sergio Busqets did the dirty work again, as did Mascherano – two players who deserve credit despite not having, what appears, the greatest of personalities 😉

      “The place where ManU need help is central midfield. The rest of the team is really very good.”

      I would agree – although that’s not to say our CM’s are not good enough. IMO, we might require one or two players (I hate suggesting names, btw) but the likes of Carrick and Fletcher must not be undervalued.

  2. Nick says :

    I am speaking as a arsenal fan. Barca are the best team i have ever had the pleasure to watch your lot tried but what can you do. Barca are just too good

  3. fred says :

    When united had their best patch they didnt have one attempt at goal. says it all. In fact their first attempt on or off target was their goal.
    No corners all I think.
    UTD were not disgraced as Barca are brilliant not because they played well though. The first 10minuites reminded me of when a premier league team plays a lower league team in the third round of the FA cup. When the lower league team goes helter skelter.
    They couldnt get close enough to foul them most of the time.

    Barcalona made 4 fouls all game???

  4. john says :

    the only reason we lost is because of our central midfiled dont get me wrong they wernet absolutely outplayed but they dont require the vision and the movement of top call misfileders. we dont have a midfileder that can run all day, pick out 30, 40 yards, shoot really good, we have players that have some of these attributes like carrick he has the passing but cant tackle cant shoot, we have fletcher he can run all day but cant tackle cant pick out long balls consistently, if we had someone like rossi it would be a different story. i really wish fergie gets rossi and sniejder then we can defanitly match barca anyday.

  5. 19Manc19 says :

    let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not the second best team in the world. We had an easy route to the final. It was a massacre and could have been much more. Thank god we didn’t have to play them at the Camp Nou.

  6. Danielle Warren says :

    It’s nice to see a balanced and humbled response to the game. Passion can sometimes cloud people’s opinions, but you are looking at the game very objectively. Barca are indeed the best team in the world, perhaps ever, and no one would have been able to stop them. What I liked (and I am NOT a fan of United by any means) is that they came out to play. Unlike Madrid who simply looked to contain and defend. It made for an exciting game and you have to applaud them for having the balls to make a match out of it.

    The only comment I will make is that while a somewhat fortuitous Premier League campaign win masked a number of problems at United, you have to admit that this team needs some major work. Barca highlighted all the frailties that United have had all season, and it was only because the rest of the league was even more frail to expose United themselves. Besides Hernandez, I don’t really see how this team has the potential to “only get better” as you say. The midfield is poor, the goalkeeper is leaving, and the defense is starting to crumble with Ferdinand unable to stay fit, Evra hitting 30, and Fabio and Rafael also talented, but not reliable both on fitness and mentality.

    Not to be too harsh, because to say it was all United’s failings would take away from Barca’s brilliance, but it’s obvious you’re an intelligent and honest fan. You must believe this team is on the wane rather than the ascendency? And do you think it’s time for the likes of Giggs and Scholes to hang up their boots along with VdS, if only to make way for younger players to start coming through?

    • The Gaffer says :

      Thanks for the comment – it only published a day later because there appears to be some issues with the software; comments are being marked in ‘spam’ much to my annoyance.

      Interesting thoughts – I don’t think United are in the worst position. We’re promised investment from Mr David Gill and there have been whispers that De Gea is signing (excellent VDS replacement) and Ashley Young, too (apparently, he had a medical).

      One point in which I definitely disagree with, however:

      “the defense is starting to crumble with Ferdinand unable to stay fit, Evra hitting 30, and Fabio and Rafael also talented, but not reliable both on fitness and mentality.”

      I think the defence is fine; if Ferdinand isn’t fit, United have Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans, both players who deserve much more credit. The latter, maligned, had that one horror game v West Ham in the CC, but is very useful defender; especially, as he is 4th choice.

      Granted, Evra has had a difficult season but Fabio, Rafael and O’Shea are competent enough to deputise and for the twins, overtake. I know you cite injury problems, but short-term United are covered in defence. Evra still has a couple of years, I’d like to believe. (Also, Lens’ Raphael Varane is also another name floating around, I think he is on his way, too and have heard rave reviews by France-based journalists on Twitter).

      As for midfield, I would concede that we need some investment and perhaps a couple of fresh additions will do; a CAM especially but I really hate discussing this subject as you’d imagine. Plus, Tom Cleverley is coming back after a useful spell at Wigan Athletic; really good player.

      We’re set up front – Welbeck is returning to bolster our already powerful strike force.

      The reason why I think United will improve is that this squad is relatively young; and with knowledge that we’ll sign, we can only get better. Also, this squad is at its early stages of developement; Fergie will tell you as much. (Remember, we started again once Tevez and Ronaldo left).

      Guess, we can only wait and see… 😉

  7. Danielle Warren says :

    It will be an interesting summer for all clubs. The replacements he finds for VdS and now Scholes, as well as cover up front and in the back will determine how well the team does.

    On another note, as far as investment goes, does the huge amount of debt worry you at all? It’s got Hicks and Gillette written all over it, and we all know what happened there. Just curious how the fans view it.

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    mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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