When Brian Clough brought the phrase ‘the beautiful game’ into common usage, he would have probably rarely applied it to many Champions League games of recent years. Tense, defensively-minded tactics and meaningless group games have long been the order of the day, but this season has been different, and crowned by one of the most complete displays from a team in a modern major final.
Barcelona perhaps needed a little bit of help from the referee to get to the final, but there was no doubting their class in Rome. Fans are used to leaving games speechless, but rarely because they struggle to find superlatives that do the winning team justice. Tonight, Barcelona turned in one of those performances.
Granted, they needed an early goal to settle their nerves and were helped by poor defending and goalkeeping from United. But what followed them was a masterclass in how to win a game.
The Catalans defence, missing three first-choice players and making do with a holding midfielder at centre-half and a centre-half at right back were imperious, only twice giving United the space to fashion chances, both of which the English side wasted. Puyol, at right-back, was magnificent, keeping both Ronaldo and Rooney quiet and bombing up the wing like a man half his age.
In the centre, Xavi and Iniesta were sublime. Every move, every chance inevitably came through these two. No ball was wasted and no matter how tight the space was, the pass could always be found. Some of the interplay in the centre of the park was a joy to watch and they could well have bettered that goal by Cambiasso for Argentina against Serbia, such was the build up and crispness of the passing.
Up front, Henry rolled back the years, Messi weaved his magic and Eto’o was, well, Eto’o. He scored in a European cup final, he did his job, he’s still not as good as the statistics may suggest this season, but he deserved his medal tonight.
The second goal was a thing of beauty. Yes, the defence went awol, but Xavi’s cross was pinpoint perfect and Messi’s leap and header was exquisite. How a man of 5 foot 7 could leap that high and put that amount of direction on the ball is beyond me.
Then again, Manchester United were poor, with only Rooney and Park trying to make anything of the game. But let’s not dwell on that. Barcelona could have been playing anybody tonight, and I’d be lavishing praise on them (and given they’ve thumped both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich this season, this result isn’t entirely surprising).
It’s rare that I’ll sit down on here and shower superlatives (or otherwise) on a team that isn’t Exeter, but Barcelona blew me away tonight. That they managed such a performance in the Champions League final is even more impressive.
And this post isn’t intended as United bashing. I’m strangely indifferent to the team. They’re the least objectionable of the Big Four, they play nice football and have one of the best players in the world in Wayne Rooney playing for them. And they were ws abject as Barcelona were superb tonight.
Truthfully, anybody could have supplied the opposition tonight and I’d still have been blown away by that performance. I’ve got no interest in poking fun at United (if it were Plymouth…), just in praising Barcelona for one of the greatest team performances I’ve ever witnessed.
I’m not sure if it quite comes close to Exeter City at Oxford United in the Conference play-off final second leg in 2007 though.
Anyway, if you want a bit more football, there’s the twofootedtackle podcast, largely taken up with dissecting Newcastle United’s corpse, plus a bit of chat on the Bundesliga. And there’s more mulling over the Magpies from me at Soccerlens.
I promise I will largely shut up about football on here now. At least for the next two months.