Welcome to my football blog. I'll be covering most of the key issues and stories which dominate top level English and European football over the coming months, and so if you love this fantastic sport as much as I do, I hope you'll appreciate reading and responding to what I've got to say.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Brilliant Barcelona join football's pantheon

It was the final we all wanted: the champions of Europe's two strongest leagues meeting at one of football's most spectacular venues to determine the cream of the continent.

We were assured of a contest for the ages. Manchester United vowed they had learned from humiliation in Rome two years ago, while Barcelona insisted that victory in 2009 had not showcased the peak of their powers.

The level of quality on show, coupled with the presence of dominating, attacking football as a core principle within the proud traditions of both clubs would guarantee, we thought, a competitive match on the biggest stage of them all. 

But, alas, it was not to be.

What transpired instead resembled something more like a sporting apotheosis, as through the devastating beauty of their play Pep Guardiola's exceptional side transcended the boundaries of mere excellence and staked an irrefutable claim for the current Barcelona vintage to be considered among the pantheon of the game's all time greats.

Moreover, the reality that such an outcome was not due to the faults of their opposition only amplifies the Catalans' achievement. For make no mistake, United tried their best to meet them on equal terms. 

The likes of Park, Giggs, Valencia and Hernandez, so influential in wrapping up the Premier League title, were again trusted to deliver on the big occasion, and immediately set about preventing the Spanish giants from getting into their mesmerising rhythm with typical zeal and endeavour.

For the first ten minutes, the ploy worked, and United were even able to pin their opponents back as they cautiously looked for a way to test Victor Valdes. But as soon as Barcelona began to warm to the task at hand, the gulf in class became evident.

The lethal quintet of Messi, Villa, Pedro, Iniesta and Dani Alves eagerly swarmed all over the scrambling United backline with Xavi, imperious as ever, conducting proceedings from deep. 

Sir Alex Ferguson's side looked in trouble long before the midfield maestro found Pedro with a sublimely-timed flick of his right boot and the young winger outwitted the despairing duo of Vidic and Van Der Sar with a clinical near post finish.

This United side have been accused on many occasions this season of compensating for a lack of fantasy with an abundance of resilience, but in their response to going behind both qualities were present in spades. 

Wayne Rooney's forceful but controlled finish following a rapid-fire exchange of passes with first Michael Carrick and then Ryan Giggs contained within it a level of craft which would not look out of place on the hallowed fields surrounding La Masia. 

At such a moment, the red half of Manchester may have allowed itself to believe once again that the force of destiny was with them. At the very least, their team had done more than in Rome in 2009: they had asked a question of Barcelona.

The Catalan response was emphatic. Rooney's strike proved nothing more than a spectacular anomaly in an otherwise uninterrupted pattern of suffocating Barcelona pressure, and it did not take long for the irrepressible genius of Lionel Messi, the world's best player, to finally make its mark on English soil.

As the beleaguered trio of Park, Carrick and Giggs found itself completely in the thrall of Barcelona's midfield passing carousel, Messi found himself 25 yards from goal with the United defence at his mercy.

The diminutive Argentine took his chance brilliantly, curling a venomous low short with minimal backlift around the prone Nemanja Vidic and towards goal. Van Der Sar was still diving when the ball hit the net.

It is a measure of the formidable winning mentality fostered so expertly by Ferguson that United's natural instinct was to attempt to pour forward in search of another equaliser, but Barca were by now in no mood to allow their opponents such an opportunity.

Instead the Catalans attacked with even greater vigour, appearently seized by the desire to make the scoreline reflect their utter dominance. They quickly got their wish, David Villa brilliantly curling the ball into the top corner to put the result beyond doubt.

Although they were not overawed as in 2009, United were no less overwhelmed by Barcelona, and the Spaniards third goal did what few, if any, have ever succeeded in doing to a team of men from Old Trafford: it broke their resolve.

In the last twenty minutes, Pep Guardiola's side dimmed their attacking ambitions but still held the Premier League champions at arms length with ease, defending, as they do so well, with the ball.

As the final whistle blew at Wembley to rubber-stamp Barcelona's fourth European Cup triumph at the place where it all started for them in 1992, many of those who witnessed the match were left wondering if they had ever seen a more dominant performance in the final of the continent's premier club competition.

The response, almost unanimously, will have been no, and in the answering of this question alone the greatness of this Barcelona team becomes clear. But for any who remain unconvinced, there is further evidence to back up the case.

In the last three seasons, Pep Guardiola's side have won 10 of the 13 tournaments they have entered. This astonishing trophy haul includes three consecutive La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues and a World Club Championship. It is their results as much as the beauty of their methods which makes this exceptional group worthy of a place among the greatest club sides in history.

But perhaps the ultimate proof of the greatness of this Barcelona side can be found in the way other top teams approach the task of facing them.

Pep Guardiola's side alter their methods for no one, whereas even illustrious opponents such as Manchester United and Real Madrid are forced to focus their efforts on stifling the Catalans, accepting that any attempt to impose themselves will result in disaster.

And more often than not, as this season has proved, they still lose. There is no other side in recent memory - possibly ever - which has provoked such fear, and so justifiably, in its rivals.

When Barcelona demolished Real Madrid 5-0 in the Clasico last November, I claimed that Pep Guardiola's side were knocking on the door of history. On Saturday at Wembley, they crossed the threshold. 


  1. it was not 'first with ryan gigs'...he got the final assist. Appart from that, excellent review.

  2. post has been edited as appropriate. Thanks for the heads up and kind words :)