Goals from Pedro Rodriguez, Lionel Messi and David Villa gave Barcelona a 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final at Wembley. Wayne Rooney was on the score sheet for the Premier League champions but it was their La Liga counterparts who were deserving winners.
Half an hour into the first-half and viewers would be forgiven for wondering if they were watching a replay of the 2009 final rather than a new game. Manchester United started with all the verve and swagger that they did two years ago, with Javier Hernandez in particular unsettling the Barcelona back line. Yet gradually the Catalan club reasserted themselves with Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in particular dictating play. The duo began to squeeze the United players and the opening goal was not long in coming. Both Villa and Messi had good chances before Pedro received the ball on the edge of the area in plenty of space and hammered it past Edwin van der Sar’s near post to put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead. The only difference from Rome was how long it took for Barcelona to take the lead.
However, unlike Rome, the Catalan club did not have everything their own way. The lead lasted only eight minutes as Rooney took control of the ball on the right flank and charged towards goal, interchanged with Michael Carrick and then Ryan Giggs on the way before sending a crashing shot past Victor Valdes. The entire stadium was rocking as the half-time whistle blew with the fate of the trophy hanging entirely in the balance. Despite all their possession Barcelona had been unable to pull away from their English counterparts.
The second-half was an entirely different story. In the first forty-five minutes there was real ebb and flow to the game as either side dominated at various points. The second period was a red and blue tsunami. Guardiola’s men controlled the half throughout and demonstrated their superiority with goals from Messi and Villa, both from outside the area. 10 minutes after the restart the imperious Messi danced through as defenders backed away, and unleashed a wonderful shot to give Barcelona the lead once again. 15 minutes later and from a similar position Villa brought the ball under his spell and curled it gently into the net. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side tried their best and cannot be faulted for effort or even ability but their determination and resolve were just unable to overcome the magic of Messi.
After a series of poor finals in recent years, this titanic contest was a wonderful way to decide the destination of the trophy. This is a rather special Manchester United side. Four league titles and three Champions League finals in five years cannot be dismissed. Yet there is something ethereal about this Barcelona squad. Their second Champions League under Guardiola confirms their place as the greatest side since or possibly before Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan. Along with that Milan side, the Ajax of the 1970s and the 1950s Madrid this Barcelona side will go down in history as one of the most brilliant ever to play the game.