The motto of Barcelona is “more than a club” but on the evidence of the Champions League final they are also more than the best team in Europe. The way that they brushed aside the best that the Premier League have to offer has put this side on a different plane to anything that has come before them.
Whilst Real Madrid may have won five successive European Cups in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, the level of play and intensity of competition was far different to that we see today. On the evidence shown at Wembley on Saturday, this Barcelona side should be spoken about in the same glowing terms in the years to come.
The big question before kick-off was how Manchester United would try to stop “the carousel” of passing which tore them apart in the Champions League Final two years ago in Rome. With Darren Fletcher always likely to be absent following an illness which ruled him out of the end of the domestic season, Sir Alex Ferguson was left with the choice of packing five into midfield, or to go for an aggressive approach with Javier Hernandez partnering Wayne Rooney up top. As it was, Ferguson made a half and half decision, playing Rooney behind Hernandez, and stringing four across the midfield.
For Barcelona there were no selection dilemmas, Eric Abidal making an incredible recovery from surgery to remove a tumour on his liver to start at left-back. The front five of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Pedro Rodriguez and Lionel Messi lined up to pass United to death.
In that final in Rome United should have been in front inside 10 minutes. Their game plan on Saturday appeared to be to try to blow Barca away in those same opening moments. Their start was breathless, pressing the Spanish side all over the pitch, not allowing them to settle. It appeared to have worked with Barcelona’s back four looking particularly shaky.
However, after that initial 10 minutes, Barca regained their composure and with it possession of the ball. From that moment on, they took the game by the scruff of the neck and began to run United ragged. It was only a matter of time before they opened up the defence and it was Pedro who opened the scoring, finding space when Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were drawn to Xavi in possession on the edge of the box, the captain sliding the ball to his World Cup winning teammate to stroke past Edwin van der Sar.
United did get back into the game with their first genuine effort. Rooney drove forward to play a one-two with Ryan Giggs before driving a fine strike past Victor Valdes to make the scores level at the break.
The second-half though Barca regain control and from the minute Messi surprised van der Sar with a 20 yard effort on 55 minutes the game was up. With Messi producing a master class performance it was just a matter of how many the Catalans would score. It was just one more, but it was the pick of the bunch, Messi with some mesmerising skill before feeding Villa on the edge of the box to curl home a sumptuous third.