Barcelona brought the season to a close in mesmeric style on Saturday night outclassing a Manchester United team that had started the day in hopeful mood.
For ten minutes the Red Devils stunned the Blaugrana, biting into tackles, pressuring high up the pitch and giving the newly crowned La Liga champions no time to build their rhythm. Then it seemed Barcelona flicked a switch. From being under fire, they took control and the Manchester team were subjected to a masterclass for the remainder of the match.
Barcelona, playing their customary 4-1-2-3 formation and tika taka style, were majestic. United suffered at the feet of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta who completed 153 passes between each other. The short passing style in tight spaces and the Barca stars’ ability to create space out of nothing resulted in them running rings around the Reds midfield in particular.
Barcelona completed 667 out of 772 passes, 143 of which were into the attacking third and key areas. Eight of their team completed more passes than the highest ranked United players – tellingly Vidic and Ferdinand. The Blaugrana had 12 shots on target to United’s one. One of Barca’s other key elements is their work ethic, closing down, denying space – they covered over 108km in the match. United were not disgraced, but outclassed to the extent this may hasten the start of a new generation at Old Trafford.
A problem for United – and any other team – is the Barcelona forward line. They have no recognised centre forward but a fluid, interchanging trio, running from wide and deep. This makes it difficult for defenders to mark and pick up runners and creates space, giving the Reds not only a lesson but an historic one.
This great Barcelona team are creating and repeating history. This team has imprints of the Total Football of the early 1970’s Ajax team and the Golden Team of 50’s Hungary. Both the Majestic Magyars and the Dutch masters played a fluid interchangeable forward line with deep lying strikers, attacking support from the back, midfield passing dynamos. Add the Ajax pressing game and there are the foundations of Guardiola’s team.
For Xavi, read Gerrie Muhren or Jozsef Bozsik. For Villa, Pedro and Messi there is Cruyff, Keizer and Swart or Hidegkuti, Kocsis and Czibor – the latter both played for the Catalans. The comparisons go on – Alves for Suurbier, Pique for Blankenburg. The architect of Total football, Rinus Michels – influenced by the great Puskas and co, exported his ideals along with Cruyff and Neeskens to Barcelona to begin the Dutch influence. The Blaugrana has been continually evolving over the years since to this current team that will go down as one of the greats. Maybe Pep Guardiola will one day be ranked alongside Michels and Gusztav Sebes, the instrumental manger of the Hungarians.
On Saturday, to see a team at its height, with its roots in such great teams, it was perhaps fitting that there was a Dutchmen and a Hungarian on the pitch to be part of history.