Barcelona set to continue glorious legacy
Published: 07.05.11 / Written by: David Gold
Barcelona and Manchester United meet again in the final of the Champions League later this month.
It seems almost fitting, given the domination the two have enjoyed in their respective leagues in recent years.
Barcelona’s route here has been controversial but at the same time, straightforward. Rubin Kazan and Copenhagen put up little resistance in the group stages, but they were paired with Arsenal in the last four. Despite dominating for long periods, Arsenal snatched a 2-1 win and seemed set for a shock win, leading 3-2 on aggregate, when referee Massimo Bussacca sent off Robin van Persie for kicking the ball away less than a second after he’d blown his whistle. Barcelona duly took advantage and progressed 4-3, but the entire nature of the game changed on that error.
The quarter final was more straightforward; a crushing of Shakhtar Donetsk, 5-1 at home and a 1-0 win away. But the semi-finals were more contentious than the win over Arsenal. Referee Wolfgang Stark sent off Pepe for a tackle on Dani Alves with the score 0-0 at the Bernabeu, and Barcelona went on to win 2-0 with two goals from Lionel Messi. This time the referee was probably right, but controversy reigned.
Manchester United have had a comparatively comfortable ride. A weak group saw them progress with ease; never having to get out of second gear, United defeated Valencia away, their toughest opponents, and their path to the knockout stage was never in doubt.
The second round saw them take on Marseille, French champions, in what was a tougher game than most gave them credit for. A battling 0-0 draw away summed this up as two even sides couldn’t break the other down. But at home it was United’s experience and big game players, particularly Javier Hernandez and Ryan Giggs, who helped them through 2-1, whilst Marseille’s forwards mis-fired.
The quarter final was perhaps the most impressive of United’s games yet; not just because of the class of the opponent. Chelsea were thoroughly outplayed at home as United went in front, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side spent much of the second half and second game sitting back and waiting for Chelsea to knock themselves out.
And in the semi-finals United showed how they have progressed in Europe over the years. It was in many ways a classically Italian performance, allowing their opponents the ball, but then using it to tremendous effect on the counter attack, piercing their opponents with intelligent through balls.
United have become much like an Italian team over the years. Ferguson has changed them intelligently from a team of attacking flair spurred by Christiano Ronaldo into a reactive unit. A team built on the strength of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, which invites its opponents onto them before using quick and skilful wingers to counter attack and deliver killer blows to demoralise and defeat its opponents.
And that is why the final should be so fascinating. Ferguson will have learned from the final of 2009 when Barcelona outplayed them to win 2-0. Michael Carrick, whose pass gave the ball away for the first goal, won’t play for a start. But mostly, he won’t be attacking Barcelona. This is a team who will squeeze you death when you have the ball and pass you to death without it. And most significantly, this isn’t just the best team in the world today. Barcelona are one of the very best teams in the world ever.
They are alongside that most elite of teams. 1950s Real Madrid, 1970s Ajax and themselves. No other sides, not even the great Liverpool, Manchester United or Bayern Munich teams come close, nor the Real Madrid in the galacticos era. This Barcelona side is one of the world’s greats. And what they showed against Jose Mourinho was that not even a well organised unit with fast and skilful counter attacking players can beat them. And whilst Ferguson is one of the world’s great managers, he is not a tactician on Mourinho’s level, nor does he possess players of the calibre of Di Maria or Ronaldo. Rooney is his jewel, but will he play two wingers and two strikers against Barcelona?
It is unlikely. Ferguson’s United are one of the great teams, but sometimes great teams get beaten by the greatest teams. The great St. Etienne side were beaten by the greatest team of their time; Bayern Munich. The great Arsenal side were beaten by this Barcelona team. Barcelona, whose brilliance has been retold a thousand times, will surely have too much for anyone who takes them on. And what they have shown is that they have too much for anyone, regardless of tactics or personnel. This is a team built on 15 years of hard work, tactical discipline and work on ball control. The players know each other so well they could out pass most teams blindfolded. Arsenal tried attacking them and playing them at their own game. It failed. Real Madrid tried attacking them earlier in the season with the most expensive team ever assembled. It failed. Real then tried merging defensive steel with world class players and stifling Barcelona. It failed. Barcelona have the tools for any opponent, regardless of system or tactic. Ferguson will undoubtedly demonstrate his ingenuity in the final, but is it really possible to beat this Barcelona side? Probably not.