Monday, 30 May 2011

UEFA Champions League Final - London 2011

Well... Where do I start? What a fantastic game of football. Definitely one of the best matches I've seen, let alone one of the best finals ever. Am I over exaggerating? Not one bit in my honest opinion.

I found the final captivating, and couldn't take my eyes of the Television for one minute. Both teams wanted to win so much, and both managers pledged before the game that both their respective sides would stick their own particular styles of play, their attacking mentalities and their football philosophy.

The result, we were treated to an open, expansive attacking match, between undoubtedly the two best football sides in the world, and the two best managers in the modern game. Sir Alex Ferguson; an established great, and Pep Guardiola; a future great in the game.

Barcelona, as some expected, were clear favourites, although not many people would’ve begrudge Manchester United victory. Barca did however, somewhat unexpectedly, lined up with Javier Mascherano pairing Gerard Pique at centre-back, Dani Alves (who missed the 2009 final due to suspension) playing right-back, and Eric Abidal was lining up a left-back. We all know his inspirational story in the lead up to this final. The rest of the Barcelona side picked themselves.

Manchester United lined up in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation, with Fabio given the nod at right-back as part of a familiar Manchester United back five, Antonio Valencia on the right side on midfield, Park Ji-Sung on the left, ahead of Nani, and Ryan Giggs pairing Michael Carrick in centre midfield. Darren Fletcher wasn’t deemed fit enough to start, and only made the bench, while Javier Hernandez was giving a starting berth up front with Wayne Rooney.

Manchester United started the game, and came flying out of the blocks, but were unable to really test Victor Valdes. It was a case of having all the possession, but failing to really make any real use of it. As what happened in 2009, Barcelona started nervously, but managed to finally get a grip of the game and managed to put considerable pressure on Man United.

The breakthrough for Barca came 27 minutes, whereby Xavi managed to break through the United midfield, and with the defence backing off the midfield maestro (something that was set to be the tone for the rest of the match) Xavi picked out a lovely diagonal pass into Pedro, who calmly side-footed the ball past Edwin Van Der Sar to give the Catalan side the lead.

After taking the lead, Barca released their foot off the pedal, and allowed Manchester United to come back into the game. After 34 mins, capitalising on a Barcelona throw it, Englishman Wayne Rooney picked up the ball mid way through the Barcelona half, played a one-two with Carrick, then a one-two with Giggs, and hit a rasping curling shot into the back of the Barcelona back. A great goal to finish off a great United move.

Level at 1-1, with Barcelona pressing, and around a minute to go before half time, one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen, was Sir Alex Ferguson giving no less than can be described as a “bollocking” to striker Wayne Rooney on the sideline. He had been fuming at Rooney for dropping so deep. Naturally Rooney drops deep, and wants to be involved all the time. That’s how Rooney has grown in to one of the best forwards in the game today, but Ferguson was clearly frustrated.

At half-time, Barcelona had 67% total possession, with 8 attempts on goal, compared to Manchester United two.

The story of the game so far, was Xavi was getting too much space in midfield, Lionel Messi was dropping off the Manchester United defenders and finding space and having a huge influence on the game. Gerard Pique was dominating defensively, while Javier Hernandez was possibly offside more times than he actually touched the ball. Positively for United, Wayne Rooney looked like he could win the game single handily, as he was so amped up for the game. Fifteen minutes for us all to gather our breaths.

The second half kicked off, and unfortunately for Manchester United, it had looked like a long season had finally taken it’s toll. A fatigued looking United side were no more match for the Barcelona side who had just seemingly notched it up to another gear and began to dominate in every area of the pitch. And it due course, nine minutes after half time, Lionel Messi’s growing influence finally took charge, powering home a left footed shot past Edwin Van Der Sar. Barcelona ecstatic, Man United; deflated.

Not for resting on their laurels, Barca poured forward and continued to pummel United. With a brief moment of respite, Ferguson made his move, bringing on Nani for Fabio, with the terribly anonymous Antonio Valencia dropping into the right back position. It’s was to prove a poor move, as immediately coming on, and clearly no switched on, the dazzling feet of Lionel Messi zoomed past the Portuguese winger, and broke down the right hand side, and laid the ball to Busquets who cut it to David Villa, a man who had been criticised for his lack of goals and sloppy performances recently, picked an absolute beauty of finish, bending the ball into the top corner. A sensational finish, and the final nail in the coffin.

The final twenty minutes saw Barcelona do what they do best; keep possession. Manchester United’s only real shout of getting back into the game being a hand ball claim by Ryan Giggs against David Villa, but referee Viktor Kassai wasn’t interested.

After three minutes added time, the ref blew the whistle for full time, and brought down the curtain on one of the best Champions League finals in recent memory. Barcelona players were overjoyed, with every trophy win as important as the last, while Sir Alex Ferguson managed a wry smile on his face, as he clearly felt that Barca was the better side and that his Manchester United side had done him proud. They were indeed, just beaten by the better side.

The full time stats were as follows:

Barcelona 68% possession to Manchester United's 32%
Barcelona had 12 attempts on target, 4 off target, to Man United's 1 on target, with 2 off
Manchester United had 0 corners, compared to 6 by Barcelona
Manchester United committed 16 fouls to Barcelona's 5

Manchester United attempted 350 passes, completing 280. That's 80% completion rate
Barcelona attempted 773 passes, completing 692. That's 89% completion rate

The average age of the Manchester United squad was 29.6 years old
The average age of the Barcelona squad was 27.2 years old

The individual stats are as follows:

Lionel Messi had 5 attempts on goal, with 3 on target, scoring 1 goal
Wayne Rooney had 2 attempts on goal, with 1 on target, scoring 1 goal

The passing stats are in the photo below

Below is how both teams individual's influence in different area's of the pitch

Xavi was the best passed on the pitch, completing 141 of an attempted 148 passes. That's an astonishing 95.3% completion rate. If it wasn't for Messi's influence over the match, he would of been my man of the match. Below is a graphic of all his passes.

All stats courtesy the TotalFootball iPhone App

The reason this game was such high-quality, in my opinion not only because of calibre of players on show, but the way in which both sides conducted themselves. There was no play acting. No long ball tactics. No persistent fouling, no red cards and no surrounding of the referee debating every decision. The latter we saw creeping more and more into Barcelona's methods, evident in previous games in this Champions League campaign, that of which I lost a little bit of respect for them for. However in this game, there was a great degree of sportsmanship from both sides, and this is something that has not been publicised as much as the media, as sometimes it's just too easy to highlight poor behaviour on a football field.

This game of course is a demonstration that at my age, this Barcelona side is the best side I’ve ever seen. The way they attack, press opponents, and the way they just implement their own philosophy on the football field is a joy to marvel at.

Also, let’s not take away from the English side in this final. It’s testament to Manchester United, who played their part, and gave it a real go. Sir Alex Ferguson could have easily packed the midfield with five midfielders, sat deep and waited till the last 20 minutes to throw on both Nani and Hernandez and take an educated risk. In the beginning, he took a small risk playing two forwards, and it unfortunately didn’t pay off.

Barcelona had too much space in midfield, and the United defence were too deep for my liking. When Arsenal beat Barcelona this season, they pressed really high up the pitch, squeezed the midfield, and took risky sharp short passing in order to surpass the Barcelona pressure, and eventually hit them on the counter attack. Ferguson had his own game plan and it just wasn’t the right one on this occasion.

What next for both clubs?

Well this Barcelona team could definitely regain the Champions League trophy, and be the first to do so since it’s reformatting in the early 90’s. There is a mix of youth, experience and match winners in their squad, as well as an outstanding football philosophy and a hungry talented manager in charge. I would be happy to see them dominate over the next few years, because if you love football, then you must appreciate how fantastic this Barcelona team play, and just sit back and take it some the things they do on the pitch.

As for United, Ferguson is not done. He says he still feels good, and isn’t going anywhere. The club have been successful this season, and this defeat is only a small set back. They will surely need to rebuild, as some of the most senior players are reaching the end of their careers. Paul Scholes will probably retire this summer, Ryan Giggs probably has one year remaining at the top, goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar is now retired, along with Gary Neville. Considerable areas of the pitch, which require some considerable investment.

No matter what happens this summer, and next season, both teams can look back on this game with a proud sense of achievement, both of how far they came, and at participating in an incredible game of football. Would we take the same final again next season? I know I could definitely sit down and enjoy a third instalment of these two heavyweights in years to come.

Real Talk Football

1 comment:

  1. Have to disagree myself, about a couple of things. That I do love football, and I find only about 30% of Barca matches interesting to watch. What other people label "mesmerising" I find it to be fatigue and tiring to see as a spectator. But it's fair enough to them that they stick to it, as their priority is winning games and trophies. The irony of the final is the highlight moments are really ones of individual brilliance in Villa and Rooney's goal. Even if it wasn't for Messi own individual brilliance in the middle of the park, you could probably downgrade the interest moments of Barca matches down to 10%.

    The only things they have taken to a new level in modern football is workrate, teamwork and unity. And, they are rightly to be congratulated for that, but they wouldn't have found the heart to work so hard had they not witnessed the real point of football in other direct teams like AC Milan, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Chelsea and even Real Madrid beating them to the point...which is scoring goals and winning trophies. Really and truly, if Barca weren't finally doing that themselves, no one would be promoting their philosophy of football much less missing the point that they've simply worked harder than anyone else this year. So I think we really have to let time pass and let their achievements be put into perspective before waxing lyrical about them being one of the all time greats, because it's a new era and no one has dominated the history records just yet. The only thing they dominate year in year out is possession of the ball.