I decided I wanted to wait a couple of days before commenting on Barça’s immense performance at Wembley on Saturday. I wanted to let the enormity of the occasion sink in and simply to enjoy it as a fan before setting down my thoughts. Two years ago when we won in Rome I spent the hours after the final whistle frantically writing up my match report for Fcbnews and searching the internet for the best photos. This time round I watched the game without taking notes and I can definitely say there is a difference watching just as a fan from watching as a blogger/reporter. I was also able to enjoy the celebrations and it was fantastically moving to see Eric Abidal given the honour of receiving the trophy.
On the game itself I can’t say there were too many surprises, United came out very strongly but there was no way they could keep up that rhythm and it was good to see how quickly we adapted tactically to take control of the game. I didn’t think Sir Alex would change his system but by playing both Hernandez and Rooney the possibility that Giggs and Carrick would get overrun in midfield was always there. In Rome, United were surprised by Messi’s free role in the middle but this time although they had time to make plans they could find no way of stopping the Argentinian maestro.
Two years ago I was involved in a debate before the match with a United fan – LINK some United fans got very upset with my suggestion that Pep Guardiola is a better coach than Sir Alex Ferguson. I meant no disrespect to Ferguson and of course he has won far more than Pep as a manager. What I meant was that if I have to choose between the two for who I want as coach of my team I would choose Pep every time. Perhaps now United fans will begin to understand why. At Wembley Guardiola again won the tactical battle but Pep’s motivational skills also deserve a mention, we have seen the great team spirit that has been built, and perhaps of all the statistics from the game, the one I like most is the fact that our players ran more than United’s – Click here for Uefa’s match statistics – we get a lot of credit for our fancy footwork but the truly impressive thing about this team is how well our players work when they don’t have the ball.
It was no surprise that Xavi was the player with most passes in the game but I did not expect him to also be the player who covered most distance (11,950 metres). After Xavi our players who ran the most were Busquets and Iniesta, I admit I would have expected Alves and Pedro to be next but this just shows how much our midfield works to create space. I was particularly impressed with Busquets on Saturday, Rooney was given the job of shadowing Sergio when Barça had the ball and I’m sure Sir Alex was hoping that Rooney might win the ball a couple of times from our youngster but Busquets was having none of it and his movement off the ball was excellent.
I would also like to give praise to our defence. As Zonal Marking point out in their match analysis our defensive foursome of Alves-Mascherano-Pique-Abidal had only previously played 60 minutes together and we played a very high backline. Given the pace of Chicharito and Rooney this might have appeared somewhat risky but we were organised enough to catch Hernandez offside during the early exchanges and he never got a sniff of goal. Mascherano deserves special praise for adapting so quickly to the centre-back position (and of course another brownie point goes to Pep for recognising Masch’s potential in this position). What a great signing he has turned out to be.
Another point I’d like to make was that it was pleasing to see so many shots from the zone just outside the area. We are sometimes accused of not shooting enough from this zone but at Wembley Carrick struggled to control this area and we tried our luck regularly from outside the ‘D’, and we were rewarded for our efforts with the goals from Messi and Villa.
There’s a lot more I could say on the match but I’d just like to say how satisfying it is to hear the praise coming from England. It seems they have finally decided to accept that we are at another level and they look like they are going to reflect long and hard to learn from this lesson. It is nice to read all this stuff about this being the future of football – BBC pundits but it does beg the question of what of what have they been doing in these last three years since the Pep-revolution began.
Finally, I’d like to give a big shout to Luis Enrique who will be moving on this summer to bigger things. A fantastic two years as coach of Barça B has taken the team to third place in the Second Division, an achievement comparable in its excellence with that of Pep Guardiola and the A-team.
Thanks to all of you for reading, I hope there is some news to talk about soon on the transfer front. I have to admit to a liking for Rossi. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.