Man United v Barcelona: Empires rise and fall
It was a disappointing night for Manchester United fans at the Stadio Olimpico last Wednesday, but Jerome Butcher believes United will bounce back.
So, in stark contrast to last years bittersweet Champions League final experience whereby the journey to Moscow was a complete and utter nightmare but the result made it all worth it, this time I merely had to jump on a three hour train from Bologna to Rome, but the game was a living nightmare.
United seemed destined to reach the final given I was spending nine months studying in Italy this year.
I spent the first couple of hours in Rome, finding my feet and admiring the sea of red/blue-burgundy descending on the Italian capital. I stumbled across United’s hotel, the team bus parked outside, and a glimpse of the Cup.
I was really not appreciating the 24-hour city-wide alcohol ban. Eventually I concluded that this probably was a good move by the authorities, but needless to say, only in Italy would they introduce this for fear of not being able to deal with the situation (and scores of drunken football fans).
Outside the stadium, I felt the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, but fans were mingling and as expected there was no trouble. How different would this report have been had it been an all-English final?
Our group of a dozen United fans found its way through the maze of a route, (typical of Italy, nothing is ever simple), to get to Gates 50-52 of the Stadio Olimpico, hundreds of watchful Carabinieri eyes glaring at us. This didn’t stop my father from taking a photo, ill advised but then they should really cheer up – it’s Champions League Final day!
We get into the ground hassle-free – no identity checks for us. The ‘fan-zone’ outside the stadium was poorly advertised but well organised. It’s a shame more fans didn’t gather here before the match.
Both sets of fans, (United seem to make up the best part of two-thirds of the 72,000 strong audience), were in good voice over an hour before kick-off. The opening ceremony was dramatic, the soundtrack from ‘Gladiator’ film blasting out, which got the adrenaline racing through the veins.
As everyone, including Ronny, has already pointed out, the tactics didn’t work. So I won’t bore you with an in-depth analysis. Simply put, Giggs was out of his depth, Rooney was made redundant, and Park was redundant. Anderson was anonymous and Carrick was left to pick up the pieces.
I felt that Ferguson finished the game with the team that he should have started with. Tevez, as ever, wearing his studs down to nothing. Berbatov was still looking lethargic but good at creating. I thought he was brought in from Spurs for his goal-scoring potency and to sit in the box, poaching like Van Nistelrooy did in days gone by. Next season will truly determine whether he was £31m well spent.
United did start the game the better team with Ronaldo determined to take first blood. Eto’o put an end to all the positive signs United would make it back-to-back CL wins and his darting run, past Vidic and immaculate finish at Van der Sar’s near post in the 10th minute winded United, with no recommended recovery position to help.
Xavi, (who fully deserved Man of the match) and Iniesta pulled the strings in midfield and their possession play, total football, whatever you want to call, it was flawless and evidently too much for United to deal with. Xavi hit the post with a free-kick, curling it beautifully past the wall. Henry also had a few chances blocked by Van der Sar.
And the two central midfielders provided Messi, Eto’o and Henry with all the supply they needed. The Messi vs Ronaldo duel was incredible; everything and more that the world could have wished/hoped for. They both wanted to leave their mark, but no arguments can be made the Argentine came out on top especially when he scored Barca’s second on 70 minutes with a perfectly timed header. He rose above everyone unmarked and made certain that Barca were the first Spanish side to win the treble.
I think most United fans were philosophical by the final whistle: all I could muster up was: “you can’t win ’em all”.
But it is true, United will regroup. Ferguson will still be just as determined to win more European trophies. Maybe his next objective is to reach five and equal Liverpool’s record just as he has done with Premiership trophies. There’s no questioning United’s intent. They’ll be back and next May they’ll want to bring down Catalonia’s empire in Madrid!
Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Toure Yaya, Pique, Sylvinho, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Pedrito 90), Messi, Eto’o, Henry (Keita 72).
Subs Not Used: Pinto, Caceres, Muniesa, Gudjohnsen, Bojan.
Goals: Eto’o 10, Messi 70.
Man United: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Anderson (Tevez 46), Carrick, Giggs (Scholes 75), Park (Berbatov 66), Ronaldo, Rooney.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Rafael Da Silva, Evans, Nani.
Booked: Ronaldo, Scholes, Vidic.
Ref: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).