Rob Dawson’s pick: Barcelona destroy Manchester United
The match: Barcelona 3-1 Man United (2011)
The place: London
The Champions League final finished 3-1, but in reality, Pep Guardiola’s side could have scored many more; Barcelona had 22 shots overall, and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar made nine saves for a United side that scored with their only effort on target.
United were a good side and had won the Premier League that same season, but they could not get anywhere near their opponents at Wembley Stadium. Afterward, Sir Alex Ferguson called it “a hiding” and said Guardiola’s team was “the best team I’ve faced” during his long managerial career.
United did well to stay in the game for as long as they did and did not play particularly badly — Wayne Rooney’s well-worked goal meant they went into half-time at 1-1 — but instead of using their usual attacking and defending patterns of play, they were in disarray for most of the game.
Spaces opened up where they usually would not, due to the movement of Barcelona’s forwards, and that, combined with the speed of thought and passing by the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, dragged United players into areas they did not want to go.
There was a moment in the first half when United won a free kick, close to the halfway line on the left touchline. Usually during that season, it would have been played short to build a better goal-scoring opportunity, but that night central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic went forward and the ball was arrowed into the penalty area. It was almost an acceptance they could not win any other way.
Fans who travel to watch United around the world have a reputation for being some of the best and loudest around, but the atmosphere in their end was relatively flat for a Champions League final because it was apparent from very early that Barcelona were far superior; goals from Pedro, Messi and David Villa simply confirmed that.
“They play the right way and they enjoy their football,” Ferguson said. “They do mesmerise you with their passing and we never really did control Messi. But many people have said that. In my time as manager, it’s the best team I’ve faced.”
It was quite the compliment, reflective of what had been a stunning display.