Red Devils Outclassed
by Teo Teng Kiat (twitter.com/tengkiat)
When Rooney had hauled us back on level terms to 1-1 during the Champions League final yesterday night, I was hoping at halftime that United would step up a gear and play much better for the second half. Instead, after Messi, and then Villa, had popped two more goals past Van der Sar, I was praying for Barcelona not to score a fourth and make the scoreline a humiliating one.
We were simply outplayed and outclassed and beaten by the better team at Wembley. As Sir Alex, who could only look on helplessly from the stands, said during the press conference later: “In my time as a manager, I would say they are the best team I’ve faced…No one has given us a hiding like that.” The players themselves knew it too; Vidic, Ferdinand and Van der Sar said pretty much the same thing as well. Indeed, apart from a promising first ten minutes for United, the rest of the game was dominated by Barcelona, with their tiki-taka passing and superb movement off the ball, which meant that they quickly regained possession after losing it, keeping United on the backfoot most of the time.
The gaffer had gone with a 4-4-2 lineup with a starting eleven that was largely expected, perhaps having the idea of “let-them-worry-about-us-too” in his head. But whatever tactical masterplan him and the coaching staff might have devised, it wasn’t enough, although I felt the players didn’t play as well as they could have too.
Our midfield, in particular, was simply overwhelmed. Valencia, in particular, had a wretched game. The Ecuadorean could, and should have been booked on multiple occasions, and he didn’t take on Abidal the whole night; we only did that when Nani came on. Giggs was on the periphery much of the time, despite setting up the goal for Rooney, while Park didn’t offer too much and faded out of the game. Carrick, totally exposed in the centre, was schooled in the art of midfield play by Xavi and Iniesta.
Rooney was our best player on the pitch, as he pretty much ran his heart out, dropping deep at times, and staying out on the flanks at other times to receive the ball, and always tried to get United going in the attack. He scored a lovely consolation goal, in a rare moment of brilliant passing play. Ferdinand and Vidic were largely excellent in the centre of defence as well, weighing in with a few crucial tackles, which meant that Barcelona had to try their luck from outside the box, and unfortunately two of such strikes went in. The game was a bit too much for Fabio, forced off with cramp in the second half, while Evra had a poor game positionally, exposed time and again, in particular for the opening goal.
We must congratulate Barcelona here, for they were well deserved winners. They played some lovely football, and although they are not unbeatable, the truth is that I don’t think anyone would have beaten them yesterday night. Xavi gave a masterclass in midfield yesterday, and Messi had us on tenterhooks everytime he was on the ball. There is no doubting that the Argentine genius is the best player on the planet now, just as the Catalan side are the best team in world football.
For United, this defeat exposed clearly the lack of strength in our central midfield. We need a flair player for creativity to unlock defences, as well as a hardman-type of player in the mould of Roy Keane. It is perhaps time for Fergie to really look at his team closely and decide whether an overhaul is required. With players like Giggs and Scholes in their twilight years, Van der Sar retiring, Berbatov, Hargreaves and maybe even Owen leaving, the manager has some major decisions to make one way or another.
Nevertheless, let’s not forget that we have done very well to make it to a third Champions League final in four seasons, in addition to being champions of England for a record 19th time. The players came up short this time, but we cannot forget the effort they have put in for the rest of the season. We couldn’t send Van der Sar off with a victory unfortunately, but still we will forever be grateful for his six years of brilliance in goal. Thank you Edwin; you will be missed.
United have to learn the lessons from this defeat, and then move on and come back stronger again next season, and hopefully have a better go. Here’s to a good pre-season, and some astute signings in the transfer market.