Was it really ever in doubt? Even while United pressed and probed, trying to force an opening in the first few minutes, did anyone ever see a United victory as a plausible result? Barca are simply the best, and the proved it again on Saturday night with a performance of sheer sublimity.
Their passing was mesmerizing; Iniesta to Xavi to Messi back to Iniesta… Every shot was on target and every clearance solid. Constantly changing the tempo, Barca caused the United midfield all sorts of problems, Ferguson’s men just couldn’t cope with the fabulous combination of Xavi and Iniesta.
Their first goal was perhaps avoidable from United’s point of view, but in all honesty, even if Pedro had fluffed his lines from eight yards out, a goal would eventually have arrived. Many watchers on accused United of lacking a “Plan B” or failing to have an answer to Barcelona’s wondrous tiki-taka. However, those who look to United for the reason behind Barca’s success miss the point. Barcelona are a team of such quality, and such togetherness that I doubt a World XI, the best not playing for Barca, would even come close to victory.
United’s goal, a powerful finish from Wayne Rooney was a blip on the radar, a footnote to what was a stunning page of football history, all written by FC Barcelona. Even after Rooney’s goal, Barcelona maintained composure. Continuing to play their game, they fought on; refusing to let United have even the faintest sniff of the ball. Lionel Messi, the greatest player on the planet, wove his dribbling patterns around the pitch, and though he was stopped on occasion by the likes of Vidic and Park, it was only ever a matter of time before he struck.
For those waiting for confirmation of Messi’s brilliance, one game which stated his case to be placed alongside Pele, Maradona and Cruyff, they have finally found it. Breathtaking in the dribble and clever in his passing, Messi combined subtlety with brutality, a blaster of a goal to go with his agglomeration of nutmegs. Post match, Pep Guardiola described Messi as “probably the best ever” and I think now, few would argue with that.
From back to front, top to bottom, Barcelona oozed brilliance. Valdes, always comfortable on the ball, made several last ditch clearances to deny Chicharito, who could have been replaced with an actual pea. I doubt anyone would have noticed the difference. Eric Abidal, just two months after having a cancerous tumor removed from his liver was immense, as he silenced the considerable threat of Valencia. Upfront, the three pronged attack of Villa, Messi and Pedro continued to operate effectively, all three were on the score sheet.
On the sideline, a proud but beleaguered looking Pep Guardiola looks to have aged much since his last meeting with Sir Alex, the strains of managment have clearly effected him greatly. However, in a post match interview Guardiola stated in no uncertain terms that he plans to fulfill his contract, guaranteeing Barca at least another year of domination.
As the United players trooped off the pitch, watching sorrowfully as their Catalan rivals danced around the center circle, they must have wondered what they had to do to beat them; what feat of alchemy it would take to find the winning formula. Barcelona are not unbeatable, they are a brilliant team but not invincible. Real Madrid defended stoutly in the Copa Del Rey final, and won. Hercules were opportunistic against a poor Barca side, and won. But United, for all their planning, all their talk of maturity and development were still lacking something. The mediocrity of competition in the Premier League this year threw a veil over United’s glaring deficiencies, they are a team which must rebuild or risk being left in the others’ dust.
So while Barcelona celebrate another season of brilliance, United once must again ponder how best to combat that seemingly invincible force. Perhaps United fans, as well as Sir Alex Ferguson, should take solace in the fact that they are not the only ones who will be left praying for solutions to the plethora of problems posed by Messi and company. In Madrid, Jose Mourinho has already started his preparations for 2012 with three signings in no time at all. But, as all who plot against Barca will soon realize, their battle is eternally futile. Barca are just too good.