|One game too far for United
||[May. 28th, 2009|11:21 am]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
At times, it was like sitting in the maestro's studio and watching the great Velasquez filling a canvas.
The touches were exquisite, the style mesmerising. The football played by Barcelona in Rome was worthy of European Champions.
But what was equally interesting was that, while Barcelona out-played Manchester United in the Champions League final, Pep Guardiola had clearly out-coached Sir Alex Ferguson.
Guardiola's tactics meant that United were completely shut down in Rome's Olympico Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, their twin threats up front, were neutered, their threat fully anticipated and contained. All this in Guardiola's first season as Barcelona coach, a year in which he has led the great Catalan club to the Spanish League title, the Spanish Cup and now the UEFA Champions League.
This was not just a win but an overwhelming triumph for Barcelona. They had style, elegance, pace, poise and panache. United never began to penetrate the workmanlike Barca side, the first minutes excepted, and their measured stride was rarely disturbed.
Perhaps it was just one game too far for United at the end of a long, hard season. Once Barcelona had scored early on, Samuel Eto'o slipping the ball inside Edwin van der Saar's near post, United could never disrupt United's flow. United spent most of the game chasing shadows, chasing the ball and chasing their increasingly forlorn hopes. They never once looked capable of turning the tide and Barcelona's crucial second goal, scored inevitably by Lionel Messi, settled it long, long before the end.
United's impotence was a surprise. But they looked strangely flat, seemingly finding it difficult to match both Barcelona's control and their style. There was only one team who played in a way that resembled European Champions and that was the clear winners on the night.
Regrets for United? Of course there will be. They just never got into the game in the Roman amphitheatre. That will hurt most.
But a third successive English Premier League title is not to be sniffed at, never mind the World Club Champions crown, and maybe that mighty Premier League effort in the end told on United and their doubtless weary players.