Manchester United trails by one. In search of an equalizer, Ferguson replaces two midfielders with strikers, going to a 4-2-4 formation with Tevez, Berbatov, Rooney, and Ronaldo all on the field. And it doesn’t take long for the opposition to go two goals ahead.
It happened at Old Trafford against Liverpool. And it happened against Barca in the Champions League final. No surprise that Alex Ferguson won manager of the year then, is it?
Barcelona is not a bottom-half Premiership side and it is not clever to go 4-2-4 against a team with Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta in the side, even if you’re losing by a goal. And credit goes to Manton, a sometime commentator on this fine blog, for calling it minutes before Messi scored.
It only took Liverpool three minutes to win the free kick and red card that made it 3-1. It took Barca four. But we won’t hold it against them.
Only die-hard Barca supporters and United haters would have wagered on this result after the first ten minutes. Ronaldo could have had a hat trick in that span himself – a free kick that Valdes spilled, a shot from distance narrowly wide, and an effort blazed across goal – while Park nearly got to the rebound of Ronaldo’s free kick.
But, against the run of play, Barca got out of their own half and Iniesta found Eto’o with a throughball. The Cameroonian made a mess out of the defender of the year (*derisive snort*) before beating Van der Saar at his near post (*second derisive snort*).
That de-pantsing clearly disheartened the Mancs, and sent Barca on their way to their slick passing game – controlling possession and moving through the middle, always looking like a threat to breach the backline.
Messi was a revelation – and that’s the first time I can say that seeing him against English opposition. Whether it was against Chelsea or Liverpool, the diminutive Argentinean has gone missing. Not tonight. The ball was stuck to his feet like superglue, and one moment in the first half stood out. He was clattered by four defenders, with everyone spilling to the ground. Somehow, Messi was first to his feet and kept possession, only the official had blown for the free kick. To be fair, I wouldn’t have played advantage either; there was no way Messi should have been able to keep the ball. It looked impossible.
For the most part, chances were few and far between, but Barca always looked the more likely. United, needing to build from the back because of incessant Barca pressure, struggling to find Rooney and Ronaldo as the half went on. The makeshift backline of Puyol-Toure-Pique-Sylvinho definitively won the day.
The second 45 saw Barca start like a house on fire as both Henry and Messi threatened. Xavi and Iniesta pulled the strings in midfield – and you’re prone to that when your midfield is Park-Carrick-Giggs, as Tevez replaced Anderson at the start of the half.
Like against Liverpool, both Rooney and Ronaldo began to get their acts together around the hour mark, as both were more frequent outlets for hopeful punts forward. And then that aforementioned tactical masterpiece, taking off Park for Berbatov, took place. Puyol won the ball in the center of the pitch, and when United couldn't clear, Xavi sent in a perfect cross for Messi, in between Vidic and O'Shea, to bury with a header. Lovely.
The main highlights after the second goal were another tackling clinic put on by Scholes (I’m stunned he hasn’t hurt more players) and United taunted by olés from the Barcelona faithful. I am a petty man who delighted in every minute.
And while it’s fun to gloat over United’s loss, the truth is that Barca won. No matter the makeshift defense or United’s power on the counter. The central midfield of Xavi and Iniesta was jaw dropping, and this is from a guy who gets to watch Gerrard, Alonso, and Mascherano week in and week out. Messi was at his best, and finally lived up to the hype against English opposition; he was simply magic.
This Barca team is the first Spanish club to win the treble, and it’s evident why. What a job Guardiola’s done, and I’m pleased to see him reap the rewards. But I’ll also readily admit I enjoy it even more because of who they’ve beaten.
Thanks, Barca. Now Liverpool has to complete the job next season and truly knock Ferguson off his "fucking perch."