Gareth Messenger - @G_Messenger
EMBED VIDEO - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg5XxDBFi0c
A rivalry renewed. Barcelona and Manchester United locked horns in the final of the UEFA Champions League final, just two years and one day after their meeting in Rome.
On 28 May 2011, Barcelona repeated the trick and put United to the sword to win another European Cup at Wembley Stadium, although you could argue the second instalment was more poetic and emphatic from a Barca point of view.
There was no repeat of 1968 Wembley euphoria for United in their bid to lift a fourth European Cup, just an unwelcome reminder of how it felt to be outplayed in 2009.
Even without mercurial captain Carles Puyol in the starting line-up, Barcelona looked unfazed by a United side who clearly had a point to prove, and wrongs to put right.
But much like 2009, United began the game like a team with a well-drilled plan. Park Ji-sung was tasked with harrowing Dani Alves, while Wayne Rooney was given the freedom to impose his physical tenacious style onto makeshift centre-back Javier Mascherano.
Such was United’s regimented operation, they even failed to be drawn into the open space, and out of position, occupied by Lionel Messi who resembled an eager child desperate to kick the ball in a park.
But as time developed, and the longer United failed to make an impact on the scoresheet, the plan began to unravel. Barcelona were building up attacks in the familiar waves around the edge of United's penalty area, with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa always involved but Messi never far from the ball or the point of danger.
Mistakes from Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs allowed Messi a sniff of a chance which he failed to capitalise on, but it left Alex Ferguson fuming on the touchline. Inevitably, the first goal arrived. Pedro finished off a pass from Xavi to give Guardiola’s side the lead.
What United had to do now was find a better reaction than they managed in Rome two years ago, when their self-belief and organisation began to wilt as soon as Barcelona took the lead, and remarkably they found it within seven minutes.
When Michael Carrick and Fabio won the ball following a Barcelona throw on the right, Rooney set off on a determined diagonal run, exchanged passes with Giggs and hit a confident drive beyond Victor Valdes as soon as he had a clear sight of goal. The equaliser came in hope rather than expectation.
Barcelona's dominance continued in the second half, and they regained the lead nearly 10 minutes after the break. Messi masterminded his way through a queue of United defenders before firing a laser of a shot past Edwin Van der Sar. Those in the colours of the Catalan club erupted as Messi celebrated his first-ever goal on English soil.
After that, it became an onslaught. Barcelona was queueing up to take shots at Van der Sar before Villa scored the third. The goalkeeper made notable stops from Messi, then Xavi, then Iniesta, but had no chance with Villa's delightful curler, after Nani had come on for Fabio and was immediately let down by his first touch.
He, and the rest of his United teammates were made to look clumsy and inept. Although, throughout this period, most who crossed Barca’s path were made to look the same.