This guy is pretty good. Man of the match today, World Player of the Year--you get the idea. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Hey--we meant to put up a thread for Villarreal fans to be, you know, all neutral (or not) and give you a place to comment on the big game. But other commitments for my colleagues and a thunderstorm that knocked me offline briefly sort of screwed that up. So I'll revise what I wrote earlier and review the game from a Villarreal fan's perspective.
Going into the final, I figured Barcelona were the better team, but I was quite prepared to believe I was being influenced by the number of times I had watched Barcelona (at least eight) compared to Manchester United (snippets of a few games,basically, plus the Schalke matches). Well, turned out Barcelona were better. A lot better.
Teams have tried to handle Barca in various ways, with the most effective being to jam midfield with defensive players, hoping for a fast break counterattack (Madrid); breaking up the game with repeated fouling (Madrid again) or playing a high line, pressuring Barca in their own half and trying to counter (Villarreal's style in both games, especially the second).
Apparently before the teams were announced there was some thought that Sir Alex would try the five-man midfield approach with Darren Fletcher, leaving Rooney alone up top, but he decided to go with Chicharito and Rooney as an attack pair. In hindsight, that might not have been such a good idea.
Man Utd tried the high line early, and for the first ten minutes did pretty well. But the problem is if it's not a style you are used to, it's hard to keep the pressure up. Sort of like a basketball team that doesn't press much trying to do it for an entire game--it's exhausting mentally and physically. And that is sort of what happened here.
The Barcelona possession that we have seen so many times took over, and soon Ferdinand and Vidic were having to make saving tackles in the box to deny Pedro, and Villa, who looked very dangerous. Messi was dropping back to make an extra man in midfield, picking up the ball from Xavi and Iniesta, running at the defense, and creating panic every time he did so.
Barcelona got the goal that looked inevitable, but shortly afterward conceded an equalizer--a sloppy throw-in led to a counterattack and a fine strike from Rooney. At the half it was 1-1, though Barca had dominated play. Very similar to the first half of the Villarreal-Barca match at the Nou Camp, actually.
You might remember in the second half of that game Villarreal put up a decent fight, had a strong penalty call denied and then Barca scored 2 goals to win 3-1. That's pretty much what happened here, except there wasn't a strong penalty call. Just Barcelona dominance. The Red Devils midfield was just chasing the ball while Xavi and Iniesta played all sorts of lovely triangles with Dani Alves, Busquets,and most especially that man Messi. The two goals scored by Villa and Messi gave the same 3-1 scoreline as when the Submarine played at Barcelona.
La Liga teams know all too well that when Barcelona plays at its best, it's hard to get the ball out of your own half. The defenders have a dilemma: do they try to take on Messi, Xavi, et al. just beyond the penalty area? If they do, they leave space behind, and that can be exploited; or, they risk giving up free kicks in dangerous positions (especially true in Spanish games where the referees tend to award lots of free kicks for fouls that a Champions League ref lets go).
And if the defenders choose to retreat into the penalty area, as happened here, Messi and Villa are adept at getting into shooting positions and commencing the shooting gallery. That's what happened today. Sort of unusual for Barcelona that two of the three goals came from the top of the penalty area rather than from closer in, but they all count!
Do any of you think Manchester United could have done something differently?
Barca's Achilles heel is they leave themselves exposed to quick counterattacks because Abidal and Dani Alves press high up the pitch, and Mascherano is a weak link when he's in the middle of defense. But again, if you can't play the through ball to Rooney or Chicharito you can't exploit that weakness. Manchester United needed the sort of pass that Villarreal fans have seen so much this year from Borja Valero and Santi Cazorla. Instead, Park, Carrick, Giggs and Valencia offered virtually nothing. (Noticeably, the one incisive pass Giggs did make--possibly from an offside position--was to Rooney for his goal).
Messi was the man of the match as selected by the journalists, but I would've voted for Xavi, and I'd place Busquets third. One of the best games I've seen Biscuits play for Barcelona.
I guess the Madrid supporters won't be happy with the outcome, but everyone else in Spain should be. A masterful performance.