The match started with Manchester United piling on the pressure. Sir Alex Ferguson had obviously prepared his players to disrupt Barcelona's passing in the first ten minutes, and while they did that well, they weren't able to keep the work rate up throughout the entire game. Yet the first few minutes looked shaky for the blaugrana. The passes were off their mark, players seemed slow to react, and the ball wasn't in their possession as they wanted it to be. The central defensive partnership of Pique and Mascherano wasn't looking very solid, especially against an energetic Hernandez and a fiery Rooney.
While United pushed well their strong spell soon ended, and Barcelona became familiar with keeping the ball. Slowly, Barca made their way up the field, always keeping the ball from a now tired Manchester United team. Xavi and Iniesta were both brilliant in their display of passing, each one weaving magnificent attacks together with their pinpoint passing. The Barcelona system was slowly beginning to tear Manchester United apart. David Villa was distracting the defence, Messi was mesmerizing the crowd, and Pedro got the first goal.
Rooney celebrates his equalizerXavi's lightning quick through ball arrived perfectly for Pedro to control, and then slot past Edwin van der Saar for the opening goal. Manchester United had given Xavi too much time with the ball at his feet, and everyone seemingly forgot about Pedro, except Xavi. The 27th minute opener seemed fitting as the possession stats constantly rose towards Barcelona's favour.
But United flared up with a reaction. Their incessant pressing returned as they were able to put Mascherano, the weak link of the Barca machine, under pressure. Rooney spearheaded the attack, and a quick pair of passes between him and Javier Hernandez put the Barcelona defence into a bit of trouble as United equalized. Hernandez's square ball to Rooney was perfect for the Englishman to slap into the Barcelona net in the 34th minute. But Barcelona weren't very worried. They kicked off and continued playing, coming close to scoring several times before the halftime whistle blew.
In the second half, Barcelona's passing was the spectacle. It's difficult to explain how instrumental Xavi and Iniesta were in just about anything Barcelona did. The two players were omnipresent, keeping possession, and winning the ball back with immediate pressure if they lost it. Abidal was also immense for Barcelona. His shifting to the center of the defence when Dani Alves pushed forward allowed Barcelona to play with three at the back, giving the team plenty of players when going forward. It's his movement and cover which allowed the Barcelona system to seamlessly operate.
Villa celebrating his goal which sealed the final at 3-1
When the pieces fit perfectly in the system, individual brilliance can shine through. Lionel Messi who had been brought down by a frustrated Valencia plenty of times, decided to make his mark on the game. A darting run through the middle of the field was topped off with a low finish past the United keeper. The goal was magnificent, and the Argentine showed us yet again why we should be lauding him as the best player in the game.
After Messi's amazing winner, David Villa produced some magic as well. In the 70th minute he stopped the ball on the edge of United's box and curled the ball into the top-right corner. It was a magnificent goal which even if Edwin van der Saar tried to stop it, he had no chance of touching the perfectly placed ball.
From here, Barcelona gave the world a lesson in passing and pressing. Josep Guardiola's ideal style of play materialized itself beautifully on the field, with Xavi as the professor, showing us all the importance of passing. And as the clock ticked away, Manchester United almost resigned themselves to the loss. While Sir Alex Ferguson tried putting in Nani to inject some pace and renewed fight, the Portuguese winger was unable to motivate his teammates. Barcelona on the other hand substituted Keita, Puyol, and Afellay in the final five minutes, as Scholes was also subbed on for United.
Abidal lifting the trophy for Barcelona. A wonderful touch by the Spanish club to let him lift the trophy first.
It was a final well disputed, but Barcelona's brilliance was unstoppable. Manchester United did their best in the first minutes, trying to contain Xavi and Iniesta, but the pair of Spaniards were unfazed. Their passing was what gave Barcelona the majority of possession (68% Barcelona, 32% Manchester United). This 3-1 victory has helped define a team which stands the test of time, and can be considered the greatest club side in at least the past ten years. Congratulations to FC Barcelona for the amazing victory.