Champions League Final : Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and admit defeat.

The Reds could hardly have prepared better, and even dominated the game's early stages, but at Wembley on Saturday night Barcelona proved why so many regard them as the best footballing team on the planet. They're certainly champions of Europe. That much is certain now. Not even Wayne Rooney's first-half equaliser, after Pedro had put the Spanish side ahead, blunted their relentless passing game for long.
 
There can be no shame in defeat. Not to this Barcelona side, a group of players that will surely go down as one of the most talented sides ever assembled. This is a team that boasts, arguably, three of the best five players in the world, a side that battered Real Madrid 5-0 earlier this season in a performance that prompted Rooney to stand and applaud in his own living room.
 
Perhaps in years to come Rooney will admire Barcelona's performance in this match, too. At Wembley on Saturday there was only disappointment, punctuated briefly when he curled home from 15 yards to ignite hope. After that, though, Rooney, like most of his team-mates, struggled to make an impact.
 
Just as in Rome two years ago, the Reds started brightly and spent the majority of the opening 10 minutes in the Barcelona half. United's midfield made early challenges and pressed high up the pitch, with Ji-sung Park and Michael Carrick proving particularly effective at disrupting Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and admit defeat.
 
The Reds could hardly have prepared better, and even dominated the game's early stages, but at Wembley on Saturday night Barcelona proved why so many regard them as the best footballing team on the planet. They're certainly champions of Europe. That much is certain now. Not even Wayne Rooney's first-half equaliser, after Pedro had put the Spanish side ahead, blunted their relentless passing game for long.
 
There can be no shame in defeat. Not to this Barcelona side, a group of players that will surely go down as one of the most talented sides ever assembled. This is a team that boasts, arguably, three of the best five players in the world, a side that battered Real Madrid 5-0 earlier this season in a performance that prompted Rooney to stand and applaud in his own living room.
 
Perhaps in years to come Rooney will admire Barcelona's performance in this match, too. At Wembley on Saturday there was only disappointment, punctuated briefly when he curled home from 15 yards to ignite hope. After that, though, Rooney, like most of his team-mates, struggled to make an impact.
 
Just as in Rome two years ago, the Reds started brightly and spent the majority of the opening 10 minutes in the Barcelona half. United's midfield made early challenges and pressed high up the pitch, with Ji-sung Park and Michael Carrick proving particularly effective at disrupting Lessons were learned that night, though, and within seven minutes at Wembley the Reds were back on level terms. It was Rooney, at the end of a tumultuous season both on and off the pitch, who found the net and dragged United back into the game, exchanging passes with both Carrick and Giggs before curling the ball past Victor Valdes from 15 yards.
 
There was elegance in the move and grace in the finish – proof that Barcelona aren't the only side who can do justice to the beautiful game. And although Andres Iniesta tried his luck from distance and Messi was mere inches from Villa's cross on the stroke of half-time, Sir Alex's men went into the break at 1-1.
 
Barcelona remained in the ascendancy when the second period began. Xavi twice found space on the edge of the area to shoot, only to be denied by blocks from Vidic and Carrick, while Dani Alves blasted at van der Sar after finding space down the right; Messi's follow-up was headed clear by Patrice Evra.
 
A minute later, Messi restored the Catalans' advantage, stroking the ball home from 20 yards. Nobody was surprised the ball found the net – it was his 12th goal in 13 Champions League games this season – but even the Argentina star must have have raised an eyebrow or two at the amount of space he was afforded. There was no United player within five yards of the Barcelona no.10 when he received the ball. Evra and Vidic made tentative moves toward him, but by the time either had committed themselves, Messi had advanced and picked his spot, guiding the ball past  van der Sar from 20 yards.
 
At the other end, United struggled to involve Javier Hernandez, a player who so much seemed to rest upon before kick-off. The Mexican was often isolated, or caught offside – certainly, opportunities for him to unsettle Barcelona with his blistering pace were few and far between.
 
A cheeky Messi flick was cleared off the line by Fabio just after the hour-mark, before Xavi and Iniesta drew smart stops from van der Sar.
 
Barcelona's killer third goal arrived on 69 minutes and in spectacular fashion. Again Messi was the architecht, wriggling his way into the area and drawing defenders like bees to honey. The Reds did nick the ball, but only briefly. When it was rolled back to David Villa on the edge of the area, he took one touch to trap it dead before his second delivered the killer blow. With minimum backlift he achieved maximum impact, curling the ball sumptuously into the top corner.
 
That was that. There was no coming back from there. Not from 3-1 down. Not against Barcelona. Just as in 2009, United will have to settle for being champions of England and runners-up to the best team on this planet or another.

PLAYER RATING

Edwin van der Sar
Made several good saves, the pick of them a fine block from an Alves drives in the second period. Left exposed for the first goal and helpless for the third, but a keeper of his class might be disappointed not to have got something on the second, not least as this was his farewell match in professional football.
 
Fabio
Had a difficult time up against Pedro, whose elusive movement coming in off the flank caught the youngster out at times. Brave goal-line clearance in the second period which cost him a knock. Came off for Nani as United chased the game.
 
Nemanja Vidic
Tackled superbly all game, especially in stopping Messi in the box on 22 minutes. Found himself scrambling back in vain for the first goal, but was one of United’s best performers on the night.
 
Rio Ferdinand
Took responsibility for marshalling the defence in the face of the Barcelona barrage. Early tackles on Villa and Pedro were typical Rio.
 
Patrice Evra
Had his hands full in his own half so couldn’t bomb forward as often as he usually does. Made a vital headed block on a Messi shot but was beaten for the third goal.
 
Antonio Valencia
Forced to do a lot of defensive work, which he carried out diligently. Only once got himself one-on-one with Abidal in an unusually subdued performance.
 
Ryan Giggs
Harrassed and harried in the engine room as he and Carrick looked to screen the defence and deny Barca time on the ball. Comfortable on the ball and passed accurately, as well as showing some nice touches. Assisted Rooney’s goal with a neat pass.
 
Michael Carrick
A fine performance in the midfield, playing with discipline, staying goalside of the ball as much as possible and tidying up. Also involved in Rooney's goal with a fine one-two. Comes away with credit.
 
Ji-sung Park
Worked tirelessly – that was a given and put in plenty of tackles as he helped Evra with the threat of Alves down the right. Ran his heart out for the cause but scarcely had a chance to register one of his big-game goals.
 
Wayne Rooney
He was up for this one, no doubt. Worked hard, won headers and was United’s biggest attacking threat. Started and finished the move to score a high-quality goal.
 
Javier Hernandez
Buzzed about brightly in the early stages, playing right on the shoulder of the centre-halves. But as Barca took over he understandably became a peripheral figure. Never stopped working.
 
Substitutes
 
Nani (for Fabio, 69)
Came on just in time for Messi to skip past him in setting up Barcelona's killer third goal. Thereafter was positive on the right wing, taking on Abidal and firing one shot that flew wide.
 
Paul Scholes (for Carrick, 77)
Had little time to make an impact. Hopefully not the last time we'll see him in a United shirt.
Advertisement
Advertisement