- Posted by Geoff Reid
- On May 26, 2011
- 1 Comments
- FC Barcelona, Geoff Reid, Manchester United, UCL 2010/11
By Geoff Reid
It’s been a very good UEFA Champions League season with a dream final for most fans, and neutral fans at that. You can also definitely say that from a marketing perspective, you couldn’t have asked for a better final, maybe a Barcelona vs Real Madrid final arguably, but we already saw that in the semi finals. Manchester United are the world’s most marketable sports franchise, while Barcelona are not far behind, and possess the world’s best player in Lionel Messi.Now of course, this is a repeat of the final from two years ago in Rome which the Catalan giants won 2-0. Fast forward to today, the difference on paper is Barcelona seem to have just gotten stronger, while Manchester United have gotten weaker with Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez moving on to greener pastures new. Both sides came through their respective groups with ease.
Barcelona topped Group D with 14 points without losing a match, and four ahead of second place and surprise FC kobenhavn from Denmark. It would be the round of 16 match up where Barcelona had their biggest test against Arsenal. Having lost the first leg in North London 2-1, a very tense second leg in Camp Nou awaited with a Spanish Champions winning 3-1 on the night in very dramatic fashion, and 4-3 on aggregate.
Next in the quarter finals it was the surprise package from the Ukraine Shaktar Donetsk but their magical run came to an end with Barcelona beating them 6-1 on aggregate. This set up a dream semi final with Real Madrid, and coinciding with a league game, and Spanish Copa Del Rey final, the two Spanish giants faced each other four times over the space of three weeks. While the galacticos from Madrid won the Copa Del Rey, and the league match only a draw, Barcelona got the last laugh by knocking their bitter rivals out 3-1 on aggregate. Even more impressive was winning 2-0 in Madrid, and the magic of Messi that night.
What Barcelona achieved two years ago winning six trophies, and more importantly every tournament they entered in 2009, they cannot replicate that by winning the Champions League this season. However, Wembley is where they won their first European Cup, when that was the name of the tournament, in 1992 under Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. Is this Barcelona side better then the one in 1992? You can’t really compare teams from different generations so their is no way of telling, but one thing that is important is the Dutch style that Cruyff brought to Catalonia back when he played for the club in the 1970’s and took over as manager in 1988 is stamped onto today’s team managed by Pep Guardiola who was one of Cruyff’s best pupils as a player.
For the newly crowned English champions Manchester United it was largely the same during the group stages having topped their group with 14 points, and were four clear of second place Valencia and going unbeaten in the process. In the last 16, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side met the 1993 Champions Marseille and while the first leg on the Mediterranean coast in southern France was a bore 0-0 draw, United did what they had to do in the second leg by winning 2-1.
It was the quarter final match up that drew attention facing Premier League rival Chelsea. The first leg took place in west London with United winning off a Wayne Rooney goal at Stamford Bridge. The second leg at Old Trafford was more of the same from United, who were rarely challenged until it was too late for Chelsea and by winning 2-1 on the night, the red devils got the 3-1 aggregate score.
During the semi finals, Schalke were the opposition, one of the many surprises from this season’s tournament. Nobody expected the German side to get this far, especially with their poor league form in the Bundesliga. Needless to say, United were not going to overlook them, and with a 2-0 win in the first leg in Gelsenkirchen, Sir Alex Ferguson had the luxury of being able to rest some players for the second leg. With that in mind, United still ended up winning 4-1 at home, and a total of 6-1 on aggregate.
What’s interesting is that as mentioned before, on paper this United squad is considerably weaker, but by no means does that mean anything. After winning the Premier League for a record 19th time, this would complete an excellent season for the club, and it will be goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar’s last game as a professional at the age of 40. A legend at Ajax, with the Holland national team, and in the tournament itself, he won the Champions League way back in 1995 with Ajax and the great team they had then. He had to wait until 2008 when United beat English rivals Chelsea on penalty kicks in Moscow, and this would be the perfect end to his career.
Check back later in the week for a preview of the match from Wembley Stadium, and first European Final since Wembley was rebuilt.