United left breathless by Iniesta midfield mastery

Barcelona 2 Manchester United 0

Sir Alex Ferguson lingered just long enough to say a few gracious words to the Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, on the losers' rostrum and from a distance it looked like the Manchester United manager had just described the new European champions as incredible. He might have chosen any one of few words: awesome, unplayable, masterful.

You cruel men of Rome: a Barcelona team who reduced the best of the Premier League to a pile of rubble. Ferguson's men were run out of town last night, hapless bystanders against the best team in the world. Not the greatest match of all time, not even close, but this was the kind of Champions League final victory that every great coach craves: the figurative cigars lit, dominance in every department.

To United belonged the first 10 minutes; as for the rest, it was all Barcelona after a goal from Samuel Eto'o. For the Scotsman who sought to become an emperor in Rome this goal on 10 minutes was a mortal blow, a case of Et tu, Eto'o? From that blow United were down but it was Josep Guardiola's team who magnificently established themselves as superior to United up to and beyond the moment that Lionel Messi scored the second on 70 minutes.

Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo? United's winger threatened in the first 10 minutes to have the game of his life with a free-kick that was sent skipping awkwardly at Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal. And then he dipped alarmingly from view, surfacing rarely before finally he landed an elbow on the top of Carles Puyol's head to get booked. The last we saw of him he was getting a consoling cuddle from Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, one of the few men in the stadium more self-regarding than the United winger.

This was a beautiful encore to the Catalans' miraculous season which has included the treble of league, cup and Champions League – the first team from their country ever to win all three in a single season. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that Barcelona are light years ahead of United – although they were last night – but it must trouble Ferguson that his team succumbed so badly on this, the occasion of his first defeat in five European finals as a manager.

What happened to United? They chased the game like an overwrought Under-14s team, unable to keep the ball away from that glorious triumvirate of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Messi. They created none of the claustrophobia that Chelsea maintained to keep Guardiola's team at bay for 93 minutes in the semi-final, second leg at Stamford Bridge this month: a game that remains the best template for doing so.

There were shades of England's humbling at the hands of a Spain team led by Xavi and Iniesta in February. For 10 minutes, as United kept Barcelona penned within their own half, they looked like the high-tempo bullies they have proved all season, Barcelona like some mid-table Premier League roadkill. And then the goal from Eto'o changed everything.

Iniesta was given enough space to play in Eto'o down the right of the United area where he glided past the most timid of challenges from Nemanja Vidic. Michael Carrick, who had followed the ball from Iniesta's foot, slid in to try to retrieve it but Eto'o beat Edwin van der Sar at his near post.

From then on Ferguson grasped at different variations on a formation that did not work. He went from the orthodox 4-3-3, with Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-Sung either side of Ronaldo, to a 4-4-2 system. Then at half-time he brought on Carlos Tevez for the ineffectual Anderson and switched Rooney from left to right, where he looked no happier. By the end of the game, with Dimitar Berbatov on the pitch, United were in a 4-2-4 formation and definitely no better off.

United never grasped the key, which was controlling the threat of Xavi and Iniesta. They never put enough pressure on a Barcelona defence that was woefully under-strength and which, after 16 minutes had Gerard Pique on a booking for blocking Ronaldo's run. After that initial free-kick from Ronaldo in the first 10 minutes it was hard to remember a single save that Valdes was required to make.

There were some wretched performances among a United team that has swept all before it in England this season. Most notably Park, who looked out of his depth. Anderson was engulfed by the passing movement between the Barcelona shirts. Carrick did his best, but he too must have been having flashbacks to Seville in February and the fearful geometry of those Spanish passing moves.

Watching it from the bench must have been an exquisite kind of pain for Ferguson. Barcelona played their football in the United half and, unfortunately for United, so did they. A Rooney cross on 56 minutes was too strong for Ronaldo and bounced over Park's head. At the start of the second half Thierry Henry had turned Rio Ferdinand inside out down the left and was stopped only when the United defender poked out a hopeful leg.

In the 51st minute Iniesta mooched through the middle of their defence and was brought down. Xavi clipped the free-kick against the left post of Van der Sar's goal. It seemed to say that Barcelona would score whenever they decided and in time they did.

On 70 minutes, Puyol won the ball in the right-back position, he found Xavi who had as much time as he needed to drop the ball sweetly on to the head of Messi. He may stand at just 5ft 7in but with Ferdinand and John O'Shea yards away it did not matter. The Argentine looped his header over Van der Sar and the whole thing was over.

Ronaldo elbowed Puyol and was booked. Paul Scholes was lucky to stay on the pitch after a tackle that almost cut Sergi Busquets in half. But very soon United were heading for the exit as the celebrations began, going down the steps into the subterranean dressing rooms, descending into their own kind of personal hell.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Puyol, Touré, Pique, Sylvinho; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Rodriguez, 89); Messi, Eto'o, Henry (Keita, 71). Substitutes not used: Pinto (gk), Caceres, Gudjohnsen, Krkic, Muniesa.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Anderson (Tevez, h-t), Carrick, Giggs (Scholes, 75); Park (Berbatov, 66), Ronaldo, Rooney.

Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Nani, R da Silva, Evans.

Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).

Man-for-man marking


Victor Valdes

Recovered from nervy start as United failed to exploit his weakness on crosses 6/10

Carles Puyol

Rarely used at right-back, kept Rooney quiet and almost scored with head 8

Yaya Toure

Filling in at the back, was happier on the ball than when facing Ronaldo's thrusts 6

Gerard Pique

Terrific early block on Park built confidence. Booked for blatant block on Ronaldo 7


Former Arsenal man did well against Park and then Rooney. One great cross for Eto'o 7


Denied a goal by the post but set up Messi with a superb cross. Excellent as ever 8

Sergio Busquets

Youngest member of the side, bypassed at Stamford Bridge, but more confident here 7

Andres Iniesta

Belatedly recognised as real deal, set up first goal splendidly. Was a constant threat 8

Samuel Eto'o

Started on the right and unlike at Chelsea, stayed there. Took his goal very well 7

Lionel Messi

Dropped off cleverly into space. Won battle with Ronaldo and deserved his goal 8

Thierry Henry

Lost to Barça three years ago, linked up well with old Arsenal team-mate Sylvinho 7

Substitutes: Keita (for Henry, 71) Kept things tight as Barcelona cruised to deserved victory 6

Manchester United

Edwin van der Sar

Shell-shocked by early goal; kicking, handling suspect for a while. Better late on 6/10

John O'Shea

First-choice right-back despite competition, lost Henry once or twice in a good duel 6

Rio Ferdinand

Messi dropping deep gave him the dilemma: should I stay or go? Lost him for the goal 6

Nemanja Vidic

United's Player of the Year was caught out badly for Eto'o's goal, allowing him inside 5

Patrice Evra

Faced Eto'o more than Messi but struggled. Poor clearance led to second Barça goal 4

Michael Carrick

Taking on this midfield is a difficult task for any playmaker. Passing not accurate enough 5


Impressive at season's end but unable to get into this game. Lasted only a half 4

Ryan Giggs

The 35-year-old captain came in for Darren Fletcher. Not influential, missed good chance 5

Park Ji-Sung

Almost scored to make up for disappointment of missing out last year but well held overall 5

Cristiano Ronaldo

Performance of two halves: great shooting early on but then faded badly. Booked 6

Wayne Rooney

After quiet first half on the left swapped wings and put some better crosses in. Frustrated 5

Substitutes: Tevez (for Anderson, 69) Chased everything 6; Dimitar Berbatov (for Park, 65) Weak 5; Paul Scholes (for Giggs, 74) 5

Steve Tongue

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine