Pete Jenson: Eto'o thrives after move to right
Thursday 28 May 2009
"We don't always agree on things," said Samuel Eto'o about his relationship with coach Pep Guardiola this week. "Sometimes we do what I say, sometimes we do what he says but usually it's true that when we do what he says he turns out to be right." It will have been Guardiola that decided to start with his Cameroon centre-forward wide on the right and Leo Messi through the middle, and it worked like a dream in the crucial first period of the game.
Not just because it was Eto'o who steamed in from the right past Nemanja Vidic, putting Barça ahead, but because it gave them a width they might otherwise have missed and, more importantly, it freed up Messi to play centrally, just off the front. There he linked up with Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta and formed a Bermuda Triangle in which United's midfield sank without trace.
While Sir Alex Ferguson failed to exploit Barça's weakest point – the forced selection of Sylvinho at left-back – Guardiola took full advantage of the absence of Darren Fletcher. The link-up play between Xavi and especially Messi and Iniesta, who have been playing together since they were young teenagers, was too much for United and for Michael Carrick, who was cruelly exposed as Iniesta set-up Eto'o's goal.
In the semi-final, first leg Chelsea sat a midfield five in front of their back four and there was no way through for Barcelona's pass masters but in the Stadio Olimpico Messi and Iniesta played in Carrick's space and dominated it. Meanwhile Eto'o was more than a match for Patrice Evra, who had expected to be marking Messi.
Scoring first, Barça forced United to make changes, throwing on first Carlos Tevez and then Dimitar Berbatov and finishing up with four forwards on the pitch. As a consequence they were even more out-numbered in midfield.
Of course, the one problem with playing Messi through the middle is that he is not a centre-forward. He can't make those perfectly-timed runs into the six-yard box and he certainly can't head the ball. Well, maybe he can. It was not as powerful as Cristiano Ronaldo's header in the final last year but it was just as clever and it ended up in the back of Edwin van der Sar's net.
Defensively, Barcelona's big fear going into the game was the loss of both their full-backs. But with Sergi Busquets protecting a back four playing together for the first time this season they were not troubled in the first half.
Guardiola got so much right but he also got lucky because so many of his players served up their best game of the season. No-one more than Eto'o, who gave everything in the last 90 minutes of what has been for him an extraordinary season.
At the start of the campaign he was put in the Camp Nou shop window. Fortunately for Barça no-one took a chance on a player whose outbursts and annual two-month injuries had become as much a feature of his seasons as his goals.
After scoring 29 goals in a superb league campaign, he found something extra at the end of a marathon 62-game season. He was poor against Chelsea and he had not scored for a month but his magic moment in the first half turned the game. He got one of the two goals in the final in Paris in 2006 and, once again, when his team needed him he delivered.
He was not the only one looking fresh at the final hurdle. With Frank Rijkaard watching from the stands, minds went back to last season when a rotund Ronaldinho was Barcelona's talisman. Guardiola has knocked Barcelona into shape. Their shape as a team and their individual fitness against the power and pace of United, attributes that they were so wary of, won them the Champions League and the first ever Spanish treble.
Catalan cash: How it pays
£51.03m Manchester United's minimum earnings from this season's Champions League, despite last night's defeat.
£3.48m Prize-money Alex Ferguson's side receive as runners-up last night.
£17.5m Amount United earned from ticket sales and match-day income during this season's competition.
£17.5m United's market pool share of Uefa TV funds to English clubs (of £44m). This is split between the four English clubs in this season's competition, based on where they finished in last season's Premier League. United were top, so get the lion's share in a 4:3:2:1 split with Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
£44.92m Barcelona's guaranteed sum from similar income streams as above. These are lower than United's earnings as Barça finished third in La Liga in 2007-08 and so receive less Spanish "market pool" cash. The Spaniards are also in line to receive £20m in bonuses from sponsors.
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