FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC went to battle at Wembley for the 2010/2011 Champions League on 28 May, the Spanish giants running the English champions ragged in a 3-1 victory.
It’s now not so hard to believe just how comprehensive their victory was, but before the game, bookies and pundits were arguing that this would be a tight one. After all, there seemed to be very little between these two world-class teams; true, many claimed that this United team was the weakest they’d had in years, but weren’t they on for a League and Champion’s League double? And weren’t Barcelona weakened by their loss to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final?
Certainly, the bookies couldn’t decide between them: Ladbrokes put the Red Devils at 13/8 with Barcelona at 4/9, so those looking to the football odds for a hint found little solace.
Their previous match-ups hinted at stalemate, too; with 10 meetings leading up to the final, it was pretty much ‘even Stevens’. With three wins each, and four draws, there’s been little to separate them. In fact, it was only Barcelona’s win in this year’s Champions League final that signalled a consecutive win for one team over the other, showing just how closely matched they are, and just how important this game was.
Maybe it wasn’t as close as everybody thought, though; when it mattered, Barcelona pulled out all the stops, and when these two football giants last stood toe-to-toe at the UEFA Champions League final of 2009, Man United got trashed 2-0, perhaps indicating that the same would happen – and it did – in 2011.
State of Mind
Manchester United were tipped for victory on the thinking that they were fresh and buoyant following their Premier League victory, lifting the trophy for the 12th time in the League’s 20-year history and surpassing Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles. Such a recent league win, it was said, would be sure to have the players in good spirits, and that mentality, it was thought, might propel them.
But celebrations, not to mention a rigorous playing schedule, is often a hindrance, and United’s style suffers from the problems of fatigue in a far more acute way than Barcelona’s; given the Spanish team’s short passing style, it was always possible that they would appear far more sharp on the ball than their counterparts.
And that’s what happened. Indeed, Xavi made more passes in one match than the entire Man United midfield put together. Really, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s unbelievable that anybody thought Barcelona wouldn’t win this one.
Examination of the Champions League statistics also showed that Barcelona were, statistically, likely to win. They’d scored 27 goals to Man. United’s 18, and also had 18 more goal attempts on target than their red rivals in the lead up to the final.
Manchester United had been awarded more corners but unfortunately for them, this didn’t translate to more goals. They’d also committed more fouls than Barcelona, although they kept a clean slate when it comes to red cards; something which their rivals haven’t achieved. It was unlikely, though, that the Barcelona players were going to react to a final against Manchester United in quite the same way that they did in the two-leg semi-final against bitter rivals Real Madrid.
Maybe those who think football betting is a mug’s game should have been looking more closely at the stats!
It has been noted many times that the most telling fact about the final was that, with the score being 3-1, it was both team’s established strikers who scored goals: for Barcelona, Messi, Villa and Pedro were all on the score sheet, while Wayne Rooney’s excellent strike was never going to be enough to sustain a team with far less quality players. As the second top goal scorer and leader in assists in the Spanish league, Messi is Barcelona’s not-so-secret weapon, and he excelled once again on May 28.
Indeed, while Berbatov clocked up an impressive 20 goals for Man United in the Premier League, making him the league’s joint top goal scorer, Man United’s other star strikers, including Rooney, didn’t fare so well, the English star only managing to make number 16 on the Premier League top scorer’s chart.
It seems like an obvious point, but weren’t Barcelona always going to win this one?