. ITV’s irrepressible Andy Townsend proffers the sort of arcane wisdom for which he has become so renowned over the years:
‘Well, first of all, right, this Barca are a top, top side make no mistake – it’s not just about your Messis and your Xavis, they’ve got Puyol in there who’s not afraid of gettin’ stuck in, Alves the right-back, and Iniesta’s a crackin’ little player an’ all…but y’know, if Fergie’s boys can just keep ’em quiet for the openin’ twenty minutes or so, I tell you what, it’s a packed Wembley out there tonight and it don’t look to me like there’s a lotta Barca out there. Once United start bringin’ Rooney into the game and if they can get the ball out to Valencia, he’ll then start pingin’ those balls in and suddenly Barca’ll be under the cosh!”
. Having been asked to remove his chewing-gum from the dugout wall (old habits die hard), Sir Alex Ferguson seeks out Carles Puyol and gives him a cheeky José Mourinho-style slap. Chewing gum safely deposited, the old rogue’s face begins to turn F.A.-Cup-Final-day-red; this may not be the F.A. Cup and it may not even be particularly warm, but Sir Alex will not be denied his yearly opportunity to make millions of people the world offer genuine worry about his health.
. Pep Guardiola marches out onto the pitch. His thrombosis has healed, but his face remains clenched in a ball of agony, rage and disdain as he compliments match officials and exchanges pleasantries with a few Manchester United reserves.
. Sir Alex, on the other hand, is a picture of (bright red) contentment during the brief pitchside interview:
“…and we respect Barcelona, they’re a tremendous side, but we’ll play our natural game”
“So no changes to the usual lineup then?”
“Ah, well…there’ll be one or two surprises, just wait and see!”
What surprises, Fergie, what surprises!?!? Nani in for Valencia? Three at the back? Michael Owen???
. United line up with John O’Shea at right-back over the da Silva brothers, a midfield of Darren “THE SCOTTISH PLAYER” Fletcher, Paul “tackle” Scholes and Michael Carrick, and Wayne Rooney nominally on the left wi…- I mean, as the trequartista. Barcelona’s eleven is…the Barcelona eleven.
. Clive Tyldesley and Jim Beglin are the deadly duo in the commentary box – and they are positively riffing off each other:
Beglin: “Of course, Scholes is in there to use his experience and keep the ball, but that only assumes United see any of it – I just worry that when United go for too long without the ball, he can turn into a bit of a wildcard, Clive”
Tyldesley: “Sir Alex’ll just be glad he’s in his deck!”
Beglin: “At this level, there’s always a joker in the pack!”
Tyldesley: “Who’ll come up trumps? – It’s Barcelona versus Manchester United – we’ll be back after a short break!”
Kick-Off. United kick-off and Michael Carrick smacks a long ball for Valencia to chase. It’s a lost cause, but Valencia runs hard and tugs at Maxwell a bit, and the crowd roar.
5mins: After a scrappy few minutes, Barca settle into their rhythm. Xavi gives a masterclass in devastating ‘creativity’; receiving the ball in the centre of the pitch, he looks up and sweeps it out to Alves, who taps it back to him before bombing up the flank for a return. Xavi trots towards the ball, shapes the pass, looks up again and casually avoids a half-hearted challenge from Darren Fletcher before rolling it to Puyol, who taps it back to him, before he knocks it across to Pique. ‘He’s dictating the tempo of the match!!!’ – Tyldesley.
11mins: Not to be outdone, Lionel Messi starts dropping deeper in order to receive the ball in those sought-after dictatorial positions in the middle of the pitch where there’s less pressure on the ball. He receives the ball a little out to the right, beats Carrick, looks up, cuts inside, does a lovely one-two with Iniesta before stroking it back to Busquets and casually walking back to the D. We are blessed.
15 mins: Finally, the crowd is given a hint of something to get excited about as a hopeful punt from O’Shea isn’t dealt with properly and Wayne Rooney manages to feed Javi Hernández, but Chicharito’s effort is straight at Valdés in the Barcelona goal.
23mins: A beautifully-worked Barcelona move results in a threaded pass from Iniesta in behind O’Shea for David Villa to chase, but Nemanja Vidic comes flying it, booting both ball and Villa into touch. Huge roar goes up from the crowd. Camera focuses on Messi’s face.
25mins: “Ohh, Villa – it’s Shabby, it’s still Shabby, and now it’s Messi, Messi, MESSI! Ohhh, disappointing effort!” – Tyldesley momentarily forgets he’s on air and starts complaining to Jim Beglin about his accomodation during a week-long stay in Barcelona in 1997.
28mins: A fierce free-kick from Messi is turned away by Edwin van der Sar, who comes rushing out to berate Patrice Evra for no reason at all.
33mins: As another Barcelona move breaks down, Darren Fletcher somehow finds himself in space and smacks a shot into Row Z. “Well, he has only played one game since his injury – and that was at home to Blackpool last weekend…” Tyldesley apologises on behalf of the club he so ardently supports.
38mins: “DYUGH-HUH-HAAA” – Tyldesley’s reaction to Messi flicking the ball through Rio Ferdinand’s legs. “Huh-hoooo!” Beglin joins the party.
40mins: Pedro gives Evra the slip, cuts inside Vidic and lashes a shot just wide. “You forget they’ve actually got this little fella as well” -Beglin.
42mins: Ryan Giggs seen warming up on the touchline. Tyldesley and Beglin remain silent, Beglin tempted to ask whether it’s football that the Welshman is warming up for, Tyldesley filled with a sense of deep, burning shame and indignation, ready to deflect any Beglin comment with the phrase “…if he thinks that’s tough, he should see what’s in store for him out on the pitch. Barcelona have just been that good tonight!”.
ITV’s punditry is essentially a long-drawn out orgasm over Barcelona’s ability to keep possession, other than the usual slice of genius from Townsend:
“They’ve done well to keep ’em out, United. Barca – for all their possession and fancy football – only really came close once with that Messi effort and I just feel now if United can step up the tempo this second ‘alf, work the ball to Rooney and Valencia and start gettin’ bodies into that box they can ask questions of Barcelona ’cause I tell you what, their keeper Valdés, I just get the feelin’ tonight that if you whip a decent ball anywhere near ‘im, there’s a mistake there. ‘E don’t look up for it tonight.”
49mins: The prophetic words of Townsend clearly reverberating in his mind, Luis Antonio Valencia sends in a teasing cross towards Hernández. Valdés catches it.
51mins: As Paul Scholes is booked for a needless challenge on Iniesta, Anderson can be seen warming up with a big grin on his face.
54mins: Michael Carrick smacks a 50-yard pass in the general direction of Rooney. “You just get the feeling he’s creeping into the game now, Michael Carrick, he’s moving the ball around well, building his confidence…” – Tyldesley.
57mins: GOAL!!! 1-0. Xavi rolls the ball to Iniesta. Alves makes a decoy run and Iniesta picks out Messi with a sumptuous pass before the Argentine delicately places the ball over an onrushing van der Sar; the ball floats crisply through the cool English Spring and daintily drops over the line, lolling about in the empty, disconsolate net as United heads go down, male genitalia the world over go up and Clive Tyldesley channels all his rage and suffering into a passionate elegy to the ‘genius’ of Lionel Messi. Iniesta trots back alone. Anderson stands up
59mins: Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi play a little triangle around Paul Scholes, who goes flying after Busquets. Busquets releases the ball, Scholes’ tackle is so bad it doesn’t even make contact with the man, let alone the ball, but the Spaniard turns to make sure the referee is looking before flicking his head in the air and scooping up his entire body as if Scholes’ foot were a landmine. Scholes is sent off. Anderson sits down again.
63mins: On come the cavalry. Nani skips on in place of O’Shea, Berbatov saunters on for Fletcher.
66mins: Nani beats four men with the ball, shapes to square the ball to an unmarked Rooney in the box and then smacks a shot well wide of the goal.
68mins: A spectacular thwack from distance from Nani hits the bar. Guadiola’s thrombosis comes back.
72mins: Token change for Barca. Ibrahim Afellay for David Villa, who is just starting to get into the game.
76mins: Carrick to Valencia. Now Rooney. Rooney to Nani. Step-over, step-over – dive, doesn’t get it off Maxwell.
79mins: Xavi to Pedro. Pedro back to Xavi. Iniesta. Now Messi. Shimmy, shimmy – dive, doesn’t get it off Vidic.
84mins: A fierce Xavi drive is beaten away by van der Sar. “He’s going out with a bang!” – Tyldesley, tearful.
86mins: Rooney booked for swearing at the referee. Barca players surround the referee, flailing hands in the air. Xavi, indignant, rushes over 80 yards to voice his opinion. Busquets falls to the ground in sheer disbelief that the card is not red and requires four minutes of treatment and a good deal of special spray to his right knee, which is presumably broken by Rooney’s poor use of the English language.
88mins: Dimitar Berbatov gets the ball from Nani, yawns, drags the ball around Pique, shrugs, nutmegs Busquets and taps the ball at Valdés.
90mins: Sir Alex Ferguson saunters towards the fourth official and casually whispers in his ear. The official looks confused. Ferguson starts to shout before finally holding up six fingers. Three added minutes given.
93mins: United pour forwards, leaving space for Xavi to pick out Messi through the middle, who sidesteps Ferdinand and hits the post. He turns away, smiling cutely at van der Sar. So charming. So sportsmanlike – oh, it’s full-time.
“HASTA SIEMPRE, LA REVOLUCIÓN!!!!” – Guardiola
“It was tough, Manchester United are a great side but tonight, football was the winner” – Xavi