Catalans inspire as dominant display leads to possession control and chances galore as they record their fourth success in Europe's biggest club competition
At the same scene as their first victory, when a Ronald Koeman strike beat Sampdoria, it was a happy hunting ground again as Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa secured the victory which sees the Catalans lift the trophy for the second time in three years.
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United were unable to stop the passing machine that is Barcelona and gave up huge amounts of possession to their opponents, and although Wayne Rooney’s 34th minute strike put United level at half-time, they were outclassed in the second half as Pep Guardiola’s men strolled to victory.
The major surprise for the Catalans was Javier Mascherano starting in central defence alongside Gerard Pique instead of captain Carles Puyol, who was only fit enough for a place on the substitute’s bench. Eric Abidal, who had surgery on a liver tumour in March, came back into the starting line-up at left-back to cap a remarkable couple of months for the Frenchman.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson kept faith with the side who won against Schalke in the semi-finals as Javier Hernandez started up front with Rooney. There was no place in the squad for Dimitar Berbatov as Michael Owen was preferred on the bench to the Bulgarian striker.
United began the game at a frantic pace, giving Barcelona no time on the ball with constant pressure all over the pitch and they were nearly rewarded in the fourth minute as Hernandez robbed Mascherano. The loose ball was played back to the Mexican by Rooney but his 20-yard strike was blocked by Pique at the heart of the Barcelona defence.
Six minutes later, United were nearly gifted a goal from their former centre-half Pique as a Ryan Giggs through ball cut the Barcelona defence down the centre. Hernandez raced towards goal but Pique recovered well to intercept the ball, although lack of communication with Victor Valdes nearly saw his back pass beat his advancing goalkeeper and gift an open goal to the striker.
Moments later, Barcelona were on the attack and inside the United penalty area with their first sight of goal. Not surprisingly, Messi was the architect, playing a neat pass into the feet of Villa but as the Spaniard was about to fire a shot towards goal he was superbly challenged by Rio Ferdinand.
The Catalans were starting to dominate possession and threaten United in every attack, and in the 16th minute they had a fantastic chance to open the scoring. Slow build up by Barca on the edge of the penalty ended saw Villa find Dani Alves on the right wing. The Brazilian’s low cross was met by an unmarked Pedro five yards from goal but he couldn’t guide his shot on target and his shot rolled wide of the post.
Chances were now coming thick and fast for Barcelona and they had three clear chances in the next 10 minutes. Two of them fell to Villa, the first from a Xavi pass but his long-range effort from the edge of the area was just wide of Van der Sar’s left-hand post. The Spaniard’s second chance came a minute later, again he was found by Xavi, this time on the right, where he made some room and fired a low shot which Van Der Sar was able to hold onto.
Messi had not been in any dangerous positions inside the United penalty area at this point but that all changed as he received the ball with space to run into. As the Argentine was about the get his shot away after beating two men with ease, he was superbly tackled by Vidic, a tackle that was timed to perfection and needed to be as otherwise he would have conceded a penalty.
United’s defence was being stretched with every Barcelona attack and in the 27th minute the Catalans broke the deadlock through the lively Pedro. Andres Iniesta and Xavi exchanged passes on the halfway line before Xavi raced forward and produced a sensational defence-splitting pass to find the forward on the edge of the penalty area, and he calmly slotted the ball past Van der Sar to give his side a deserved lead.
Barcelona were buoyant after dominating the majority of the half but that all changed as United got themselves back into the game as Rooney scored a fantastic 34th minute goal to breathe life back into the English side. After played a tight one-two with Michael Carrick before running at goal with purpose; he played another one-two, this time with Ryan Giggs, on the edge of the penalty area before firing the ball into the top corner giving Valdes no chance.
With the game racing towards half time, Barcelona had time to create one more chance and it was Messi who went within inches of giving his side the lead again. The forward skipped away from Vidic, leaving the United captain on the floor, and played a fantastic pass inside Evra for Villa but his low cross was just in front of the Argentine and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.
Magic moment | Messi's long-range strike turned match decisively in Barca's favour
Barcelona began the second half as they had finished the first and were dominating possession but resolute United defending was just keeping them at bay. A wonderful ball from Iniesta released Alves behind the United defence, the Brazilian composed himself but his low shot was parried by Van der Sar and when the loose ball fell to Messi his shot was headed clear by Evra.
However, moments later no-one was able to stop Messi as he restored Barcelona’s lead with a long-range effort. The Argentine received the ball from Iniesta midway inside the United half, with no challenge coming he raced towards goal before unleashing a low shot from 25 yards which fizzed passed Van der Sar to give him a 53rd goal of the season.
Barcelona were now in total control, United struggled to keep possession and when they did string some passes together they were unable to create anything for Rooney and Hernandez to feed off. In the 65th minute, they opened United up again and it was Alves providing the threat down the left. He rolled a ball into Messi but his cheeky backheel was cleared off the line by Fabio’s last-ditch lunge.
Van der Sar was by far the busiest of the two goalkeepers as shots began to rain down on his goal, he first was able to watch as a long range Xavi strike swerved wide of goal and then the Dutchman held onto a piledriver from Iniesta.
The experienced keeper could do nothing about Barcelona’s third goal though as Villa curled a sublime shot past the Dutchman to extend the Catalans’ lead. United were their own worst enemies as they gave the ball away inside their penalty area to Sergio Busquets, he found Villa on the edge of the area and the forward curled his shot past the jump of Ferdinand and beyond Van der Sar for Barcelona’s third and his 23rd goal of the season.
United’s only real threat of the second half came with five minutes to play as substitute Nani cut inside and fired a shot just wide of Valdes’ goal. The sub received a ball from Rooney on the right wing, drifted past Abidal and hit a left-footed shot from 20 yards but Valdes was able to watch it go wide of his goal without ever looking concerned.
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