1. I suppose ‘hollow’ is the best way to describe the mood today. How can you feel too disappointed with a result when you know it was the right one? When United lose a game, you usually get the feeling that we didn’t show up, that the players let us down or that we missed crucial chances. I don’t feel that way today. We lost because we played against a team we couldn’t compete with. That’s an unfamiliar feeling and it’s not nice to acknowledge but we just aren’t as good as them, nowhere near as good as them in fact. We’re spoilt but there really should be no shame in losing to that Barcelona team. There isn’t a team in Europe who wouldn’t have lost to them last night.
2. What is irritating about the game though is that all three goals were avoidable. That doesn’t mean without our slackness we would have got a result, as Barca would have just found another way to score, but our defending was really frustrating. Pedro was given far too much space for the first, with Evra and Vidic just wandering around nearby but not getting tight. For the second goal, Messi was completely unmarked just outside the box, which smacks of complete incompetence. He struck the ball well but Van der Sar’s positioning was awful. A shot that far away from the post should never go in and he will be desperately disappointed with that. The third goal was the best finish of the lot but there’s no way David Villa should be on the edge of the box unmarked. Nani was beaten with ease on their right wing, did well to get back and put in a challenge in the box, but when the ball came to him again his first touch was poor and Barca scored from the newly gained possession. When you imagine how hard they will have worked on tactics over the past few weeks, with the manager planning everything to the finest detail, you’ve got to wonder how they could make such schoolboy errors repeatedly.
3. I was pleased to see the manager opt for a positive line-up, playing both Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. Had Darren Fletcher been fit for the past few months, you imagine we would have been more cautious and padded the midfield out, but attempting a more attacking approach should be commended. However, we knew we weren’t going to get many chances, so we had to take every single one we managed to create. Chicharito was offside five times, which sadly, wasn’t good enough. The delivery from midfield could have been better on occasion but we could not afford to waste so many chances through lazy positioning. He is considerably faster than Pique or Mascherano so if starting at the same spot, would have had no problems in getting to the ball first. I love the lad. He’s young and will learn but it was disappointing to see so many potential chances go begging.
4. Well done to Wayne Rooney though, our man of the match and goalscorer, who did his very best to restore some pride in our performance. He worked hard all game and should be commended for his cool finish to make it 1-1. He started off the move and didn’t blow his opportunity when Giggsy set him up. Thanks to his decision to stay at United, he now has another league title and a Champions League final goal to his name. He performed on the biggest stage against one of the best sides of all time. That’s little consolation for him when a medal is what he wanted, but it shows further progression to his career.
5. All four midfielders struggled to leave their mark on the game, which we could have predicted. Even Park, who has been vital in our recent big games, was fairly ineffective. Some fans may point to them underperforming, which is accurate enough, but what else could they do against that quality? They were easily second best and to say they played badly is not giving Barcelona the credit they deserve. It was funny to see Valencia get away with foul, after foul, after foul. In any other Champions League game he would have been booked after the second but must have had seven or eight freekicks awarded against him before the ref, who had an excellent game generally, put him in the book. The usually emotionless winger cut a frustrated figure all night and whilst I’d have preferred to see him beaming on the back of a great performance and result, it was good to see that anger and frustration in him.
6. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I was surprised to see Chicharito last the 90. After it went to 2-1, I would have thought the manager would have opted to put some fresh legs in midfield with the hope of getting the ball up to Rooney. Anderson or Fletcher seemed the obvious choices. It was equally surprising to see Giggs stay on the field, after finally looking his age for the last 15 minutes or more.
7. The biggest shock of the night was seeing Michael Owen on the bench in place of Dimitar Berbatov. The golden boot winner was not in the stands and did not travel with the team back to Manchester today. Will he be at the parade tomorrow? He only missed out on picking up a losers medal but that is hardly the point. According to Opta, Berba scored more winning goals than any other player in the Premier League this season, as well as being the top goalscorer, so it will have been a massive smack in the face to see Owen, who has contributed the tiniest fraction of what Berba has to our 19th title winning season, on the bench ahead of him. The Bulgarian knows he has lost his place in the starting XI to the Chicharito but after lifting the trophy claimed he was the happiest man in the team and was desperate to help United win the 20th title. Will he feel that way now? As much as I would like him to stay, I wouldn’t begrudge him seeking a move away from the club now. My loyalty to the manager will always outweigh that towards any player, but I think Sir Alex treated our top scorer disgracefully last night.
8. Can lessons be learnt from this defeat? Honestly, I don’t think so. There isn’t anything we could have differently which would have resulted in us winning last night. I’m sorry if that comes across as negative and defeatist, but we’re not in the same league as Barcelona, nobody is. So credit to the lads for pegging them back and going in on level terms, but if there is a lesson to be learnt, it’s that we need someone special in the centre of midfield.
We’ll never die.