I was confident before the game. Barcelona had really struggled against Chelsea so it stood to reason they would really struggle against us. What I didn’t really account for was the fact Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t going to play anywhere near as defensively as Chelsea did, meaning Barca would have more room to attack.
Within the first ten minutes, United had five shots on goal whilst Barca had zero. We started brightly, we looked good, we showed we weren’t going to be intimidated and we were really going for it.
Then with their first attack Barcelona scored.
I haven’t seen a replay of anything since Wednesday night so my recollection may not be brilliant, particularly considering I went on to get paralytic drunk, so be warned.
But I just remember feeling embarrassed at how easy it had been for them to score. Iniesta seemed to be on the ball forever without anyone making it difficult for him and Samuel Eto’o ran past Vidic like he was Bramble or Ben Haim. Christ almighty, it was going to be a long night.
The game wasn’t as one-sided as the press would like to make out. The possession was 53-47 in their favour, we had nine shots to their eleven. Our passing success was 83% to their 87%. However, we looked leagues apart. On the ball we looked edgy and nervous, struggling to create anything too exciting, whilst Barca were composed, relaxed and able to create with ease. It wasn’t how much of the ball either team had or how many shots there were, it was decided on what was done with the ball and what the shots were like.
Had one of our early chances gone in, it could have been a very different game, obviously. Equally, if Gibbs hadn’t slipped and let Park in during the semis, maybe we wouldn’t have been in the final at all. You can never estimate just how greatly one decision or one action can change a match. The match changed for us when we hadn’t scored with several attempts and they scored with their first. We never collected our nerve after that.
The tactics have been criticised by our players and fans alike and it is clear with hindsight that they weren’t good enough. Would we have looked so clueless with Carlos Queiroz calling the shots? I personally don’t think so. We either had to go for it, full-throttle, or we had to defend with every last ounce of our being, like Chelsea did. Instead, we saw a half arsed attempt. We’d attack a bit, but not ruthlessly enough, then we were too lenient with our defensive work. Our midfield three essentially did nothing which meant we couldn’t get the ball out to Rooney or Ronaldo.
Carlos Tevez came on at half-time and made no difference. I was pleased with the bravery of the manager to make such a big change so early on in the game but Barcelona are no Tottenham Hotspur and Tevez might as well have not been on the park. He was better than Anderson, but christ, to have a better game than Anderson wasn’t really a difficult task!
If the first goal was embarrassing then the second goal was humiliating. Lionel Messi is 5 foot 7. Nemanja Vidic is 6 foot 2. Rio Ferdinand is 6 foot 2.5. So why the fuck is Messi’s head on the end of a cross in to the box? It is completely unacceptable. Before that point there was always a chance, however slim, however undeserved. But the moment our giant centre backs gave all the room in the World to Barca’s midget, it was game over.
I’m not blaming the defence for everything though because the Barca defence was supposed to be shit. Yet our attacking players made light work of their defensive duties. They didn’t even really look like they were trying to keep us out. They were missing several players, they had a midfielder playing in the centre of their defence, and they didn’t really have to break in to a sweat to stop us.
Barcelona are a great side and there is no shame in losing to a team as talented as them. I’d agree with Rooney and say Iniesta is the best in the World, although Messi will certainly be awarded with that title at the end of the year. My only really negative opinion is directed at Carles Puyol, who is a cheating cunt. Must have learnt it from his team-mate.
I was drunk by the time of the final whistle. Whilst United fans will always have that little bit of hope, however small, until the whistle is blown, I had managed to numb myself enough with the copious amounts of Stella Artois and vodka to stop me getting my hopes up too much.
As soon as the final whistle blew, the DJ, who I had been oblivious to setting up, put on a Manchester United megamix CD. The screen which was just showing our crumpled players on the pitch was now showing highlights of the past 15 years. Giggs firing in to the roof of the net against Arsenal in 1999, John Terry slipping, Cantona’s goal against Liverpool in the FA Cup final, Steve Bruce scoring against Wednesday and Kidd going mental, Scholes’ goal against Barcelona etc. With the mood on a knife-edge, the blue DJ saved the evening.
People got up on the tables, singing along and cheering the goals as they went in. “CHAMPIONEES CHAMPIONEES, OLE, OLE, OLE!… 18 times and that’s a fact! 18 times and that’s a fact!” Even the odd City fan who had made the effort to show up was fairly quiet and offered nothing but a good-natured ribbing.
Outside in the smoking area, the chants got louder and more passionate, people throwing their arms around each other and jumping up and down. “We won the league, we won the league, we’re the famous Man United and we won the fucking league!… 33 years, fuck all, 33 years, fuck all, 33 years, fuck all, 33 years… 19 years, 19 years, 19 years, 19 years…”
I didn’t get out of bed until 1.30pm the next day after getting at God knows what time, but I had done a lot of thinking the night before, in my drunken stupor.
The drinking had continued and I found myself a happy drunk, instead of an angry one. It was a lot easier to be reflective and positive in this state. Yes, the match was shit for us and yes I was gutted we hadn’t won, but let’s get a fucking grip here. We’re the Champions of England, winning our 18th title, and that is far more important than any European Cup. If at the start of this season we were offered a chance to win the league or beat Barcelona in the Champions League final, it would have been no contest. If I was offered the same thing next season, I’d pick our 19th title. And I’d pick our 20th title. And our 21st title. And our 22nd title. To be the Champions of England and Europe in one season is a brilliant achievement and we managed it last year. For us to do that two years in a row would have been absolute madness. Brilliant madness but still shouldn’t be an expectation.
So our season ends with disappointment and we will carry that through the summer with us. The players will carry that through the summer also, with no International tournament to distract them. Whilst Liverpool fans will have thoroughly enjoyed Wednesday evening, it was really the worst thing that could have happened for them. They’re all talking about next season (for a change) and if United had the complacency of a team who didn’t even play very well yet still were crowned the Champions of England and Europe, maybe there would have been more of a threat in Liverpool’s talk. As it is, our players will spend the summer hurting and will come back in August as hungry and as desperate as ever.
We are The Champions!