LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Barcelona players applaud as Sir Alex Ferguson manager of Manchester United (bottom R) and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (C) walk to collect their medals after the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
After re-watching yesterdays Champions League final three-times, one can more clearly see the full picture of the events that transpired and see what Barcelona did right and what United did wrong. An analysis of each teams three components will be addressed in separate posts. First to be addressed is Attack.
MVP, Messi, Villa, Pedro, Barcelona's front three did a spectacular job yesterday that put the game in the bag for Barcelona. The mission from the start was always to have Messi as the free man, to have Pedro and Villa switch positions continuously, and to drag markers to create space for each other.
Messi being the free man of the three with no fixed position was allowed to roam the pitch to devastating effect. Throughout the match he would play in various positions from winger, striker, to a full on attacking midfielder. He would often transport the ball from deep within Barcelona territory into United's own half to combine in a team attack against United's goal. By having Messi play free, United were never able to man mark him without having a player out of position. No play was more obvious to this strategy than goal number three. Messi as a winger, dragged Nani, Valencia, and Vidic to him, therefore allowing space for Busquet's to find the ball to pass to Villa, and leaving Villa free to take the shot. Messi's individual goal is not from a strikers position, his shot is a shot that a midfielder would take, from that range, if his position was fixed. This made United unsuspecting of a shot from that range which found its mark. Allowing Messi mobility was a game changing tactic by Guardiola.
David Villa was perhaps the biggest concern for Barcelona since he had not scored in the previous 15 encounters. However a natural striker of his nature is never a lame duck. At any moment a player of his caliber can strike without warning and that is precisely what happened yesterday. Villa's overall role in the scheme of things was similar to Pedro's. In that they would interchange positions and try to exploit any advantage they could find within United's defense to create space, by drawing defenders away from each other.
In Messi's goal, the reason neither Vidic or Ferdinand came out to confront Messi is because Villa was there being the decoy keeping both center-halves busy thinking Messi would pass to him. What really is happening is that Villa is not only keeping Rio and Vidic in position, but also he is a reference for aim. He knows Messi will shoot through the gap between defenders and so precisely when Messi beats Evra, Villa has already moved out of the way to leave Messi a clear shot on goal. By remaining there just long enough, Villa froze both Vidic and Rio from going out the help Evra, and at the same time leaving Messi with a perfect window to aim through.
Messi and Villa both do the same to United's defense for the first goal by Pedro. Villa on the left drags Fabio and Rio with him by making them think Xavi will pass to him. Messi stands as striker and draws Vidic and Evra to him thinking that Xavi will assist him, all the while Pedro is moving in a diagonal away from the crowd but by drawing United defense, Messi and Villa have created a free passing lane in which Xavi found Pedro for goal one.
Rooney and Hernandez were both left too isolated up front by most of United's midfield and therefore their overall ability to attack was left anemic.
Rooney would often drop deep to recover possession but in the process left Hernandez alone and always engaged in a battle against both Pique and Mascherano which he never managed to win. By dropping deep, Rooney made the ability to attack even worse since when he did recover, Barcelona's midfield had compacted in front of him therefore making it harder for him to attack freely into Barcelona's territory. Rooney dropping deep only made Hernandez more isolated and therefore perhaps that's what SAF was mentioning to him during a first half talk.
The attack which lead to United's goal, is an attack in which Rooney recovered the ball right in between Barcelona's midfield and defensive lines. When United attacked both Hernandez and Giggs supported Rooney which made is easier to open up Barcelona's defense and allowed Rooney space to have a clear shot on goal, which he took to level
Besides this attack, the two strikers were left to fend for themselves for most of the match which made it near impossible to get close to scoring again. Rooney continued to drop deep and Hernandez continued upfront as the lone striker therefore making is more difficult for them to find a connection and put Barcelona's defense on edge. No connection was established between these two players and no assistance was given to them by their midfield. Rooney was left to do a job he is not most efficiently employed at doing because United's midfield elements failed at doing their task. Hernandez therefore was left to be the only actual consistent attacking threat against a line of Barcelona defenders. This never proved fruitful.