Barcelona's midfield carousel leaves United dizzy

Stadio Olimpico, Rome – 27/05/2009 – Final
Barcelona
Barcelona
Eto'o 10 Messi 70
2 - 0
Man. United
Man. United
Touch of genius

"At times Barcelona can make you look silly because they keep the ball so well." Ryan Giggs

2008/09

• Joseba Llorente scored the second fastest hat-trick (17 minutes) in UEFA Champions League history as Spain's Villarreal CF won 6-3 against Danish champions Aalborg BK on Matchday 3.

• FC Bayern München's 12-1 aggregate defeat of Sporting Clube de Portugal in the first knockout round marked the highest aggregate score across a two-legged tie in the competition.

FC Barcelona became the first Spanish club to complete the treble, overcoming holders Manchester United FC to win their third European Champion Clubs' Cup.

Despite Barcelona's sterling domestic form, United were favourites to defend the trophy they had lifted 12 months earlier after edging out Chelsea FC on penalties. Like that rain swept night in Moscow, it was another wet evening in Rome but the conditions would not prove auspicious for Sir Alex Ferguson's side. They were outclassed, beaten by goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi and a standout display by Xavi Hernández.

It initially looked promising for the English side, who were unlucky not to go ahead when Víctor Valdés spilled Ronaldo's bouncing free-kick which Gerard Piqué, against his former side, bravely cleared with Anderson lurking. By the ten-minute mark Barça had barely escaped their own half; as soon as they did they scored. Eto'o latched onto an Andrés Iniesta pass before cutting inside Nemanja Vidić and beating Edwin van der Sar at his near post.

United's chief threat appeared to come from either set pieces, one Ryan Giggs free-kick curled over, and Cristiano Ronaldo long shots, although the more desperately the 24-year-old tried to turn things round the more desperate his attempts became. At the other end Messi came much closer when his dipping left-footer from 25 metres skimmed the bar.

Barcelona were missing defenders Daniel Alves and Éric Abidal through suspension, but United – themselves without the banned Darren Fletcher – could not even test them, unable to break up the Catalan giants' hypnotic "passing carousel" in midfield. Thierry Henry twice went close for Barcelona and the brilliant Xavi hit the post with a free-kick before the Azulgrana doubled their lead. Xavi was the creator, picking out Messi with an inviting cross and the smallest man on the pitch headed in.

It was the crowning moment of a remarkable campaign for Messi, who at 22 finished top scorer in the tournament with nine goals. For Josep Guardiola too, as he marked his first campaign as a top-flight coach with the biggest prize of all. "We wanted to say we played and were not being cowards," he said. "There's nothing more dangerous than not taking risks." Those who dared won.

Star players

  • Messi

    Reared at FC Barcelona, Messi made his Liga debut aged 17 years and 114 days, and went on to become arguably the most gifted footballer of his generation. The diminutive forward needed only 153 games to reach 100 Liga goals for Barça. Twice winner of the Ballon d'Or, he has three UEFA Champions Leagues to his name and became the first player to finish top scorer in the competition in three successive campaigns in 2010/11.

  • Xavi Hernández

    An understated one-club man, Xavi established himself as a classy midfield linchpin for FC Barcelona and Spain while allowing those around him to take the limelight with his composure, exquisite technique and killer distribution. He has helped Barça to six Liga titles and three UEFA Champions Leagues, picking up a record number of appearances in the process, while triumphing with Spain at UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo

    Ronaldo caught the eye of Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson after only 11 league starts for Sporting Clube de Portugal. The Portugal winger settled gradually before finding consistency in 2006/07 – the first of three successive Premier League titles. Ronaldo struck 42 club goals as United also won the UEFA Champions League the following term. He joined Real Madrid CF for a world record €94m in summer 2009 and reached 50 Liga goals in 51 games.

What happened next?

• FC Barcelona ended the year with an unprecedented six trophies, adding the Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup to their 2008/09 treble; Pedro Rodríguez scored in each.

• Manchester United FC sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid CF for €92m and initially struggled to fill the void. They reclaimed the Premier League – a record 19th English title – in 2010/11.

• Barcelona suffered their first elimination under Josep Guardiola in January 2010, against Sevilla FC in the Copa del Rey, and their European defence ended with a semi-final loss to FC Internazionale Milano.

• Samuel Eto'o was in the Inter XI having been traded (along with €49m) for Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Sweden striker – like Dmytro Chygrynskiy, another summer signing – lasted a season before leaving.

• Barça triumphed when the sides met in the final again at Wembley, Lionel Messi and David Villa scoring in a 3-1 victory after Wayne Rooney had cancelled out Pedro's opening goal.

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