The big game is over. It ended as it always does, Barca won. Looking at the international press reports on Sunday, there was no doubt about the result. Barcelona is the best team in the world, Messi, Messi, Messi, completed passes and so on. Everyone and their grandma are saying the same thing. Now what? Are we playing that competition in the next year? Or do we just ask Barca to keep the pot for a couple of years and then try again? Do we tell our soccer kids, that is how it is, they are great, the rest of us sucks and it is impossible to win against them?
Let’s take a look at this game. It is commonly acknowledged that Manchester United had the better start and actually controlled the game. They managed to look really good for 15 minutes, despite the unimportant fact that Barca had 111 completed passes and United “only” 51 after 14 minutes. The unknown reason why they went away from their style of playing in the first 15 minutes just drives me nuts. What happened? Afraid of their own courage and too much respect? Got scared when Barca had a few opportunities? Came up with the insane idea that they could play out Barca? Missing flexibility to let the other team be the dominant team? My answer is, all of that!
The way United had to play and played in the first 15 minutes is though. It costs a lot of resources and is very difficult to play for 90 minutes. However, it was the right way to approach the game and they should have continued this way. Suddenly, United fell back and started playing in their own half, giving away the ball and strengthen Barca’s game. Remember Sir Alex appearing on the sideline after 20 minutes? He saw it and he tried to straighten the game out again. The reasons above, in the second paragraph, are all reasons why the players changed their game and once Barca got the game into their hands, United wasn’t able to get it back.
Look at the first goal. United’s performance during the build up of the first goal was not more than 5th division. Lost the ball in Barca’s half and got caught completely out of position. Look at the performance of Edwin van der Sar facing the “shot” from Pedro. He speculated! He didn’t react to the shot, which was actually just a push in goal. Van der Sar, already out positioned, moved into the other corner, clearly visible to Pedro, who only had to “guide” the ball into the wide open net. We all know that Edwin van der Sar is a great goalie, arguably one of the best in the world. What the heck did he think during that moment? Answer, too much. He thought Pedro, and everything else in the Barca team, shoot like hell and if the ball hits the net, he will have to get the goal from the stands. Van der Sar’s thought in a quarter of a second, he is going to shoot, it will be hard, and I will have to jump first to have a chance. Pedro curled the ball into the other corner. A goalie like van der Sar doesn’t have to speculate, he can stop shots from everyone at any time, from any distance. The common hype, his last game and the desperate “want” to deliver a wonderful game over motivated him. Once the pressure of the game, and his own, was gone, after it was 3-1, he found his form and killed a few opportunities for Barca.
Second goal. Messi strolling towards the goal and having time to put the ball on his left foot for a though shot on goal. Not very well placed, it was almost the middle of the goal where the ball hit, shot from the top of the box with no defender even close. Van der Sar? Speculating again. After the game he stated, “Messi has a tendency to go for the long post”.
The first two goals are falling under the category “afraid of their own courage and too much respect”.
Third goal. A mistake from the beginner handbook. If you get a hold of the ball in the box, clear it with the first touch, especially when you play a team like Barca. The useless try to play around made the ball roll to Villa, on top of the box with nobody around, and he didn’t fuzz around. Great shot, no chance for van der Sar this time. The third goal is the category “insane idea to play out Barca in your own box” AND trying to beat one of Barca’s biggest strength’s, getting the ball back before the opponent finishes 3 or 4 touches, with exactly doing what they are waiting for, trying to keep the ball with short passes.
This is how cheap Manchester United lost this game. Yes, Barca had a number of other opportunities, but who has expected they won’t? They only scored after catastrophic mistakes of United. These mistakes were forced by psychological influences, not ability to play soccer. Too much thinking, allowing pressure to take over, rather than going down to the basics and just work the game and the opponent.
If you are a coach or player, this is what you can learn from this game:
- If you play against a team that is better than yours, don’t try to play them out in your half or in your box.
- Whatever your game is, change it for this one game. If your game is so great, then the other team wouldn’t be considered better than yours.
- Play the ball into their half with the first touch and seek a shot on goal quickly, preferably within 10-15 seconds of winning the ball.
- Don’t be afraid of anyone, especially not of yourself.
- Cover the important spaces, on top of the box. Don’t bother with the opponents short pass game in midfield and how much possession they have. You need to be on top of the game around your box and when you get the ball. Remember, the other team is better than you, therefore, there is no point engaging in midfield play. Take the CL final as an example.
- Read here for more tools for playing against the big shots and my tip for ManU on what to do against Barca.
It might be interesting to take a look at Real Madrid’s approach to win a “one game competition” against Barca. Mourinho and Real got a lot of heat for their way to play in the Copa del Rey final a few weeks back. I am sure Manchester United, and United’s supporters, would have been very happy with a 1-0 win and a not so attractive looking performance. It can be done, just step on the devils tale.
Barca’s goals in the final:
Barca’s first goal from a better ankle: