Friday, May 29, 2009

Barca coach outfoxes United by playing Messi in midfield

ROME: Barcelona did a lot more than beat Manchester United to capture the Champions League alongside their domestic League and Cup double.

The Spanish club swung the pendulum of European power away from the Premier League.

Last season’s final in Moscow between United and Chelsea suggested that the wealth of the English game was threatening to take over.

But Pep Guardiola’s team outplayed United to such an extent at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday it was clear that the real quality is a long way from Manchester or London.

“We’re aware we’ve done something magnificent,” Guardiola said after his team’s 2-0 victory after goals by Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi. “We’re approaching mythical terms.”

Hail Barca: Barcelona’s Gerard Pique does a flying kick as he and his team-mates celebrate with the trophy after outplaying Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Wednesday. — Reuters

The 38-year-old Barca coach, who completed a perfect season of three titles at his first attempt, said he believed Messi had proved without doubt he was the best player on the planet.

“Even if we had lost I wouldn’t have changed my opinion about him. Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, absolutely” Guardiola said. “I think right now he is adding his name to the Golden Ball.

“When the going gets tough, he really gets going.”

Guardiola’s tactical plan to switch winger Messi inside also outfoxed United’s defenders.

“I saw last year that Leo Messi had problems with (Man United leftback Patrice) Evra and so I decided to take him out of the right side and put in the middle,” Guardiola said.

“Messi, with Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Inestia, I tried to have one more man in the midfield.”

Messi even came up with a rare header goal to take his Champions League tally to nine – two better than anyone else – and his season total to 38.

“This is the most important victory of my life,” Messi said. “When the second goal came that calmed us down a lot.”

His goals tally put Man United star Cristiano Ronaldo in the shade after his 18 league goals and four in the Champions League and the head-to-head to measure which player is the best was one-sided in this final.

“This is one of the biggest disappointments of my career. We were always confident before the game but unfortunately we couldn’t do it,” Ronaldo said, who said after the game wasn’t sure whether he would be staying at United.

“It is always bad when you lose a final. But we didn’t play well. We did OK in the first 10 minutes but you have to say Barcelona deserved to win.”

Man United manager Alex Ferguson admitted his team was beaten by a better side.

“The disappointment was the use of the ball when we got possession,” Ferguson said. “You have to wait minutes to get it back off them. Could be it was an off night. Could be it was a mountain too big to climb.

“We knew what a good football team they were. We had difficulty in defending against them. Messi dropped into midfield and they kept possession and made it difficult for us.”

The 67-year-old Man United manager, who remains on 25 titles in 23 years at Old Trafford, praised the much younger Guardiola for his achievement for winning three in his first season.

“It is a great achievement as a coach in his first year. Well done. Fantastic,” Ferguson said. “Everybody enjoys their football and it is great credit to him.”

“You have to give credit to a very good Barcelona team. If they get in front of you they are very difficult to beat,” Ferguson said. “They kept possession of the ball and made it very difficult to get back.

“When we did get possession we didn’t do well with it. Credit to them, the better team won.” — AP

Taken from The Star Online

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