Memorable Matches – FC Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

After the international break becoming baron when discussing relevent football, let’s talk about matches from the past. Games that will never be forgotten in the minds of the fans who watched. Let’s start with a game that I even remember watching at a younger age. The second encounter in two years between Sir Alex’s United, and Pep’s treble winning Barcelona. Both sides previously played each other in the 2009 champions league final, also remembered as Ronaldo’s final game for the club. The game was quite close, but incredible games from both Xavi and Messi put Barcelona over the line. This game was the rematch, which would hopefully see Fergie finally land the victory over Pep. But we all know that is not what happened. So let’s get into it.

United’s great first 10 minutes

Let’s start with by far United’s best moment. Ferguson’s plan was to use both Park and Valencia to deal with the full backs and midfielders. Park would drop deep to stop Alves from making any as advancing runs. Valencia and Park are both incredibly good at tracking back and helping their full backs. It was a classic Ferguson move. He always liked to play players, like Park, in these big games to help nullify the opponent. United played a classic 4-4-2, with Giggs and Carrick in midfield. Their other approach to deal with their midfield disadvantage was to bring one of the wingers inside depending on which side Barcelona were playing. For example, if the ball was on the side of Pedro and Abidal, Valencia would put pressure on them, while Park would come into midfield to limit the effect of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Both Rooney and Hernandez had very important roles. Rooney had to keep on Busquets. The defensive midfielder is so important in how Barcelona build up play. He is one is able to receive the ball and pick out a further advanced player, to help with possession. Rooney at times helped with this (we’ll get to why it didn’t work later) and Hernandez kept pressure on the back two of Pique and Mascherano. This worked so well for the first 10-15 minutes, but we will now get to why this didn’t exactly work.

A Xavi Masterclass

I constantly love to compliment midfielders. Whether it has been my constant defense of Paul Pogba, my praise for Luka Modric, my love for Vidal’s all round excellence, or the many memories I have of Paul Scholes. Xavi is better than all of the above. I fondly remember watching him, and his Barcelona teammates majestically move around the pitch and win 3 international trophies back to back. I do not think there will ever be a better player than Xavi in the middle of the park. His incredible ability at transitioning play, finding space and retaining possession will never be beaten. He was at his mesmerising best in this game. When Busquets was having a limited effect in the first half, Xavi would drop incredibly deep to receive the ball. He would usually then recycle the ball back to the centre halves, until there was space available to advance play. When Xavi dropped this deep, it left Rooney and Hernandez with a difficult decision, either stick with their role, and leave Xavi to retain possession, or try and deal with Xavi, but not full commit to the game plan. It left United chasing the game, because they failed to deal with the change that one player made. Xavi is the one who won the game for Barcelona. His dismantling of United’s plan is the reason why they cruised the game. He was recieving the ball all over the field, and he was just so good at helping Barcelona get the ball in dangerous areas. It was easily one of the best midfield performances you will ever see.

Messi at his best

If Xavi was the captain of the destruction of United’s approach, Messi was the first mate. Messi as a player as evolved dramatically since his long haired teenaged days at the Camp Nou. He began as a right winger, using his pace and dribbling ability to assist Eto’o and Ronaldinho in their dazzling displays in the final third. However Pep saw something else in him, being his ability at finding space. Messi under Pep was easily one of the hardest players to deal with when defending. If the centre backs chose to track him, it would leave space wide open in the back for one of Villa or Pedro to exploit. But if a midfielder chose to track him, it would leave the midfield disjointed. United had this similar problem. It seemed Carrick was the one with the responsibility to deal with Messi. Like the rest of the side, it was fine for the first 10 minutes. Messi didn’t have much of an involvement near the start of the game. But then the Argentine just dropped deeper and deeper, until Carrick couldn’t follow. That was the point where Messi was at his most deadliest. While many will call Messi an excellent dribbler and goal scorer. His best attribute will always be his ability to find space to receive the ball, which would bring the rest of the team into play. There is a reason why Pep told Messi to never receive the ball in the 18 yard box, because he knew exactly how good of a false nine Messi was. Throughout the game you would see Messi drop near enough in his own half, receive the ball, and just run at United. It worked so often and he was untouchable throughout the game. What helped massively was United’s inability to keep up with Barcelona. Their tireless running, aggression and high energy game was really taking its effect as the game went on, by the hour mark, United had zero legs to stand. Barcelona had that much control of the game, that United would never be able to get back into it. Messi and Barcelona were excellent in just waiting for this moment, and really made them suffer.

To conclude, this game was a huge turning point. It was the first time Sir Alex would look at a game and even admit that there was nothing he could do. While their first encounter in Rome was closer in pure ability of the players on the pitch, the rematch was not. United didn’t have the furocious front line of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney anymore. Fergie’s magic still brought the best of the aging and average talent throughout the squad, but there was a limit to this. Pep’s team and squad was of such a high standard that any line up Fergie put out on the day, would not have won the game. It was the first time I ever saw Sir Alex get completely outclassed on a tactical level.

It was a high point for his opponent however. This victory ensured that this team of players would go down as one of the best teams to ever play the game (and the best in my opinion). Every player in that team was at their peak, and worked so well together to produce a team that few were ever able to beat. It’s still the team that Pep is trying to equal in achievement and style. A game where the old was beaten by the new, in such a dominant display, and that is why this is a memorable match.

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The 4 best teams of the 2010s

The 2010s will be remembered for many events in football, with treble winners and unbeaten runs, surprise title winners and goal machines. It has been one great decade so far. But let’s look back at those teams that will be remembered fondly in the future.

Mourinho’s best (Inter Milan 2009-10)

What better place to start than the team that started the decade of with such a bang. Mourinho was on a hot streak at this point. He won everything at Porto, went to Chelsea and won back to back titles, and decided to try his stride in Italy. Mourinho treble winning Inter will go down easily as his best team. It had everything Mourinho stood for. A passionate leader in Zanetti, a vocal keeper in Cesar, the best partnership in this decade of Samuel and Lucio. Mourinho created a team that made winning 3 trophies look easy. They comfortably won the league, but that’s not what they’ll be remembered for. They’ll always be remembered for that night in Barcelona. A game that summed up Mourinho to a mark. He realised Inter had no chance of out playing Barcelona in any way. So he out fought. Players like Motta and Samuel put their bodies on the line to ensure Barcelona didn’t have their way. As we all know they got through in the end and won the final against Bayern. But at that point in time Inter were the best team in the world with the best players. Sneijder, Maicon, Lucio, Cambiasso and Eto were players who could easily fit into any team. No player in the team was seen as superior, they were all clogs that were seen as equals. And that is what a Jose Mourinho team is.

Spanish Dominance (Spain 2010)

Not long after Inter won the treble, the World Cup in South Africa began. There were some obvious teams that fans were keeping an eye on. The returning champions Italy, the young German side, a Dutch side including one of Inter’s best players in Sneijder and flair winger Robben, and most obviously, the European champions Spain. Spain definitely were not clear favourites, but fans knew they would get far. This was a team full of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s best players. A solid backline including Casillas, Puyop and a young Pique and Ramos. But that wasn’t the main attraction to the Spanish. It was that dazzling, magical midfield, containing Barca’s best in Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. They weren’t the only midfielders in that team. The likes of David Silva, Alonso and an inform Fabregas were competing for a spot in that team. This Spanish team had a team full of players that knew how Spanish football should be played, fast and smart. For 4 years Spain dominated international football. Goals coming from Torres and the amazing David Villa carried Spain to the final. That final in 2010 showed their desire to play their way. The Dutch side that day knew they couldn’t beat them at football, so played a very aggressive way. A way that goes against the teachings of Johan Cruyff. But Spain overcame this, and left it late to win it. Spanish football dominated everything during the early 2010s, and this Spanish team epitomised their dominance

Simeone’s Underdogs (Atletico Madrid 2013-14)

With Atletico Madrid reaching another champions league final, many have forgotten that they weren’t considered a challenge to the top two. But after winning the Copa del Rey in 2012 and the Europa league in 2013, Atletico were finally making a real name for themselves, and in the next season they made Madrid and Barcelona treat them as a threat. That Atletico team will be remembered for 3 things, aggressive, passionate and organized. All of these traits came from the manager, Diego Simeone. During that title winning season, Atletico Madrid played a very narrow 4-4-2, and relied on their fullbacks, Juanfran and Felipe Luis for the width. Both of those players acted like wide midfielders, being able to run their entire side of the pitch effortlessly.  Simeone played midfielders, Arda Turan and Koke out wide, both were able to come inside and crowd the midfield while also great on the ball and created plenty of space. But for Simeone, the midfielders were one of the most important parts of the team. An aging Tiago was great at controlling the game and captain Gabi was the representation of Simeone on the pitch, able to organise and was a hard tackler for the team. The best part of the team by far was the defence. Godin and Miranda made one of the most impressive partnerships in football. Both were strong and aggressive defenders. Simeone could easily rely on these two under any circumstance. But what has to be mentioned is the goals from Diego Costa. Simeone brought the best out of the then Brazilian. He ensured that he was using his aggression and small temper to an advantage, while scoring most of the goals for the club. This team was the definition of hard working and playing with their hearts. A team full of passionate players who would run through a wall for their manager. Instead of playing pretty football like Madrid and Barca, they played fast and on the counter. They added a third horse in the race.

The Man who Exceeded Expectations (Real Madrid – 2016-17)

The most recent team to be mentioned. Originally I was going to discuss Luis Enrique’s Barcelona but this Madrid team under Zidane was very, very impressive. When Zidane was appointed back in the winter of 2016, no one knew what to expect. He was working for Madrid’s B team and was finally given the job he was waiting so patiently for. Many doubted his managerial ability because he was managing one of the biggest clubs in the world, and had no past experience on dealing with players that even Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez couldn’t deal with, and he did it. He got Madrid playing a simple but effective way of football, and brought the best out of all the players in his squad. In the summer of 2016, Madrid only made 2 signings, re signing Alvaro Morata for depth, and bringing the young yet brilliant Asencio. It was a huge statement from Madrid because for the first time they didn’t make any record breaking deals for players. Zidane liked the players he had and didn’t want any big names to disrupt what he had. He played a very Spanish 4-3-3, with Marcelo and Carvahal acting as the tempo and the width, with both having their best seasons to date and cementing themselves as the best pairing of Fullbacks in the world. The centre back pairing of Ramos and Varane wasn’t perfect, but was very good. Varane is an excellent defender with injury troubles, and Ramos is an average defender but loves a set piece. Real Madrid’s midfield is the best in Europe, and that is because of its balance. Casemiro is a classic defensive midfielder, sitting further back and recovering the ball quickly. Kroos and Modric are both intelligent players, Kroos acted as a way of switching play and creating chances, and Modric got into space to cause havoc. When talking about the front three it is very important to talk about both Bale and Isco. In certain games Isco was preferred over Bale if Madrid wanted an extra man in midfield, as seen in the champions league final, to use the space between the midfield and defence, and Bale as a way of quickly countering a team. But the star man Ronaldo has to be discussed here. Zidane’s use of Ronaldo was something Ronaldo himself was not a fan of. Zidane clearly noticed Ronaldo losing his edge, so only preserved him for the biggest games, resulting in his lowest scoring season, but his most important. He didn’t score a ridiculous amount of goals because he didn’t play every game. Zidane chose to play his squad players against smaller opposition, to give the likes of Modric and Ronaldo a rest, and it worked flawlessly. Players like Nacho had a great season from this and Morata was the clubs second top scorer. This team of players did the impossible. It retained the champions league. Madrid were the first team to do this and mostly can be thanked to the brilliance of Zizou. His man management and simple style of play of crossing the ball into the box worked perfectly. This Madrid team will be remembered for doing the impossible.