The Game Of The Century – Barcelona Defeats Manchester United In UEFA Championship
Scott Juniper, is the women’s soccer head coach at UC Irvine who was recognized as the 2010 Big West Coach of the Year and NSCAA West Region Coach of the Year. In just a few hours the match will start. Who will win? What will be the strategy? Who will be the play makers of the match? Juniper gives his analysis.
The Champions League Final on May 28, 2011 was the finest performance I have ever seen from any team at either the club level or the international level. Barcelona have redefined what our sport should look like at its best. Top teams around the globe will have to take a long hard look at themselves from the first team through their entire developmental structure to work out how they can even begin to catch up. Breathtaking. Beautiful. Barcelona.
My friends and I had tickets in the 2nd row at Wembley that night and watched the game at pitch level. The atmosphere was electric from the moment we stepped out of the taxi to walk the last few hundred yards to the stadium. The iconic new Wembley stadium is far superior to the last time I was there in the old “Twin Towers” Wembley. The entire production and presentation of the game was at a different level. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as legendary player after legendary player steps onto the immaculate turf to the sound of the Champions League anthem. Well done UEFA, this is a truly incredible world class sporting event.
Sir Alex Ferguson, predictably set his team up to attack in a 4-4-2 and defend in a 4-5-1 against the 4-3-3 of Barcelona. Unfortunately, it is difficult to do the Barcelona line-up justice describing it as a 4-3-3. It is like taking a 16oz medium rare, bone in rib-eye, sautéed mushrooms, steamed asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes accompanied by a 1961 Chateau Mouton and listing on the menu as “Steak and Veg.” The nuances of their movement, interchanging of positions and the ability of any player to dictate the rhythm and tempo of the game is remarkable. Mascherano (#14) was playing his first game as a center back and stepped into the midfield with the ball on a number of occasions which Ferdinand (#5) and Vidic (#15) would never have considered.
The game began at a high tempo and United were able to press all over the pitch. Surprisingly Giggs (#11) played centrally, presumable to allow Park (#13) to match up with Barcelona right back, Alves (#2), to stop his marauding runs up the flank. This was very effective and it wasn’t until late in the half that he really made an impact. Unfortunately, this created an imbalance through the midfield. United had four midfield players versus Barcelona’s three which should give them an edge if they could control the space.
Rooney (#10) dropped into the midfield at times but the fact that Park was so focused on Alves meant that United were rarely able to put enough numbers in that space to stop Barcelona moving the ball. To compound this issue, all three of the Barcelona front players – Pedro (#17), Messi (#10) and Villa (#7) – would drop into that midfield space creating a 6v4 scenario unless Rooney could get make it 6v5.
After the opening few minutes Barcelona just took over. United’s back line got deeper and deeper which stretched the space available to Barcelona through the midfield. The first goal was a classic example of this as Rooney failed to challenge Piquet (#3) and the ball dropped to Xavi (#6). A quick interchange between Xavi, Busquets (#16) and Inesta (#8) led to the United back four dropping off to protect the space behind and in that moment Carrick (#16) seemed to be asleep. He allowed Xavi to ghost into the space behind him and the back four to receive from Iniesta and turn to run at the retreating back four. This space is highlighted in the diagram below and it must have been a space that Sir Alex would have been determined not to give up. As you can see below, Evra (#3) was sucked all the way inside to take care of Messi and one pass from Xavi beat them all as Pedro drifted into a wider right position. Having watched it a hundred times, Van De Saar (#1) was hopelessly out of position and Pedro slid the ball inside the near post to make it 1-0.
From this point there was only one winner and regardless of the equalizer, very few people in the stadium could see any other outcome. The Barcelona team grew in confidence, played at the tempo they wanted and really made United look average at best. Sir Alex had harsh words for Rooney early into the game and I imagine he was demanding more work rate. Hunting the ball in the final third, Rooney looked hungry but on too many occasions he was content just watching the Barcelona midfield touch the ball around Giggs and Carrick. He hardly challenged his old teammate – Piquet, in the lead up to the first goal, and while I think he may be the only United player who could have made the Barcelona starting line-up, United needed more from him defensively.
Barcelona are the ultimate possession team. They played everything short, even under pressure. There are a number of teams who will play corners short but Barcelona even persist in playing their own goal-kicks short. If Valdez (#1) cannot find the two center backs who drift out to either side of the 18 yard box he just rolls it into the feet of Busquets to play out. All of this just stretched United and made it impossible for them to get close to Barcelona.
And finally, Lionel Messi. This guy is on a different planet. His ability to beat players is something I have never seen and to witness this in a game of that stature makes him the #1 player in the world – ever – for me. Players freeze when he has possession which is maybe the better choice than actually trying to win the ball because at the slightest shift of a defender’s momentum Messi just glides by them. It is so quick he almost appears to know what the defender is going to do even before he does it.
This was a landmark game in the history of our sport, this team will be talked about for many generations and Messi has left me utterly speechless.
Scott Juniper has been the women’s soccer head coach at UC Irvine since January 2006. In four seasons at the helm, Juniper put the Anteaters on the national map, leading the program to a historic 19-3-2 season and reaching NCAA Tournament for the first time in history in 2010. The women’s soccer team concluded the season ranked No. 14 in the nation and second in California (NSCAA). For his efforts, Juniper was recognized as the 2010 Big West Coach of the Year and NSCAA West Region Coach of the Year. In the last four years, Juniper has compiled an overall record of 50-26-8.
In 2006, Juniper was hired as an assistant coach at UCI under April Heinrichs. Prior to joining the Anteater program, Juniper was an assistant coach for the UC Riverside men’s soccer program for three seasons from 2003-05 and an assistant coach at the University of Bristol (England) from 1998 – 2002. Juniper earned his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Bristol (England) in 1998 and went on to receive his Master`s in sport and exercise science from the University of Bath (England) in 2002. His Master’s thesis investigated group dynamics of elite soccer. Juniper’s research was published by the English F.A. Coaches Association Journal in 2003 and “The Sport Psychologist” in 2006.
As a collegiate soccer player in England at the University of Bristol, Juniper was named both Freshman and Player of the Year in 1996 and was the leading scorer in 1996 and 1998. During that time, Juniper represented England Universities at the regional level. In 1995, he captained the Colchester Sixth Form College to a high school national title and in 2001 he was part of the National Championship winning team at the University of Bath. He also played for a number of semi-professional teams in England. Juniper holds the U.S. Soccer Federation “A” coaching license, UEFA “B” license, USSF National Youth License, NSCAA Goalkeeper license, and a Speed, Agility and Quickness trainer accreditation. He is also on the Cal South coach education staff, coaches with the Cal South and Region IV Olympic Development programs in addition to local clubs and community programs.
Juniper’s Publications: Juniper, S. W. & Mellalieu, S. D. (2003). The Impact of Role States on Team Effectiveness. INSIGHT – The Football Association Coaches Association Journal, 4, Vol. 6, 59-61.