Champions League - Barca blow United away

Sun, 29 May 01:23:00 2011

Barcelona produced a sublime performance to beat Manchester United 3-1 in the Champions League final at Wembley.

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Goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa punctuated a mesmeric team display as the Catalan side lifted club football's biggest prize for the fourth time.

Wayne Rooney fired a superb first-half equaliser for United, cancelling out Pedro's opener, but the Premier League champions were eventually blown away by superior opponents.

Edwin van der Sar's final game before retirement ended in disappointment, with the Dutchman at fault for letting Messi's low strike scuttle past him early in the second half.

And Sir Alex Ferguson was unable to slow the Spanish team's super-slick passing, suffering a second final defeat to them within three years.

This repeat of the 2009 final, which Barca won 2-0, produced a similarly one-sided outcome and cemented Pep Guardiola's team's place among the great club sides.

Messi took his goal tally to 100 in the last two seasons, and produced yet another demonstration of skill, strength and devastating finishing.

Eric Abidal started at left-back after making a remarkable recovery from surgery on a liver tumour in March - in a wonderful touch, he was handed the captain's armband at the end and allowed to lift the triophy.

However, the Catalans' captain Carles Puyol - struggling with injury - was consigned to the bench with the diminutive Javier Mascherano playing centre-back.

Ferguson fielded the same starting XI that won 2-0 away to Schalke in the semi-final first leg, but sprung a surprise by leaving Dimitar Berbatov out of the squad altogether.

As they did two years ago, United started positively, passing with intent and closing down. Then, just as in Rome, Barca took control of the game.

Xavi completed his first 40 passes before any United player had reached double figures, and the Liga champions' tiki-taka started to tell - especially in conjunction with the remarkable pressing job on the rare occasions Barca gave the ball away.

Rio Ferdinand had to slide in accurately on Villa as he prepared to pull the trigger, while his defensive partner Nemanja Vidic was equally precise when nicking the ball off the brilliant Messi.

Pedro might have opened the scoring after a quarter of an hour, and Villa fired two sighters, but there was no reprieve on 27 minutes when Xavi stabbed a majestic pass to Pedro in space on the right, and the finish was low past Van der Sar.

United were on the ropes, but Rooney responded superbly. After a brilliant one-two with Michael Carrick, he raced inside from the right and exchanged passes with Ryan Giggs - who looked marginally offside - before finishing into the top-left corner.

A brilliant goal from a player sometimes accused of going missing on the big occasions - though they hardly deserved it, United were level.

Barcelona do not get fazed easily, and pressed on undeterred - they might have re-taken the lead just before the break when the sliding Messi just failed to meet a Villa centre.

Messi blasted Barca back in front on 54 minutes with a low shot from the edge of the box. Van der Sar was out of position and will be disappointed to have let through a shot that did not find the corner.

By now, United were under siege, struggling to withstand wave after wave of attacks, with Messi absolutely rampant.

The coup de grace came just over 20 minutes from time, when Messi carried the ball into the box. United seemed to have the situation under control, but when recently introduced substitute Nani miscontrolled, Villa curled a beautiful shot into the top right corner.

Barca are so good at keeping the ball, there was no way back. Rooney continued to toil, but with Giggs and Javier Hernandez particularly quiet, they never looked like making their opponents sweat.

For a Barcelona side packed with players in their early and mi-20s, immortality beckons. On this form, it could be years before anyone knocks them off their perch.

Alex Chick - Twitter @alexchick81 / Eurosport

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