Following the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final, Sir Alex Ferguson soberly spoke to the media after the match. The legendary manager spoke on behalf of a team who had just defeated Manchester United 3-1 in the final of Europe’s premier club competition. The date was May 28, 2011.
The team was FC Barcelona. “They’re the best team in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced.” Ferguson went on to lament, “No one,” he exclaimed, “has ever given us a hiding like that.”
It was Barcelona’s second UEFA Champions League title in three years, both victories coming at the expense of the Manchester club.
Barcelona in 2011 were as mesmerizing and unstoppable as any team in the history of the sport. In my opinion, they were the greatest team of the 21st Century.
In order to truly quantify the greatness of this side, we need to look at three matches that identify the absolute greatness of this team.
Three matches that defined a Barcelona era
November 29, 2010
For two days a year, the footballing world comes to a standstill and shifts their gaze towards the Iberian Peninsula. For one of the greatest football spectacles on earth: El Clásico. When Barcelona and Real Madrid clash, everything else seems unimportant.
This match, however, spawned a sense of shock and awe that seemed incomparable.
It was only ten minutes before Barcelona took the lead. Andres Iniesta, just four months removed from scoring the winning goal at the 2010 World Cup, sliced a picture perfect ball in between five Real Madrid defenders. Xavi was on the other end of the pass and delightfully tapped the ball over a helpless Iker Casillas. The hosts led, 1-0.
Not 8 minutes later, it was 2-0. David Villa, joint top scorer at that same World Cup, got to the byline and sent a cross that was perfectly deflected to Pedro. He had the entire goal at his mercy.
Villa got his due, scoring twice in the second half. One of them courtesy of an inch perfect ball from near midfield by Messi. Villa latched onto it and slipped it past an onrushing Iker Casillas.
Even young substitute Jeffren contributed with a goal in the 92nd minute.
When the dust settled, Barcelona had won 5-0. It was the most lopsided Clásico in years. And Messi, who racked up 50+ goals for the season, didn’t even score once.