April 27, 2011
There was a beautiful three week period in April 2011. Barcelona and Real Madrid would meet four times. Once in the league, once in the Copa del Rey Final, and twice in the Champions League semifinals.
The first Leg of the semifinals was held at the Santiago Bernebeu.
Real Madrid was unlucky having to host the first leg. The strategy was to get a lead and make Barcelona chase in the second leg. For 75 minutes, the match was a stalemate.
Until a 75th minute Ibrahim Affelay cross from the right hand side found Messi. Darting towards the near post, he slapped the ball midair past Casillas. Barcelona had a crucial away goal.
This put Real Madrid at a disadvantage, chasing the game to salvage a result.
That played perfectly into Messi’s hands. In what can only be described as one of the defining goals of Messi’s career. The Argentine picked up the ball from Sergio Busquets, and made one of the runs of his life. A slalom toward the Real Madrid goal. Dragging four defenders with him and coolly tapping a shot across the goal to make it 2-0.
At that point, despite an entire 90 minutes remaining, the tie was over.
Barcelona won the first leg 2-0, and a 1-1 draw in the second leg sent Barcelona to the final.
But the match in Madrid is really when Messi announced himself as the world’s greatest player.
May 28, 2011
For the match that announced Barcelona as the world’s best team we go back to where we started: Wembley.
The 2011 UEFA Champions League final pitted the champions of England versus the champions of Spain.
Manchester United and Barcelona had persevered throughout a grueling 38 game league campaign. Both fighting through tough draws to reach the Final.
United had a staunch defense, led by Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra. The latter two were selected to the UEFA Team of the Year. The midfield was full of experience, and the front line of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez was quite potent.
Of course, it was all about Sir Alex.
This was his last trip to the Champions League Final with United, a chance to avenge the 2009 setback against Barcelona in Rome.
It was supposed to be a clash of the titans. It wasn’t.
United didn’t deserve to be on the same field as Barcelona, who were undoubtably at their brilliant best. For 90 minutes, they played as perfect a game of football as you’ll ever see.