The goals from the front men in the 3-1 victory means that the talented trio have accounted for 98 of the club’s 152 this season, with the win richly deserved. While United began the game the stronger of the two sides, they had no answer to Barcelona’s attacking prowess and the scoreline was a fair reflection of the game itself.
In 1992, Barcelona won their first European crown at Wembley – and here they sealed their fourth. Since being reopened in 2007, the new Wembley had been criticised for the standard of the pitch and a quieter atmosphere than its predecessor. However, the playing surface was glorious and both sets of fans were in full voice – a fitting stage indeed for two clubs of this calibre.
Pep Guardiola deemed Carles Puyol only fit enough to start on the bench and so Eric Abidal began at left-back, with Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique playing at the heart of the defence. For United, Javier Hernandez partnered Wayne Rooney up front, with Fabio given the nod ahead of twin brother Rafael at right-back, with Darren Fletcher and Nani named on the bench.
It was the English side who began the brighter of the two teams, with the Red Devils forcing Barcelona into errors early on – highlighted when Victor Valdes and Pique almost failed to clear their lines on the edge of the box, just when it appeared that Ryan Giggs’ through-ball was about to find Hernandez.
However, Barça quickly found their stride and took it upon themselves to create the game’s first real chance. Messi found Villa in the box and it took a well-timed challenge from Rio Ferdinand to deny him.
From then on they were in the ascendancy. Xavi crossed the ball to Pedro, who should have done better than fire wide from close range. Villa shot the ball straight into the arms of Edwin van der Sar and it seemed to be a case of when, rather than if, the Spanish champions would open the scoring.
Pedro puts Barça in front
The deadlock was broken in the 27th minute when Xavi carried the ball forward, before playing the ball to Pedro, who had peeled away from Nemanja Vidic and he had the simplest of tasks to roll the ball past the exposed Van der Sar.
Ferguson’s response was to send Anderson, Nani and Fletcher out of the dug-out to warm up, but seven minutes later they were level. Rooney picked up the ball from a Barcelona throw-in, played a brilliant one-two with Giggs before lashing a sweet finish past Valdes.
Barcelona regained control and both Xavi and Andres Iniesta tried their luck from distance before Pedro was inches from converting a well-worked free-kick. The sides went in level at half-time, despite the Catalans having 67 per cent of possession and completing 365 passes to United’s 139.
The second half began with a familiar pattern, Barcelona dominating territorially and in terms of possession. Seven minutes after the interval, Dani Alves drove a shot which Van der Sar did well to save with his feet and from the rebound Messi’s goalbound effort was headed away from goal by Patrice Evra.
Messi makes the difference
Yet, Messi was not to be denied his first goal on English soil two minutes later. Xavi’s pass found him 25 yards from goal and he was afforded too much time and space to hit a curling left-footed shot which bounced just in front of the unsighted Van der Sar.
The Dutch goalkeeper, playing his final game for United, had to be at his best to deny Messi and Xavi as Barcelona sought a third. United needed an equaliser, but they also needed a way to stem the growing number of attacks upon their goal.
Ferguson brought on Nani for the injured Fabio and it was the substitute who surrendered possession inside his own box to Sergio Busquets. Busquets squared the ball to Villa and he hit a right-footed shot which sailed into the top corner with 21 minutes remaining.
Rooney hit the ball narrowly over the bar, but United’s meaningful forays into the opposition half were few and far between. Paul Scholes came on for Carrick but as time ticked on, United were needing a turn of fortunes akin to the one which occurred in Barcelona against Bayern Munich 12 years earlier.
The introductions of Seydou Keita, Carles Puyol and Ibrahim Afellay in the closing stages ate up the clock for Guardiola, but in truth there was no need as they deservedly claimed their fourth European crown and a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.