A couple of thoughts. First, the Messi-Ronaldo “who is best” angle. My sense is that both players are admired for their skills, but that Messi is generally more popular than his Portuguese counterpart. If I had to point to one reason among many why that is true, I’d take a minor play in today’s match. Messi, as usual, was dribbling through the entire United side. To be honest, in the early parts of the match, it seemed like he was trying too hard … accusing Messi of working too hard is like accusing Marilyn vos Savant of being too smart, but he was taking on that one extra player too many. But gradually he settled into his game. Anyway, to that minor play. Messi was flattened by two or three United players … the referee blew his whistle and called a foul. By the time the tweet had left his whistle, Messi had spotted the ball, gotten up, and started a brand new dribble before he realized the ref had stopped play. It is perhaps unfair to single out Cristiano Ronaldo for the frequency with which he hits the ground to draw a foul … he is merely the most famous practitioner (Barca’s Carles Puyol isn’t bad at it, himself). But one thing he doesn’t do is get right up again. Messi, the little guy, doesn’t stop playing just because he hits the ground. And that’s one reason he is popular.
I hesitate to offer up non-expert commentary about any soccer match … my skills are not up to it. But here goes. Much of the pre-match analysis centered on all of the Barca players who would be missing the match … they were defenders, and it seemed like a mismatch to put a second-line defense against Ronaldo, Rooney and company. But the crucial absence might have been United’s Darren Fletcher, suspended due to a red card in the previous match. Barcelona, with their usual group of central midfielders, dominated that part of the field … Xavi and Iniesta were among the best players on the field, which is a lot more than you can say for Carrick or Giggs. If Barcelona controls the midfield, their remarkable ability to also control possession results in very few chances for the opposition. United only had two shots on target the entire match, and you’re not going to win many matches when that’s the case, no matter who is playing defense for Barca. Having said that, the Barca back line of Puyol, Yaya Toure, Pique and Sylvinho had a terrific match as well, so my “analysis” is probably completely worthless.
One thing is certain: I can’t wait to see Xavi and Iniesta playing for Spain in next year’s World Cup.