Recalling the Xavi masterclass that made Wayne Rooney beg for mercy

Manchester United were after revenge in the 2011 Champions League final, but Barcelona had other ideas as their intricate tiki-taka plan worked to perfection. Xavi Hernandez, the great orchestrator, was so good that Wayne Rooney begged for mercy.

Lionel Messi was the jewel in the crown of Pep Guardiola’s side, but it was Xavi who made them tick and who orchestrated their masterclass at Wembley.

To recognise the brilliance of Barcelona, it’s also worth remembering just how good United were in 2011. They had won the Premier League with a nine-point gap and had cruised to the Champions League final.

Everything was set up for the perfect rematch of the 2009 final, which had seen Barcelona beat United 2-0 in Rome. The spine of Barcelona’s side was still intact from this game, but they had refined their craft by 2011.

The tie was finely balanced at half time as goals from Pedro and Rooney had the game level. Guardiola’s side upped the ante in the second half though and blew their English rivals out of the water.

“Rooney came up to me before the end of the game,” Xavi said in the book The Artist. “It must have been around the eighty minute mark, something like that.

“And he said to me: ‘That’s enough. You’ve won. You can stop playing the ball around now.’”

Xavi was the conductor of United’s misery as his sharp eye for a pass was ultimately the undoing of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side for the first goal.

As to be expected it was the Catalan club who bossed the possession on the night. They teased United all over the pitch and ultimately had them chasing shadows with 68.4% of the ball.

Xavi completed more passes than any other player on the pitch with 141. To put that crazy stat into context, Xavi completed more passes by himself than the entire United midfield managed.

Park Ji-sung, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia managed only managed a total of 102 passes on the night between them.

“They do mesmerise you the way they pass it,” Sir Alex Ferguson said. “No one has given us a hiding like that. In my time as manager, it’s the best team I’ve faced.”

Watching Xavi in his pomp was more than football itself. His Champions League final performance was like watching Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa, it was an art form.

“We hurt them a lot keeping the ball; they spent a lot of time running after it,” Sergio Busquets explained in the film Take the Ball, Pass the Ball.

“That was the best performance of Pep’s era, where our success, our superiority, was most overwhelming – a demonstration of how we wanted to play.”

“I think the best era was with Pep. But football’s not the same, it’s evolved, so you can’t compare what we do now with what we did then, or what we do in the future.”

Rio Ferdinand was on the receiving end of Barcelona’s masterclass. “We were here at Wembley in the final and we actually got abused that game by Barcelona, they were brilliant,” he told BBC Sport.

Busquets in particular caused Ferdinand some problems: “Your confidence is low anyway, you are trying to get the ball back off him.

“He turned and said to me ‘Ferdinand, Vidic, boom boom boom’ [referring to the two centre-backs playing long balls all the time], honestly I felt like a conference player.”

Xavi created five chances in the 2011 final and had a pass success rate of 95%. He took a total of 156 touches, which was more than any other player on the pitch.

Guardiola summed up Xavi best: “I hope future players learn from him in the way that I learned from his love for the game. There wasn’t a single day went by when I didn’t see him enjoy it.

“He is the most amateur player I know, and at the same time the most professional player too, such is his love for football.”

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