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Manchester United tops Barcelona before record crowd



 Photo by Brad Smith/






LANDOVER, Md. – Falling to FC Barcelona in May's Champions League final surely still hurts for Manchester United — it's unlikely that sting will fade any time soon. But the Red Devils exacted a small dose of revenge against their European rival Saturday, wrapping up an unbeaten U.S. tour with a 2-1 friendly win over Barcelona in front of 81,807 at FedEx Field.


Michael Owen notched the winner in the 76th minute, just six minutes after Barcelona prodigy Thiago's spectacular strike negated Nani's first-half tally. With the victory, United finished its spell stateside 5-0 with 20 goals scored and three conceded.

"It's important for us to win all games," Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said. "It's been a good tournament for us. We've integrated players well, and some young players have joined us and done well in terms of settling in with players they don't really know. And that's always a good thing." 



Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola fielded a somewhat experimental squad for his team's first match in the U.S., leaving midfielder Xavi and defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol off a game-day roster that was already missing Copa America participants Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi. Short on defenders, Guardiola slotted natural midfielders Sergio Busquets and Jonathan dos Santos into his back line.



Ferguson also held back several regulars, resting defender Rio Ferdinand, midfielders Michael Carrick and Ji-Sung Park, and forward Dimitar Berbatov.

The absences of Xavi and Messi, however, loomed largest. With Andres Iniesta pulling the strings in midfield and striker David Villa dropping into a withdrawn role at times, Barcelona had no problem dictating possession from beginning to end.

But without two of its three Ballon d'Or finalists, the Catalans struggled to connect on the final ball as centerback Nemanja Vidic anchored a disciplined United back line.

"My first year as a coach, we came [to the U.S.] with everybody," Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola recalled. "Now we arrive without eight, 10 important players. And many players are here and injured. So it's difficult to make a preparation."

United's defensive guile paid off in the 22nd minute when the Red Devils found the opener on a counterattack. Nani timed a perfect run to slide behind the Barcelona defense and latch onto Danny Welbeck's through ball before slotting his shot between goalkeeper Victor Valdes' legs.

It was a meaningful goal heading into the English Premier League campaign for Nani, who found himself behind Antonio Valencia on the outside midfield depth chart at the end of last season. The Portugese winger was United's most dangerous player throughout the match Saturday, creating plenty of trouble for Barcelona left back Eric Abidal.

"I'm always very confident," Nani said. "When I lost my place to Valencia the last three games, two games, it was the manager making decisions. But now I'm feeling very confident heading into next season, and I hope to do my best."

After halftime, Barcelona upped the pressure and finally found net in the 70th minute. Thiago collected the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch and fired a shot that swerved past a motionless David de Gea into the side netting.

But Owen sealed Barcelona's fate 14 minutes from full time. Teammate Tom Cleverly — called United's best player on the night by Ferguson — pounced on a sloppy Barcelona giveaway at midfield and fed the veteran striker, who chipped Valdes for the winner.

"Of course we want to win, but we played one of the best teams in the world," Guardiola said. "We played a very, very good second half. The first half, we were so-so. We looked tired because of the jetlag and a lot of heat and humidity is not easy to play in."


The match was played in front of a crowd worthy of a more pressing occasion than a preseason friendly. The sellout set a new soccer record for the Washington-Baltimore area as fans of the two European giants came together to witness the marquee matchup.

"It was a great atmosphere," Ferguson said. "I thought quite possibly it was 50-50 in terms of the fan base tonight, and they're all mixed together. It's a fantastic sight to see that. It gives you hope our game is bereft of some of the things that have happened in the past."


  1. Anyway, not trying to argue personal preferences, here. I probably wouldn’t have thought to comment except that so many people were so incensed about the Balotelli stunt, and again often as if it were a site of insult to (among others) the fans. Just seems much less significant along those lines, imo, than 8-10 key players not even showing up to play at all. But to each his own…

  2. Do you think so? That anyone who bought a ticket “knows better” than to complain that ALL those players were absent? That NONE of them even played a half, say, and were then subbed out?

    It seems a rather extreme view, to me. I never said people should expect the same starting 11s that took the field in the Champions League final. But I personally would be quite disappointed they all missed the entire match, especially if I’d also brought along my son, say, and paid that money and so forth. And I’d be considerably more disappointed (or again disrespected, if you prefer) than to have attended a friendly in which a player did play but tried a show-offy trick that didn’t work.

  3. When a player steps on the field the fans expect him to respect the game. On the other hand, if you’re attending a preseason friendly you should know better than to expect to see the same lineups that ran out for the Champions League final. Nonetheless, I’m sure some people were upset not to see all the big names play, but those in position to make a complaint know better.

  4. Well Berbatov had a nice highlight just the other night and he’s just 1 of… looks like 9 players I listed (and the article mentioned at least a couple more).

    I don’t dispute the level of talent on the field, either. I just think it’s interesting to note how hot and bothered people got about Balotelli’s little maneuver the other day, and specifically with reference to the fans in attendance, in many instances, and yet here all these players were out entirely and but there’s no reaction whatsoever. I mean if they bill it as Barça minus maybe half a dozen star players vs Man U minus maybe half a dozen stars, OK, but…

  5. Agree in part, but there was still more talent on that field than 95% of other teams in the world. And don’t kid yourself, who the f*ck wants to see Berbatov take the field? I’m sure that’s what those Man U fans told themselves while leaving, “If only we had gotten more Berbatov”.

    BTW, who else has taken notice of Danny Welbeck? I don’t support Man U because I’m not from Manchester and I’m not a bandwagon bitch, but I can’t help but like this kid. He showed great touch, unselfish play, and hustle. Was a really positive player in the all star game too. I’d say he’s earned some first team playing time this season.

  6. So what’s more disappointing (disrespectful?) to the fans who pay their hard-earned money to go to these matches: seeing Balotelli fail in his attempt at a trick goal, or not seeing Messi, Xavi, Pique, Puyol, Alves, Ferdinand, Carrick, Park, Berbatov and others even take the field?

  7. I don’t think I will ever understand Americans like you. People from all over the world watch the Lakers, Yankees and Patriots. Sports is just entertainment it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see people will be drawn to the best form of entertainment which in this sport are elite clubs like Man U and Barca. Just about every country in the world has people that watch Barca and Man U play its not just the USA even Italians watch Barca play.

    American movies and music are popular all over the world everybody can see why yet with soccer it seems to irritate people that others watch the top clubs in the world. Before people all over the world wanted to watch Maradona or Pele play and no one made to big a deal about it yet now people get called Euro snobs if they want to watch Iniesta or Messi play. You don’t have to be from Barca to enjoy watching how they play the game. If you don’t want to watch them fair enough but I don’t see why you would care if others do.

  8. No way there was 80K at the stadium. I would say it was 85-90% full. But thanks to stubhub and others for the sell out. There were some moments of beauty during the match. The crowd was definitely enthusiatic on both sides. FedEx is a horrible stadium for soccer. Even way up top you still can’t see in the corners. At the least, grateful to see some of the world’s most talented players live.

  9. It was fun. 81,000+ made for a great atmosphere. Too bad Barca didn’t come to play. ManU had the better of the game and looked sharper.



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