Champions League semi-final first leg
Kick-off 19-45 (BST)
Manchester United return to the scene of their memorable 1999 triumph as they travel to Camp Nou to take on Barcelona in tonight’s Champions League semi-final first leg.
It was here that United overturned a one goal deficit in the dying seconds to defeat Bayern Munich and complete the third part of a remarkable treble.
Barcelona, like United, are unbeaten in the competition this season and their five home victories so far in this campaign have come with a 10-1 aggregate scoreline. Moreover, they they have lost just once in 14 meetings here with English sides in the European Cup. However, three of their last four Champions League exits – against Real Madrid in 2002, Juventus in 2003 and Liverpool in 2007 – have included defeats at home.
Barca coach Frank Rijkaard said: “I regard statistics as dry statistics and nothing else, but it is true that if you aspire to win at the top level then you absolutely must win your home games.
“United present an interesting test because they play the English style domestically, and very well too, but they have top footballers who are capable of adapting to the different demands of European competition.”
The Dutchman, who has come under pressure in what has been a difficult season for Barcelona, paid tribute to his opposite number, Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I don’t like talking about the ‘very best in the world’ but Sir Alex is, without question, worthy of that status. For me, he represents football,” said Rijkaard.
Rijkaard is without Carles Puyol who is suspended but Lionel Messi is set to return after a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, Rafael Marquez and Andrés Iniesta, who have struggled with foot and knee problems in recent weeks, should also start. Thierry Henry’s high temperature has dropped and he is available for selection, although he may start on the bench.
Ferguson cites the 4-0 hammering his side received from Barcelona in the 1994-95 group stage as a pivotal moment in his side’s evolution in Europe.
“That night we were taught precisely how important it is to have the ball and to keep possession of the ball,” admitted the Scot. “Against Roma [in the quarter-final first leg] in Italy we were excellent at keeping the ball and that was important. We have learned well.”
The United boss is looking forward to tonight’s game, but believes that in terms of entertainment potential, the tie would have made a worthy final.
“This would have been the most attractive final because these two great clubs share a belief about how to play football. The Premier League has improved in quality and intensity recently but top-level games like this are won with nous and technical ability.”
Wayne Rooney has recovered from a bruised hip and is likely to play together with Cristiano Ronaldo and Ji-Sung Park. Ferguson’s only doubt is Nemanja Vidic who was sent to hospital on Tuesday suffering from a stomach bug. Wes Brown is on standby to replace the Serb at the heart of the United defence.