Football: Portents point to Cruyff's advance: United to face a confident Barcelona

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AS Johan Cruyff marked Barcelona's arrival in Manchester last night by facing the press, BBC Radio Five Live were featuring Manchester United's 1968 European Cup final win in their 'Great Match' slot. Wishful thinking, or a good omen?

The Barcelona coach, here for tomorrow's Champions' League tie at Old Trafford, was more interested in recalling a more recent European final - that of the 1991 Cup-Winners' Cup in which United beat Barcelona 2-1.

Ever since that game, Spanish whispers have suggested that Barcelona's minds -and bodies - had been dulled that night in Rotterdam by the previous weekend's Spanish championship success - and subsequent celebrations.

Cruyff, without going into detail, admitted: 'I welcome the chance to put on a different performance. I had a problem with the team that night, with their concentration. I hope we will play better than then.'

The omens for Cruyff are good. On Saturday Barcelona gained their first away win of the season, an impressive victory against a Valencia side rejuvenated by the Brazilian World Cup manager, Carlos Alberto Pereira.

Even the loss of Albert Ferrer, the Spanish international defender who was injured in the game, has not dampened Cruyff's mood. 'We will be looking to win,' he said. 'It is not a dream; we have some good players.'

One of them will have to settle for watching. Barcelona, like Manchester United, are limited to three 'foreign' players by Uefa rules.

Gheorghe Hagi, though recovering from a rib injury, is the most likely to miss out, allowing Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoickhov and Romario to play.

Jordi, Cruyff's 20-year-old Dutch-born son, will be in the 16. He is regarded as 'assimilated' in the same way as Ryan Giggs is, after spending his teens playing for Barcelona's youth team.

Giggs, meanwhile, is one of five United players with injury worries. He and David May are both doubtful, but Lee Sharpe, Paul Parker and Roy Keane are expected to be fit.