When Albert Ferrer returns to Wembley next Saturday night, he will see history repeat itself one way or another for his old club Barcelona. The only question is which year it will be: 1991, when the Catalans lost the Cup Winners' Cup final to Manchester United in the Rotterdam rain, or 1992, when Johan Cruyff told them "Go out and enjoy yourselves" and they did just that, winning the club's first European Cup beneath the old Twin Towers?
Ferrer played in both matches and he is confident it will be the latter, warning that this Barcelona are stronger than not just Cruyff's Wembley winners but, more significantly, the side that overcame United 2-0 in the 2009 final in Rome. "They have a better team now – they are more solid and have had two more years playing together. Xavi's had a fantastic year and so has [Andres] Iniesta, and [52-goal Lionel] Messi is probably in the best form of his career," said Ferrer, now coaching the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.
The statistics support his view, Barcelona having won more Champions' League games this term than en route to Rome – nine victories from 12, compared with six – and achieved a club-record 28-match unbeaten run in all competitions earlier in the campaign. Ferrer expects more of the same at Wembley. "Barcelona will want to take control, try to have possession of the ball as they normally do and get the game to their rhythm and make it difficult for United to get the ball," said the 40-year-old, who emerged from Barcelona's youth ranks alongside Pep Guardiola ("he could read the game perfectly") and later ended his career at Chelsea.
Yet if the Spanish champions are favourites, United's threat on the counter is a worry. "Barcelona don't like an open game with attack and counter-attack; they are a team that always try to control the situation. So teams with a quick transition from defence to attack and with quick, direct players can give them problems. United have great players up front who can make a difference."
Ferrer says Carles Puyol's fitness is a concern, a knee problem having sidelined the captain: "I don't know if Puyol will be available, and he is an important player for Barcelona."
Whatever their defensive worries, Ferrer suspects United will face even more at their own end. "My question is whether they can keep their own goal intact because of the potential Barcelona have up front. I see it being difficult for them. The key thing for United is if they can get to the last 15 minutes and still be in the game."
Ferrer has unhappy memories of facing Sir Alex Ferguson's men in a "tight game" that was decided by Mark Hughes' double in 1991, but Wembley 12 months later was "fantastic": from the sound of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé's "Barcelona" filling the air in the warm-up to climbing the 39 steps at the finish.
"We were the team that won the first European Cup for the club, we were privileged. But it was a lot of responsibility – after the club lost the final in Seville in 1986 against Steaua [Bucharest], we had a second chance. Those last eight minutes after Ronald Koeman's goal were so long."
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