One of the most surprising aspects of Catalonia's worst drought for 60 years is that it should have spread to the Nou Camp stadium. A goalless draw between Barcelona and an arid Manchester United was the last result expected when two of Europe's most glamorous teams came together for last Wednesday's Champions' League semi-final. Old Trafford will now want the floodgates to open for the second leg on Tuesday, and Sir Alex Ferguson last night promised that the real United will emerge again to engulf a buoyant Barça.
The manager's determination to dictate the tempo of thegame – with Wayne Marooned-Rooney restored to a proper role instead of playing as an auxiliary right-back – will please United's well-wishers around the world, who would doubtless welcome confirmation that Cristiano Ronaldo will also be used in his best position out wide, rather than reinventing himself as a centre-forward.
They may also feel that the normally reliable Ferguson was guilty of a selective reading of recent history in claiming: "History has shown that when we need a big performance and result at Old Trafford, especially in Europe, then we get one." That ignores the three times in five years between 1995 and 2000 that Volvograd, Monaco and Real Madrid ejected United from Europe after they appeared to have done the hard work by drawing the away leg 0-0.
Even Peter Schmeichel, the goalkeeper in the 1999 triumph, is cautioning against taking too much for granted against a team who belied their recent feeble form to earn an ovation on Wednesday, amid all the disappointment at the misleading scoreline. "By no means is this an easy result," the great Dane said. "We're still talking about Barcelona, with players like [Lionel] Messi and in particular Deco coming back in good form. With Deco back, instantly the team is 20 yards further forward, and when Barcelona can keep that kind of pressure up in their opponents' half, they are a difficult team to play against.
"I think it's still very, very open. Nil-nil is very, very difficult, because what are your tactics going to be? Are you going to go out full throttle and score goals? Are you then going to sit back when you score the first?"
Schmeichel did, however, express admiration for the dogged performance in the Nou Camp which he believes illustrated a maturity not evident in a 3-0 drubbing by Milan at the same stage last year: "With the experience Sir Alex has and the players in the squad now and what they suffered last year, with what they've done here and in Rome [2-0 in the last round], I know now they have the tactical ability, knowledge and experience.
"In my time I don't think we had the ability to go out and play in every game exactly the right way. It was difficult, because our supporters at Old Trafford were demanding that we played in a special way, attacking [all the time]. Remember the game against Juventus when we were attacking and on top, and suddenly we lost the ball and we lost the game 1-0. That's what experience gives you. You become knowledgeable and try not to do the same things again. I don't think you can play gung-ho in Europe, nobody does."
"Gung-ho" is not an expression Ferguson would use. What he promises is: "The atmosphere and the fact that we are at home will help us. The fans can play a big part for us. We know we were disappointing in Barcelona in terms of our contribution to the game, although we defendedvery well. We were disappointed because normally one of our great strengths is keeping possession of the ball, but we didn'tdo that, which was a surprise."
Rooney, he said, had to be used in a certain role because Barce-lona played Andres Iniesta on the left rather than Thierry Henry, coming inside to make an extra midfielder: "Wayne sacrificed himself on Wednesday. He's a team player. He has the ability and energy to do that for the team and although he didn't play to his normal standard he'll be playing a different position on Tuesday. You will see a different Wayne Rooney then, believe me."
Like Rooney, Carlos Tevez will hope to be liberated after playing a restricted role in Barcelona, where, he said: "The manager told me I had to play deeper and chase after Yaya Touré." Tevez has also made it clear that he would like to convert his loan to United into a permanent transfer, as Javier Mascherano has done at Liverpool. Whether starting or coming on as a substitute, Tevez is one of those players who needs to improve on Wednesday's performance, when Ferguson admitted that only "half the team", the defence plus Paul Scholes, were at their best.
What is clear is that United will win if they are as positive this time as their manager, who said: "Our game won't get to penalties, believe me. We will win it. Ronnie [Ronaldo] will take the next penalty we get, there's no doubt about that – and he'll score."
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