Sir Alex Ferguson declared last night that the "one or two mistakes" Manchester United made in their Champions League final defeat to Barcelona two years ago would not be repeated and that he was "very sure" his side would be better prepared for their task this time around.
Ferguson – whose suggestion that the approach in Rome was imperfect bore out Cristiano Ronaldo's post-match claim that "we got our tactics wrong" – appeared to hint that he was ready to start Javier Hernandez with Wayne Rooney, rather than seek to stifle the Catalans with a five-man midfield.
"No one in our club thought for a minute he could achieve what he has achieved this season," Ferguson said of Hernandez. "Hopefully it will continue that way [on the] night. He has the temperament to succeed [on the] night."
That said, Ferguson passed up the opportunity to say that his side, in true United tradition, would meet fire with fire against Barcelona at Wembley and the opposition will certainly dictate his game plan to some extent. "We always have to recognise the qualities of our opponents," said the manager. "It's unwise to go into a game not preparing for your opponent's play, though of course we focus on what we can do ourselves."
The mistakes he spoke of may have been United's attacking start to the final in Stadio Olimpico, which fell apart when they conceded the first goal. The only sense of foreboding Ferguson displayed at his pre-recorded interview with MUTV yesterday concerned who will not make the bench. It may have been significant that Darren Fletcher initially joined Darron Gibson, Gabriel Obertan and Bebe away from the main warm-up on the Wembley pitch last night. Fletcher had been expected to be a substitute.
Another of the problems in the 2-0 defeat in Rome was Ferguson's sense that that the players were "undercooked" and the manager said that Gary Neville's testimonial match against Juventus on Tuesday evening has provided a useful distraction to what has been a long wait for the final.
"That testimonial took the focus of the final away; it can be a long week to the final," he said. His good humour pointed to his typical calmness heading into the big occasion and he is not alone in considering this to be potentially the best final of the decade.
Liverpool may have something to say about Ferguson's assertion, after the events in Istanbul six years ago, though Michael Owen – who can be hopeful of a place on the bench – believes this is the most "perfect final", pitching United against the greatest team of all time. "You couldn't pick a better setting, a better venue, teams, anything," Owen said. "Both teams going in, in fantastic form. The best two teams in Europe, the best venue in Europe, the Champions League final, it doesn't get any bigger."
Ferguson's press conference had its surreal moment, when a Chinese journalist asked how to stay awake when the game kicked off at 2.45am local time. "It won't put you to bed, that's for sure. You'll need a sleeping tablet if you want that," the Scot said. The manager did not hear Paddy Crerand's mobile phone go off mid- conference, though his ring tone – Clive Tyldesley's commentary of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's 1999 winning goal against Bayern Munich – would have amused him.
Ferguson dismissed the notion, which he raised after the semi-final win over Schalke, that he had conferred with Jose Mourinho over how to tackle the Catalans tonight. "I've had a small conversation with him and he wished us success," he said. He sharply dismissed suggestions from a Spanish journalist that Barcelona only won through gamesmanship: "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
He was almost as dismissive of the idea that United have a height advantage. "We have [Rio] Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick and that's it," he said. "According to the bookies, we are underdogs, but I don't think it matters what betting or experts say. It's about the belief factor, tactics and other things like that. The rest doesn't matter. We go out there with a decent chance. It doesn't matter if they are favourites or not."
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