The Spanish press were in little doubt yesterday about the task facing Frank Rijkaard's side in Manchester tonight. "Estadio inexpugnable" (unassailable stadium) was El Pais' description of Old Trafford, where several giant mosaics have been created by fans in an attempt to recreate the Nou Camp atmosphere in United's favour.
No wonder Rijkaard had not seemed in the most positive mood during the flight to Manchester. "Nada," he replied, when asked what problems he seemed to have been having with his players or directors. To say that he hardly seemed energised for the task at hand at his press conference would be to make a major understatement.
Rijkaard did find some grounds for optimism, not least in the aftermath of Saturday's battle of Stamford Bridge which, he said, could create "psychological" difficulties for United. The full extent of what happened after Saturday's match seemed lost on him, though. "He kicked a wall? I might need to consider how to answer that," he said, when Rio Ferdinand's off-pitch antics were put to him. That controversy could put pressure on one star player, Rijkaard agreed, as could the possible consequences of Cristiano Ronaldo's missed penalty in the Nou Camp last week. "Ronaldo wants to [compensate with] something good," he said.
On a scale of one to five, how confident was he? "Five," he replied, almost before the question had been put.
The real question for Rijkaard is which of his sides will turn up – the La Liga team which has laboured, particularly away from home, or the Champions League side who, like Sir Alex Ferguson's men, have not yet lost in this tournament.
"You can talk all you want about tactics but while we are preparing all we we can on that front, it's a question of how the match develops when it begins," Rijkaard said. "It's going to take a big effort physically but that's what we've been preparing for. We are finding it hard to score goals, but for this we need to work on our movements and have the desire to put on more effort and the desire to improve."
The midfielder Deco, who shone in the 2-1 win over Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League final, had a more precise idea of the tactical task ahead. "If we can get past their first line of pressure and play with the same intensity as the first leg, we have a lot of possibilities," he said. "[United] will pressure us more, but we will have more possibilities when we have the ball."
Barcelona's faltering form – which has not produced a goal in 270 minutes of play – has stunted confidence in some quarters. The club's sporting director, Txiki Beguiristain, said yesterday that if the side played like this was their final, they would win. However the defender Gianluca Zambrotta said: "It's better to be a little bit more discreet and err on the side of caution. Both teams are showing signs of tiredness at the end of the season. United lost at Chelsea and we at Deportivo [la Coruna, 2-0 on Saturday]. Maybe both sides are showing a bit of wear and tear."
United are doing their best to create a lively atmosphere. Tonight's programme is a replica of that from the semi-final against Real Madrid in the 1968 European Cup-winning year – the last time Spanish opponents were beaten at this stage.
Rijkaard knows that defeat, given that his departure at the end of the season is widely expected, could make this the end of five rich years in Europe at Barcelona's helm. Was he reflecting on this?
"Not yet," he replied.Reuse content