The Barcelona midfielder Xavi says Manchester United are operating at a "spectacular level" ahead of their Champions League final tonight at Wembley.
Although Pep Guardiola's side got the better of Sir Alex Ferguson's team in the final two years ago in Rome, Xavi retains considerable respect for Barça's opponents.
"What Manchester United have done over the years has so much merit," he said. "They have been playing for many years at an extraordinary level, they have won many trophies, they have been competing consistently, getting to Champions League semi-finals and finals. They are on a spectacular level; all the footballers are at an extraordinary level."
Xavi has been particularly impressed by the longevity of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, as well as the manager, Ferguson. "What Ferguson has done, what Scholes and Giggs have done – to be competing like they have, year after year, has a lot of merit," he said.
The midfielder believes United possess excellence throughout their team. "They haven't only got talent," he said. "They work well in defence, they are compact, they have many variants in attack. If they score a goal they close up at the back and play on the counter – they have a lot of tactical options."
Xavi was linked with a move to United earlier on his career but insists he is happy to have stayed at Barça. "I'm in the Champions League final for the third time with this generation and I wouldn't change it for anything," he said.
His team-mate Andres Iniesta admits he is also attracted by English football. "Football in England is special," the midfielder said. "It's a country with great players, the stadiums are nice, and the culture, the people – how they live football and the matches – mean that it's always special to beat the English."
Iniesta was doubtful for the 2009 final, but an intense recovery programme ensured his presence in Rome. "That final had its own situation and characteristics," he said. "All the work I did in the two weeks before the final paid off because we won the Champions League."
The midfielder has enjoyed an injury-free campaign this time around and says he is feeling good ahead of tonight's game. "I'm in good shape," he said. "The fact that I can compete at 100 per cent with no niggling injuries is great – I hope we can win it again."
Meanwhile, Barcelona's former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano says meeting his old rivals United will not make tonight's final any more enticing. "It's a Champions League final – it's special anyway," the Argentine said. "Playing against United doesn't make it more special for me, but I played against them lots of times and in general terms they are a very strong team.
"Their defence has two centre-backs, [Nemanja] Vidic and [Rio] Ferdinand, that offer many guarantees and have huge quality.
"In general they are a great team and the statistics show that: in the last four years they have got to three Champions League finals and won three leagues. They are one of the best teams in the world today."
Mascherano also praised United's Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. "You know that when you play a final, especially against a team like United, that you're playing against some of the best strikers in the world," he said. "Rooney and Chicharito have enormous quality."