United arrive as favourites

Manchester United arrive in Barcelona with the hosts under pressure.

    Wayne Rooney ready to spearhead Manchester
    United challenge [GALLO/GETTY]


    Manchester United arrive at the Camp Nou stadium for the first leg of the Uefa Champions League semifinals to find Barcelona under pressure to avoid a second straight season without a trophy.

    Barcelona are realistically out of the Spanish league race with Real Madrid set to win a record 31st title.

    Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was coy about his team's status as favourite, even with striker Wayne Rooney available after recovering from a hip injury.

    "I don't see we are favourites,'' Ferguson said.

    "I think we (United, Barcelona) are very balanced with the amount of quality players, a similar style we have and I think it will be a balanced game.

    "(To) come to this point in the competition ... they must be among the strongest teams.''

    Both sides unbeaten

    Barcelona and Man United are both unbeaten in the Champions League this season, each winning eight of 10 matches, but Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o is concerned about the Red Devils' threat.

    "We have to be concerned about our Champions League options,'' Eto'o said.

    "And the game against Manchester United will be at the highest level. A game for men.''

    Eto'o backtracked Tuesday on a statement made earlier this week that he could leave the 2006 European Cup champions should they finish a third straight season in 2009 without silverware.

    "I want to make it clear that I never threatened to leave Barcelona,'' Eto'o told Cadena SER radio.

    Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard can call on a near full-strength squad with Ronaldinho, who is reportedly ready to join AC Milan, the only regular missing to injury.

    But Rijkaard has lately had a healthy team and the Catalans have won only once in eight league matches.

    Frank Rijkaard is struggling to keep his job
    at the Nou Camp [GALLO/GETTY]

    Henry continues to struggle

    France teammates Thierry Henry and Eric Abidal have shown the transition to Spanish football hasn't been easy, both admitting to a drop in form.

    "At the moment, they're flying, but you never know in football,'' Henry said of United.

    "Hopefully, they will have a bad day when we play them. You know how it is in the Champions League, one bad day and you're gone.''

    Barcelona will be counting on Lionel Messi. The Argentina forward is expected to start after coming off the bench the past two matches following a lengthy injury layoff.

    "Let him play. If we beat them with Messi, there'll be no excuse,'' said striker Carlos Tevez, Messi's Argentina teammate.

    Barcelona knows a victory, and a clean sheet, is crucial going back to Old Trafford.

    United is looking to draw on the luck of the Camp Nou, the venue where it scored its second European Cup with a dramatic injury-time comeback victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final.

    But United has never won at Barcelona, recording two losses and a draw.

    "The team of today don't need reminding of the past. I don't think it is lost on anyone in our team,'' Ferguson said.

    "But hopefully more important is what they can shape in their own history, and I think we are good enough to do that.''

    United with burden of favouritism

    United does have the pressure of being the favourite to reach the final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on May 21.

    United manager Alex Ferguson will be optimistic about his club's chances of overturning its poor semifinal record since 1999.

    It lost to German underdog Bayern Leverkeusen in 2002, and had eventual winner Milan overturn a 3-2 first-leg deficit to triumph 3-0 in the return last year.

    "I think we are in a much stronger position this year in terms of the energy of the team,'' Ferguson said.

    "Last year, we played the same team all the time, and I hope that makes a difference.''

    SOURCE: Agencies


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