• ‘United are extraordinarily strong, very similar to Real’
• ‘They are a hard-working side and it’s very hard to hurt them’
The Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has compared Manchester Unitedto Real Madrid ahead of his side’s Champions League final meeting with United at Wembley this month. Barça, like United, have won their domestic title and can now focus on the London final on 28 May.
The match is a repeat of the 2009 final, which Barça won 2-0 after a dominant display in Rome. But Guardiola expects a more difficult game this time around. “Manchester United are extraordinarily strong, very similar to Real Madrid,” he said. “They are a hard-working side and it’s very hard to hurt them.”
The Barcelona coach admitted he is concerned by United’s counterattacking ability. “We have to be very careful because they can score against you on the break. We have to know how to interpret the final, depending on how they play, and play the game on our terms.”
Guardiola picked an experimental side in Barcelona’s La Liga match at home to Deportivo La Coruña on Sunday night and watched his young players draw 0-0 with the relegation-threatened Galician club. “The young players did well. I am happy with them and I chose to rest a lot of the others because the most important thing now is to prepare for the final,” he said.
Of the first-team starters, only the goalkeeper Víctor Valdés, the midfielder Javier Mascherano and the full-back Eric Abidal were included from the outset, while Dani Alves appeared as a second-half substitute. Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernández were unused substitutes, while Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets all watched from the stands.
Busquets has been cleared to play in the Champions League final after Uefa’s control and discipline committee decided against charging the midfielder for an alleged racist remark made to Madrid’s Marcelo in the sides’ ill-tempered semi-final first leg at the Bernabéu.
Johan Cruyff, who led Barcelona to their first European Cup at Wembley in 1992, believes their presence in a second final in three years and a semi-final appearance last season confirm their dominance on the continent – win or lose in London. “Whether you win or lose at Wembley, your presence in two Champions League finals, as well as a semi-final [last season], corroborates the football hegemony in the league and abroad,” the Dutchman wrote in his weekly column in the Catalan newspaper El Periodico.