Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Ferguson counting on home run to Moscow

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned Barcelona to brace themselves for an Old Trafford backlash when the two sides resume battle next week.

An enthralling goalless draw here on Wednesday has left the Champions League semi-final between the two clubs delicately poised but Ferguson is confident there will be no repeat of what was a subdued display by his team here on Wednesday evening.

United struggled to contain their hosts for long periods but the bluntness of Barcelona’s cutting edge minimised the damage and the evening might have had a very different complexion if Cristiano Ronaldo had managed to convert a third minute penalty.

Given the cacophony of Catalan catcalls that provided the backdrop to his spot-kick, it was not surprising that Ronaldo suffered a rare failure of nerve, sidefooting his strike wide of Victor Valdes’s left-hand post.

But Ferguson is confident that the Portuguese winger and his teammates can make amends next Tuesday and secure their place in next month’s final in Moscow.

“I think that the game now starts at Old Trafford,” said the Scot. “The situation is that if it is a scoring draw we are out and if we lose we are out.

“The big bonus is if we win we are through and it will be a different game at Old Trafford. With our record there, the atmosphere and with our fans behind us, we have a very good chance to go through.

“It was significant that the Barcelona supporters were happy with the performance of their team. There were no white hankies and the support was terrific for them. Hopefully we will have the same kind of support in our own ground on Tuesday.”

Ferguson played down the significance of Barcelona’s territorial domination of Wednesday’s match, stressing that a defence missing centreback Nemanja Vidic through illness had restricted the Catalans to one clear chance – which Samuel Eto’o blasted into the side netting in the 50th minute.

“Barcelona have a lot of possession in a lot of games. They tend to have in the Nou Camp so we are satisfied we kept a clean sheet. It was a professional performance to do that.”

Ferguson admitted that United’s ball retention and their exploitation of chances to counter-attack could have been better on the night but argued that had been offset by the performance of a back four impressively marshalled by Rio Ferdinand.

“After half time they had a little spell where Eto’o had a good chance – other than that I think we have done well in reducing their opportunities,” the United manager added.

Ferguson revealed that Vidic, who was hospitalised on the eve of the match with a stomach infection, was unlikely to feature in Saturday’s Premier League clash with Chelsea, a match which could see United clinch the domestic title, and could also be doubtful for the second leg with Barcelona.

“We don’t know exactly what type of infection it is,” Ferguson admitted. “We will give him every chance but we don’t think he will be ready for Saturday.”

Barca coach Frank Rijkaard echoed Ferguson’s suggestion that the tie remains wide open.

“The penalty miss was a decisive moment for us,” acknowledged the Dutchman. “It was a bit of a wake-up call and after that we played well.”

Barca’s lively display was well received by a Nou Camp crowd that has been severely critical of Rijkaard and his players as a result of their poor form in La Liga this season.

“In pure football terms it was not our best performance, but the team transmitted something special to the crowd and it was a great atmosphere,” Rijkaard said.

“It was a very tactical game, Manchester played well on the counter attack but did not give them any chances and they know we are capable of scoring at Old Trafford.

“It will not be easy, we are up against a very good team but if we concentrate and remain positive, we know we can do it. A goalless draw is not the best result and we have to score over there, but it is not going to be easy for them. We will have our chances.”


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