Manchester United head into their Barcelona showdown with Cristiano Ronaldo warning that they still have to earn the plaudits that have been showered on them this season.
United’s Ronaldo-inspired class of 2008 have been hailed by manager Sir Alex Ferguson as a better side than the one that completed the treble by lifting the European Cup here in 1999.
But the 38-goal winger knows that history will judge things differently if he and his team-mates stumble in the closing stages of their pursuit of a Premier League and Champions League double.
“What the manager had to say about the team made me feel great,” Ronaldo admitted ahead of a match that has been billed as a contest between his deadly skills and the impish creativity of Barca’s Lionel Messi.
“I also think this is the most talented team he has had — but you can only confirm that by seeing what we have won at the end of the season.
“We have shown we have a fantastic team and magnificent players but only if we win the Champions League or the Premier League will we be able to give a definitive answer as to whether this is really the best United team of all time.”
The recent pattern of matches in the latter stages of the Champions League suggests United will be strong favourites to advance to next month’s final in Moscow if they manage to score on Wednesday night.
Ronaldo has set his sights even higher, insisting that United are capable of completely killing the tie in front of a Catalan crowd that has grown increasingly disgruntled over the course of what has been a frustrating season on the domestic front.
“There are no easy games at this stage of the season but our objective is to win the game as quickly as possible, so we will play for the win,” he insisted.
Ryan Giggs, one of the survivors from United’s 1999 triumph, echoes his team-mate’s optimism, underlining that the deepening of United’s squad last summer has left Ferguson with a much fresher set of players than he had at this time last season, when the English champions succumbed to the brilliance of AC Milan’s Kaka at the same stage of the competition.
“I have never been in a squad fresher at this stage,” the 34-year-old revealed.
“It has not been the same team playing every three or four days and there is a really good mix of youth and experience with the likes of myself, players in their late 20s and young lads like Ronaldo, Rooney, Nani and Anderson.”
Despite some inexplicable barracking from sections of United’s home crowd at times this season, Giggs says he is enjoying his football more than ever in the autumn of his career, and he is relishing the prospect of gracing the Nou Camp turf once more.
“It’s a huge pitch and a great place to play football. There will be memories from 1999 and hopefully we can create some more in this game.”
United are expected to have first-choice goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar back between the posts on Wednesday following his recovery from a groin strain that kept him out of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Blackburn.
Wayne Rooney is also expected to have shaken off a hip injury suffered in that match, giving Ferguson a virtually full strength squad from which to select his starting XI.
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