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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vida doubtful for Blues

Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Nemanja Vidic is a major doubt for Saturday's Premier League showdown at Chelsea.

The Serbian defender missed Wednesday night's draw in Barcelona with a stomach bug and, although he is on the road to recovery, Sir Alex is not hopeful of having Vidic available at Stamford Bridge.

"I think he’s doubtful, but we’ll do our best," the United manager told Sky Sports.

"He’s back at the hotel, he’s taking plenty of fluids, he had a bit of soup this afternoon for the first time in 36 hours – that’s promising, I suppose.

"Let’s hope we can get him there on Saturday morning – we’ve only got 72 hours to do that, but he’ll want to have a go. He’ll be desperate to play and if we do get him, it’ll be a bonus to us."

Wes Brown deputised in central defence against the Catalans, with Owen Hargreaves excelling as a makeshift right-back.

With Gerard Pique, John O'Shea, Gary Neville and Mikael Silvestre all fit, however, Sir Alex has no shortage of options if he opts to shuffle his pack.

Solid display pleases boss

Sir Alex Ferguson believes United have a “marvellous chance” of reaching the Champions League final after their workmanlike performance against Barcelona.

Barca enjoyed plenty of possession at the Nou Camp without creating many clear-cut opportunities and, although United offered little in attack themselves, Ferguson was satisfied with the defensive display.

“It was a professional performance,” the Reds boss told Sky Sports. “Our concentration in defending the space was very good and, although they had a lot of play on the edge of our box, they didn’t have many chances.

“On the negative side, we should have done better with our possession. We had opportunities to counter-attack and gave the ball away too easily.

“But going back to Old Trafford for the second leg, 0-0 gives us a marvellous chance.”

United’s night could have been even better had Cristiano Ronaldo converted a second-minute penalty. The Reds’ top scorer surprisingly put his spot-kick wide of Victor Valdes’ left-hand post, but Ferguson was quick to defend the winger.

“I would have backed him to score,” he said. “He’s a bit unlucky – maybe it came a bit too early in the match. It was disappointing but nonetheless, he was fantastic for us tonight.

Ferguson reserved special praise for Paul Scholes, who made his 100th Champions League appearance.

“I thought he was one of our best players,” he said. “His reading of the play outside the box was terrific, his interceptions were marvellous and he was the one player on our team who didn’t give it away.”

The United boss insisted it was no surprise that Barcelona enjoyed long periods of possession on their home ground, but he is determined for the Reds to up the ante in Tuesday’s second leg.

He said: “You have to admire the style of their game. They always get an extra player in midfield, no matter what you do, so possession was always going to be in their favour on their own ground.

“At Old Trafford we want to reverse that to make sure they don’t get that kind of possession. I think we’ll impose ourselves much better in the second leg.”

Ronny warns Barca

Cristiano Ronaldo has warned Barcelona that he will atone for his Nou Camp penalty miss in next week's semi-final decider at Old Trafford.

The Portuguese winger blazed a second-minute spot kick past the post as United and Barca fought out a goalless first leg draw, but he insists he will score when the teams reconvene in six days' time.

"Today I didn't score," he told Sky Sports. "No problem, now I'm going to score in Manchester. Nil-nil is a good result. Of course, if you score a goal it is better for us. We didn't score, but 0-0 is good.

"It was a tough game, Barcelona played very well and kept the ball a lot. But I think we defended very well and we played well too. I think 0-0 away is a good result."

Aside from Ronaldo's penalty miss - and the decision not to award a second spot kick for a foul by Rafael Marquez - the 23-year-old winger is still confident that United can book a berth against either Chelsea or Liverpool in Moscow.

"Now we're playing at home, and I think we're going to win," he said. "The team feels good confidence, we played very well, we play at home now and we have a great chance."

Barcelona Vs. Manchester United Result Report

Cristiano Ronaldo missed a second-minute penalty as United held Barcelona to a goalless draw in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, first leg.

The Portuguese winger blazed wide from 12 yards after Gabriel Milito had been penalised for handball, while Michael Carrick smashed a shot into the side netting with the Reds’ best second-half opening.

Samuel Eto’o wasted Barca’s best opportunity as a superb defensive display from Sir Alex Ferguson’s side neutralised the Catalans’ potent attack.

The prudent nature of the first leg could well have been blown out of the water as early as the second minute, however, had Ronaldo converted a golden opportunity from the penalty spot.

From a Wayne Rooney corner, Gabriel Milito blocked Ronaldo’s diving header with his hands, and referee Massimo Busacca immediately awarded the spot kick.

After lengthy protests from the home side, the Portuguese winger placed the ball on the spot, adopted his trademark stance, sidled up and sidefooted his effort off target.

A huge let off for Barca, and a missed opportunity for United. Despite that glorious early opening, the game failed to descend into the anticipated slugfest where both sides would wantonly deploy their rich attacking arsenals.

With the stakes so high, the two teams opted instead to remain at arm’s length. Barca cagily probed with more attacking intent, while United reverted to the initial gameplan of containment and countering.

Barring two scuffed kicks from Edwin van der Sar which suddenly put the Reds on the back foot, United were able to restrict their hosts to pretty, but largely ineffective possession.

On one of United’s rare forays into enemy territory, just before the half-hour mark, referee Busacca could very easily have given Ronaldo a second chance from the penalty spot.

Seizing on a slack pass from Andres Iniesta, the 23-year-old burst through on goal, only to have his route unceremoniously blocked by Rafael Marquez, who showed little interest in playing the ball.

Busacca quickly waved away the claim, however, much to the delight of the home contingent. Ronaldo, already frustrated by his earlier miss from 12 yards, could scarcely believe the decision.

At the other end, Wes Brown was alert to block a goal-bound shot from the ever-dangerous Samuel Eto’o, while Edwin van der Sar comfortably clutched a low 25-yard free kick from Deco.

In the first half’s final act, Ronaldo was again tripped by Marquez. This time the foul was given, outside the area, and the Mexican was punished with a yellow card which rules him out of next week’s return leg. From the free kick, Ronaldo curled his effort a yard wide of the far post.

The second half started in the same vein as the first had ended, with Barca probing without genuine purpose – although Gianluca Zambrotta saw a speculative 30-yard effort fly just over van der Sar’s crossbar.

Four minutes after the break, United were indebted to the defensive backtracking of Michael Carrick. Eto’o skipped away from Ferdinand’s lunging challenge and pulled the ball back for Messi 10 yards from goal, but Carrick brilliantly intercepted the cross and hoofed it to safety.

That opening sparked a brief, flurried exchange from both sides. Lovely slick interplay from Messi and Xavi fed Eto’o, who fired wastefully wide, before Carrick engineered space for himself on the left side of the area before firing high into the side netting.

Xavi went one better just before the hour mark, hitting the target with a powerful effort from 20 yards, but van der Sar contorted well to hold the Spaniard’s low, deflected shot.

The Catalan crowd were growing in confidence as their side showed more attacking intent, but were dealt a huge blow when Messi was withdrawn with an injury after 62 minutes.

The Argentine, a victim of recurring thigh problems throughout his burgeoning career, was replaced by Croatian teenager Bojan Krkic – himself something of a star in the making at the Nou Camp.

Although the man billed as Barca’s most likely threat to United had left the fray, the Reds still struggled to gain a creative foothold in the game. Sir Alex’s men defended stoutly, but could impact little on a home defence missing suspended skipper Carles Puyol.

It was a familiar foe who almost snatched victory for Barca with eight minutes remaining. Former Arsenal skipper Thierry Henry, on as a substitute for Deco, stung the palms of van der Sar with a rasping drive from the edge of the area, but Hargreaves was able to clear the loose ball.

With United so resolute at the back, such pot-shots were Barca’s best hope of establishing a lead. Iniesta tried another from fully 35 yards, but van der Sar was again comfortably equal to it.

Amid the pre-match fervour of two of world football’s most talented attacks coming together, the word ‘caution’ rarely surfaced in conversation. However, those who sat down to gorge on a feast of attacking football will not have been satisfied.

With 90 decisive minutes to come in Manchester next Tuesday, however, it’s safe to assume that the second course will be a far tastier affair.

United will be regarded as having a slender advantage going into the match and, with a baying home crowd behind them, the scene is set for Old Trafford to roar the Reds to Moscow.

FC BARCELONA: Valdes; Zambrotta, Marquez, Milito, Abidal; Deco (Henry 77), Toure, Xavi; Messi (Krkic 62), Eto’o, Iniesta

Subs not used: Pinto, Gudjohnsen, Sylvinho, Giovani, Thuram

MANCHESTER UNITED: Van der Sar; Hargreaves, Brown, Ferdinand, Evra; Rooney (Nani 76), Carrick, Scholes; Park, Ronaldo, Tevez (Giggs 85)
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Anderson, Pique, O’Shea, Silvestre

Barcelona Vs. Manchester United Highlights Video Clip

Barcelona 0 - 0 Manchester United


Barcelona Vs. Manchester United Match Preview

Edwin Van der Sar is in line to return to the Manchester United team for the Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona.

The Holland goalkeeper travelled to Spain with the rest of the squad this morning after missing the draw against Blackburn because of a groin strain.

Wayne Rooney suffered a hip injury in that match but he too joined the squad and looks certain to feature at the Nou Camp.

Owen Hargreaves and Anderson are also in contention after they were ruled out of the game at Ewood Park with minor injuries.

Gary Neville made his first trip abroad in a year after a long-standing ankle problem while Darren Fletcher was also in the party as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes his players have the potential to shape their own destiny and enter Old Trafford's `Hall of Fame'.

However, he has resisted the temptation to take his vibrant squad down memory lane as he returned to the city which hosted a never-to-be-forgotten Champions League final.

Nine years ago Ferguson's side recorded an astonishing last-gasp victory against Bayern Munich thanks to goals from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham to lift the trophy.

And on Wednesday they return to the Nou Camp for the first time since that memorable night.

This time Barcelona provide the opposition in the semi-final first leg of Europe's top club competition.

Ferguson insists his squad do not need a history lesson. Instead he tipped his players to set their own benchmark.

"It is almost 10 years since we won the final,'' said the United boss.

"The team of today do not need to worry about the past and be reminded of the past.

"They have seen the game many times on video and television, so I do not think it is lost on any of them.

"What is more important is that they can shape their own history. I think they are good enough to do that.''

United went out at the semi-final stage to AC Milan last season but Ferguson insists they are much better equipped to go the distance this time around.

The likes of Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez arrived in the summer along with outstanding prospects Nani and Anderson to boost the playing pool.

With 38-goal Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney showing remarkable maturity this season, United have good reason to go forward with confidence.

Ferguson said: "We are in a much stronger position this year in terms of the energy of the team, not to mention the ability in it.

"Last season we played much the same team every week because of injuries.

"Now we have bigger squad, you can see the difference and how it has helped us.''

Johan Cruyff believes Barcelona must eradicate the errors which have blighted their Primera Liga season if they are to have any chance of beating Manchester United in the Champions League semi-finals.

Having slipped well off the pace in the league in recent weeks, the Catalans now host United on Wednesday in the first leg of the last-four tie and Cruyff warns they cannot make mistakes.

"Barcelona will have to do things well. If there aren't any stupidities, the tie is there to be won,'' said Cruyff, who achieved legendary status after hugely successful spells as a player and a coach at the Nou Camp.

Frank Rijkaard's side have not won any of their last four league games and are now 11 points adrift of arch rivals Real Madrid in the race for the title.

However, Cruyff hopes the Catalans can rediscover their best form in Europe.

"If Barcelona play like they know how, they have a chance of getting to Moscow (for the Champions League final next month).

"Even though they are stumbling in the league and have literally thrown away the title, my thoughts don't change. Europe is another story, another competition. There is a different mentality and I believe it will be an even tie.''

Barcelona Highlights


Let's make history

The presence of the likes of Brian Kidd, Denis Irwin and Pat Crerand as guests on the official Manchester United flight to Spain on Tuesday was enough to stir memories of the club's greatest moments. Whatever the modern crop of players achieve, they will do well to top the European Cup successes of 1968 and 1999. In the past, however, lurks danger — at least in the mind of the ever-pragmatic Ferguson. To the United manager, former glories are there to learn from, not romanticise. And so Ferguson will send his players out to face Barcelona with a simple message. He said: "I don't know what the players talk about, but they know all about 1999. They have all seen it. It is on the MUTV re-runs all the time. What happened back then is not lost on anybody. But it is almost 10 years ago now. What is more important is how they can shape their own history."
Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail

Vidic eyes deadly duo

Nemanja Vidic will not shirk the responsibility of trying to stop Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o if he's fit to face the Barcelona duo tonight.

United's Serbian hardman missed training at the Nou Camp on Tuesday evening, fuelling speculation he could also miss the match. He insists the task of tackling Argentina star Messi and Cameroon striker Eto'o is imperative to United's cause.

"Messi is one of the best players in the world," said Vidic.

"He's very good in one-on-one situations. But he's not the only player. Barcelona have many good players. Take Samuel Eto'o - he is an excellent striker.

"My job on Wednesday night is just to do my best to stop them. Hopefully we can prevent them from playing and get the result we need."

Vidic played in the semi-final second leg defeat to Milan last season and the 0-3 scoreline clearly cut deep.

"Last season we were not ourselves in the semi-final," Vidic added. "We were knocked out and we want to fix that.

"We are much better this season and we want to win trophies. Last season we played most of the games with the same squad. In the last few games we had a few injured players and this was the reason why we didn't play well in the semi-final.

"Now we have a stronger squad and we are in a good position physically."

Let's hope that's also true of Nemanja come kick-off at the Nou Camp tonight.