Ferguson: Barcelona has improved since 2009

Two years after Manchester United was outclassed by Barcelona in
the Champions League final, Alex Ferguson believes the Spanish
champions are even better going into Saturday’s rematch.

Since Barcelona won its third European title in 2009, Pep
Guardiola’s club has won two Spanish titles and is often lauded as
the best team in soccer history.

”They have more maturity about their team now because I think
winning that European Cup was a big step forward for them as a
team,” Ferguson said Tuesday.

But that 2-0 loss was a humbling moment for Ferguson’s club,
which was overrun by Barcelona’s midfield despite going into the
final on the back of a third straight English Premier League
triumph.

Samuel Eto’o scored after 10 minutes and Lionel Messi rounded
off the win an hour later to give Barcelona its third European
title, matching United’s total.

”When we lost the first goal it was that sudden lapse of
concentration in terms of regrouping after we’d lost the ball –
that’s what cost us really,” Ferguson recalled at United’s
training ground. ”Then after, they went through with Messi running
midfield, which made it very difficult for us. So the concentration
is going to be very important (on Saturday) in dealing with all the
issues in terms of attacking and defending. That will be the key
for us.”

Messi remains Barcelona’s most potent threat, netting 11 goals
in the Champions League this season with 52 overall for the newly
crowned domestic champions.

”We’ve played against Barcelona three times with Messi in the
team and there’s always a solution to every good player and we hope
we can find a solution on Saturday,” Ferguson said.

United is returning on Saturday to Wembley Stadium – the scene
of its first European Cup win in 1968 when Matt Busby’s team beat
Benfica 4-1 a decade after eight players died in the Munich air
disaster.

”It was a fantastic feat because, when you think about it and
go back, he (Busby) lost most of his team in 1958 and rebuilt a
team to win it 10 years later – it was incredible,” Ferguson said.
”Plus the fact that most of the players were homegrown from the 11
out there that night, so it was a fantastic achievement and the
whole country was behind them.”

Ferguson isn’t so optimistic that will be the same this
time.

”It’s a different story with United these days, we live in a
country of tribalism,” the Scotsman said. ”You’ve got Liverpool
fans, Leeds United fans, fans from the north, south, east, there’s
a lot of tribalism in England so therefore you’re never going to
get unilateral support.”

With a victory, Ferguson would equal former Liverpool manager
Bob Paisley’s record of three European Cup wins. He already won the
Champions League in 1999 and 2008.

And it would be the 28th major trophy of Ferguson’s 25-year Old
Trafford reign. He won a 12th Premier League title this month,
enabling United to surpass Liverpool’s record of 18.

”The only thing you can do at this club is win – it’s the only
thing that matters,” the 69-year-old manager said. ”You have a
responsibility and expectation we have to live up to and that will
carry on into next season, too.”