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Victory an 'absolute must' for Barcelona

FC Barcelona cannot allow Manchester United FC to taste more glory on their return to the Camp Nou, with a victory the minimum requirement for Frank Rijkaard.

Frank Rijkaard looks forward to the challenge of facing United
Frank Rijkaard looks forward to the challenge of facing United ©Getty Images

The last time Manchester United FC played in the Camp Nou they produced a footballing miracle to win the UEFA Champions League in the dying seconds, defeating FC Bayern München and completing the third part of a famous treble. What FC Barcelona cannot afford is for Sir Alex Ferguson's team to achieve such a significant result on their return to the Catalan capital, nine years later, in the first leg of this enthralling semi-final.

Home record
Barcelona, like United, are unbeaten in the competition this season and historically they are fearsome opponents in their 98,000-capacity arena. Their five home victories so far in this campaign have come with a 10-1 aggregate scoreline; they have lost just one of 14 meetings here with English sides in the European Champion Clubs' Cup; and versus United, they have posted home wins of 2-0 and 4-0 plus a dramatic 3-3 draw in that 1998/99 season. Against all that, however, three of Barça's last four UEFA Champions League exits – against Real Madrid CF in 2002, Juventus in 2003 and Liverpool FC in 2007 – have included defeats at the Camp Nou.

Rijkaard warning
Blaugrana coach Frank Rijkaard said: "I regard statistics as dry statistics and nothing else, but it is true that if you aspire to win at the top level then you absolutely must win your home games." Of the visitors, he added: "United present an interesting test because they play the English style domestically, and very well too, but they have top footballers who are capable of adapting to the different demands of European competition."

Total respect
The Dutchman is under pressure after a difficult campaign, but accepts that his opposite number has lived in the most intensely exacting environment for more than 20 years. "I don't like talking about the 'very best in the world' but Sir Alex is, without question, worthy of that status. For me, he represents football."

Selection quandary
Carles Puyol is suspended but Lionel Messi is back from a hamstring injury ahead of schedule; Rafael Márquez and Andrés Iniesta, who have struggled with foot and knee problems in recent weeks, should also start. Thierry Henry's high temperature has dropped and, if unlikely to begin the match after missing two training sessions, he is available for selection.

Hold possession
Sir Alex directly links the lesson he learned when Barcelona beat United 4-0 in the 1994/95 group stage to the ascendancy of his current team in Europe. "That night we were taught precisely how important it is to have the ball and to keep possession of the ball," admitted the Scot. "Against [AS] Roma [in the quarter-final first leg] in Italy we were excellent at keeping the ball and that was important. We have learned well."

Football spectacle
But no one should doubt United's commitment to attack their hosts with verve and intent. "This would have been the most attractive final because these two great clubs share a belief about how to play football. The Premier League has improved in quality and intensity recently but top-level games like this are won with nous and technical ability." Wayne Rooney has recovered from a bruised hip and is likely to play together with Cristiano Ronaldo and Ji-Sung Park.