Gianluca Zambrotta cannot wait for FC Barcelona's "most important game" of the season as his team seek to redeem themselves in their semi-final decider.
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"I can see us in the final" was the message from FC Barcelona technical director Aitor 'Txiki' Beguiristain to the Catalan press at El Prat airport prior to the squad's departure for Manchester on Monday morning.
Fast forward to Monday evening and inside the Europa suite at Old Trafford, Gianluca Zambrotta offers a more circumspect take on the Spanish team's chances. After a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Camp Nou, Barcelona's Italian full-back knows a tough examination awaits Frank Rijkaard's side in what he describes as their "most important game of the season".
All or nothing
Given their hopes of domestic success this term faded some time ago, it is all or nothing for Barcelona against United. Win and, as Zambrotta says, the furore over their league form "might calm down a little bit"; lose, and the post mortem into their season will already have commenced by the time they board their flight home.
Moscow the target
Zambrotta was one of only four likely starters at Old Trafford to begin last weekend's 2-0 defeat at RC Deportivo La Coruña. He believes Manchester United will see a different Barcelona on Tuesday, in more ways than one. "Every player wants to play in games like this," said the 31-year-old. "We are experienced players and that will be important for us. This is not like a normal league game against a team like Depor – I think without doubt it is the most important game of the season for us. We know that with a victory we will be in Moscow."
Barcelona have lost four of their last six away matches in Spain, a run that serves to dilute any confidence that may have come from victories at Celtic FC and FC Schalke on their most recent European outings. "The problem this season is we've not done well on our travels," Zambrotta said. "This year in the Champions League we have done better away from home."
Still, the FIFA World Cup winner is too canny to share Beguiristain's headline-friendly optimism. "There is nothing written and we'll see what happens out on the pitch," he said. "It is a hugely important game for them too. If we give everything, we will have a reasonable chance. I think the two teams are showing signs of tiredness as we approach the end of the season – Manchester United lost to Chelsea [FC], we lost to Depor. We both want to get to the final and it is a massive game for both of us."