WASHINGTON — Manchester United’s summer tour of the United States has proceeded nearly flawlessly thus far, marked by fluid play and an explosion of 18 goals in four exhibition victories against MLS competition.
But Sir Alex Ferguson and his side are keenly aware that Saturday night’s clash with Spanish and European champions FC Barcelona at FedEx Field outside Washington, D.C., could play out in dramatically different fashion (7 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
Barcelona defeated United 3-1 with a virtuoso performance in the UEFA Champions League final at London’s Wembley Stadium on May 28, a result Ferguson himself called “a hiding,” and the legendary Scottish boss was quick to pay tribute to the Catalans in a press conference held shortly after United’s arrival at a fashionable hotel in the heart of the nation’s capital on Thursday.
“I think their performances and their feats over the last two, three years have elevated them — in everyone’s mind, they’re the best team, currently, in the world,” said Ferguson. “And I’m quite happy with second place at this moment in time because that’s their challenge: Our challenge will be to get to that level.
“I think also it’s not just about the actual football team, it’s their philosophy and what they believe in, and how they coach, how they produce young players.”
United have lost to Barça in two of the past three European club finals, and while he noted that Saturday’s friendly can’t totally replicate that unique setting, Red Devils captain Patrice Evra made clear that the stinging memory of those defeats will persist when the teams face off in front of a massive crowd at FedEx Field.
“You know, the Champions League final is the Champions League final,” said the French left back. “Saturday will be a friendly game, but for Man. United, there are no friendly games. You have to win all the games. You have to respect the shirt when you play, and you have to win.
“I think we have a lot of respect for them, but in my mind, I would like to play [against] them in the Champions League again and win, because we already lost twice and it’s very painful. When I feel something like that, I just want to beat the team, because for the moment, they’re the best team in the world. For Manchester players, it’s difficult to accept that."
Ferguson confirmed that striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández will not play in Saturday’s match — and may not even attend the event — due to a concussion sustained in a Tuesday training session. The Mexican goal-scoring sensation traveled to Washington separately from his teammates and will be held out of action for the foreseeable future pending full medical clearance.