Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has refuted suggestions that the Catalan club is under immense pressure to win the Champions League ahead of his side’s quarter-final clash against Manchester United.
The centre-back was asked if there is pressure on Barcelona to perform, especially with eternal rivals Real Madrid winning the last three Champions Leagues while his team has failed to get past the quarterfinals.
Pique pointed to Barcelona’s performance in other competitions during the same period, mainly the La Liga and refused to be drawn into a comparison with Real Madrid’s recent achievements. The Spain international feels that the pressure factor kicks in only if a team has not won the competition for 20 years or so.
“We don’t care what Real Madrid have won, as things go as they go and history is what it is,” he said at a pre-match press conference ahead of the quarter-final against Manchester United, according to Marca.
“They have won this tournament several times in recent years, while we won other titles. To compare the titles won is something for you all to do. We have to be happy with what we’ve achieved.
“We don’t feel pressure. There is a lot of excitement, not pressure. We would feel pressure if we hadn’t won the competition in 20 years. I don’t want to compare this season with other years.”
Pique knows that getting a result at Old Trafford is not easy, despite Barcelona being on good dynamics at the moment.
“We’re in a good situation, we’re playing well and we’re achieving results,” the central defender stated.
“We come here aware of how difficult it is to play at Old Trafford,” he added.
It’s a first visit to Old Trafford for the Blaugrana since 2008, when they lost in the semi-finals thanks to a famous Paul Scholes strike that gave United a 1-0 aggregate win.
Lionel Messi is the only player remaining from that game – though United will encounter a familiar face this week and next as they get ready to welcome an old foe.
Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of Wednesday’s game.
HOSTILE RECEPTION COULD SUIT SUAREZ
Former Liverpool players always get made the villain of the piece when they play at Old Trafford, but even by those standards Luis Suarez should expect a hostile reception on Wednesday.
The Barcelona striker has been met with a chorus of boos and jeers ever since he was found guilty of directing racial abuse towards then-United left-back Patrice Evra in 2011 while he was a Liverpool player.
That was the lowlight of a fairly extensive rap sheet during his time in England, which included multiple accusations of diving as well as an infamous biting incident involving Chelsea’s Branislov Ivanovic. And the negative press his actions generated ultimately influenced his decision to leave the country and join Barcelona in 2014.
The new version of Suarez is one who avoids flashpoints rather than provokes them, yet perhaps the hostility of Old Trafford will help end an astonishing goal drought – the Uruguayan hasn’t scored away from home in the Champions League since September 2015.
He’s also only scored twice in seven appearances against United. But Barcelona can count on his recent form – Saturday’s stunning long-range strike to beat Jan Oblak and Atletico Madrid is proof – and this game could rekindle some of the fire that fans in England would recognise.
Luis Suarez has joined Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo as the only players to score 2️⃣0️⃣+ goals in four La Liga seasons. 🔥— Goal (@goal) April 6, 2019
🐐 #3? pic.twitter.com/Putl4mIsnM
STAGE SET FOR MESSI
Messi has tortured United more than people connected to the club would want to remember. Across two Champions League finals, in 2009 and 2011, the Barcelona magician was unstoppable even for Sir Alex Ferguson’s formidable teams, and he’s left plenty of scars on fans and players alike.
What he hasn’t quite done is illuminate Old Trafford with a display of brilliance. Those finals were in Rome and London; Messi had a decent game in the 2008 semi-final, but was ultimately unable to prevent Barca being knocked out.
United’s famous stadium has lived up to its Theatre of Dreams moniker more often for the opposition than for its own team in recent years, but it is nonetheless the sort of stage that Messi has made a habit of gracing.
The Old Trafford faithful have witnessed some virtuoso performances in recent times – Ronaldo’s hat-trick in 2003, Kaka’s wizardry in 2007 – and though they will be praying for a United miracle, they know how to recognise genius when they see it.
Messi recently received a standing ovation from the Real Betis supporters after a stunning goal. Can he produce something that draws the same reaction on Wednesday?
Ole on Lionel Messi: "He is a fantastic player and he'll go down in history as one of the best individual players ever. He'll be difficult to stop but it's never impossible. We can't just focus on him — we know we have to play 11 against 11." #MUFC— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 9, 2019
BARCELONA NEED TO BE WARY OF FAMILIAR WEAKNESSES
Recent European campaigns have ended with dismal performances on their travels for Barcelona. There have been consecutive 3-0 losses to Juventus and Roma over the previous two seasons, not to mention the 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain that ended up becoming the prelude to one of the most famous results in the competition’s history.
United don’t quite have the defensive quality of the 2017 Juventus side or the attacking brilliance of the PSG team from the same season, but the three-goal defeat Barcelona suffered in Rome last season should serve as a blueprint for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
This team showed during its stunning 3-1 win over PSG in the previous round that it does have the capability of managing a game, weathering a storm, and hitting back on the counter when the opportunity arises. It’s a formula that works against Barcelona, even if Messi and company – or Messi on his own – are capable of blowing teams away.
Roma managed it through 90 minutes of industry and commitment to knock Barcelona off their game, along with taking their own opportunities when they arrived. United should have the confidence to believe they can replicate such a performance.
The onus is on Barcelona, and manager Ernesto Valverde in particular, to show they’ve learned from last season.
Solskjær: "The Champions League throws up so many strange results and last year Barca were 4-1 up but then loss 3-0 to Roma. Nothing's going to be decided before the Nou Camp. We just want a great result to take there with us." #mulive— utdreport (@utdreport) April 9, 2019
The La Liga leaders were determined to recruit Pogba in 2016 and held advanced negotiations with Juventus that were ultimately undone when United offered a then record transfer fee that was accepted.
“In the summer of 2015, Paul Pogba was playing in Turin and we simply told Juve that, if one day they decide to sell the player, we would be interested,” Bartomeu told ESPN FC.
“When they sold the player, they told us what the offer would have to be and we couldn’t afford that amount of money at the time.
“So he went to United, and he’s making them better as a team because he’s one of the stars of the world of football right now.”
Barcelona play at Old Trafford on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against United knowing that Ousmane Dembele will not be available.
Dembele will travel with the squad on Tuesday but has been ruled out of the clash because of the thigh strain that has sidelined him since mid-March.
Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen is also unavailable because of discomfort in his left leg.