Michael Carrick believes tomorrow¿s Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona is a meeting of the two dominant teams of their generation.
Two teams first among equals
Michael Carrick believes tomorrow's Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona is a meeting of the two dominant teams of their generation.
The game will be United's third final in four seasons; Barcelona, the 2006 and 2009 winners, are looking to become the first side in almost a decade to win Europe's premier club competition three times in six years or less.
In addition, Pep Guardiola's team have won a third successive Spanish Primera Liga title, and United's English Premier League crown was their fourth in five years.
It has led Carrick to conclude that, despite the claims of clubs such as Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, United and Barcelona are first among equals.
"I think you'd probably say that," he said. "We've both won the leagues and over a four- or five-year period we've probably been the most consistent two teams within the leagues and in the Champions League as well."
Carrick is an admirer of the midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta, but is determined to keep the Spain internationals quiet tomorrow.
Carrick, 29, endured a harrowing evening in the 2009 Champions League final, but he believed his partnership with Ryan Giggs will enable United to take revenge.
Barcelona regularly dominate possession, averaging 62 per cent of the ball in the Champions League this season. Xavi, with 106 passes per match, has been the busiest player in the competition.
"They are top players," said Carrick, who is United's most prolific passer. "I watch and enjoy them just as much as anybody else when I'm watching them on the telly, but when you are playing against them, you have a job [to do].
"I respect them for who they are and how good they are, but at the same time they are the opposition so I have to do a job. But of course I appreciate the abilities they have. They play in a good way."
Carrick has been united in the centre of midfield with Giggs in the last couple of months. It has proved a profitable alliance and it is one Carrick said can benefit United as they look for a fourth European Cup win.
"In the Champions League against Chelsea and in the Schalke game, and against Chelsea in the league, we've played well," he said. "In the big games, it's important your big players play well and things have come together well. We've formed a good partnership and hopefully that continues."
Both were among United's three-man central midfield in Rome, along with Anderson, when United's difficulty in dispossessing Barcelona led Sir Alex Ferguson to say: "They get you on that carousel and they make you dizzy with their passing."
However, Carrick disputes the theory that Barcelona outclassed United that day. "I've watched it back myself and I find when you watch games back, they are never as bad as you think or never as good as you think and that was the case," he said. "It really wasn't as bad as everyone made out."
Carrick, whose form has earned him a recall to the England squad after a one-year absence, argues that United should not be overawed but believes Barcelona pose a unique challenge
"In some ways, yes, because they do play their own way," he said. "They have their way of playing, we all know that, we've seen it many times. At the same time, we can't get too bogged down about how good they are and worried about threats of that. We are there for a reason, as well. We play a certain way and we have been successful, so it's not a case of worrying the life out of stopping them all the time. We need to implement our game plan and attack."
The 2009 Champions League final was billed as an unofficial competition between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to determine who was the world's premier footballer.
While Messi scored, it proved the Portuguese forward's final game for United before his £80 million (Dh479m) move to Real Madrid. Minus a player who scored 91 goals in his final three seasons at Old Trafford, Carrick believes United have progressed with more of a team effort. "It's a different team just because we've moved on as players," he said. "There are a couple of changes. Obviously Ronaldo was a huge part of the team, so we've had to adapt. We've done that. We play other ways at times and have different personnel, so it's like any team, you move on and try and improve."
And while the Catalan club have attracted greater backing, Carrick believes the two teams are evenly matched.
"We've played Barcelona three times in the last four years," he said. "There's no hiding place. We have seen plenty of things of them, they have seen plenty of us, so we will have a game plan just as they will have one, so it's who executes it best on the night."