Nemanja Vidic admits Manchester United have grown “obsessed” with the idea of exorcising the ghosts of Rome and Wembley by besting Barcelona, but the man who would be entrusted with lifting the Champions League trophy should Sir Alex Ferguson's side make it to Munich in May is adamant the Scot's side have learned enough in defeat to be confident of beating the Spaniards at the third time of asking.
Pep Guardiola's side have swept past United in two of the competition's last three finals, dispatching the Premier League champions 2-0 in Rome in 2009 and, with an epoch-defining confidence, 3-1 at Wembley six months ago.
That victory, in some quarters, was seen as proof of the ever-widening gulf between United and the Spanish champions.
Even Ferguson himself, so rarely intimidated, seemed a little star-struck in the immediate aftermath. The 69-year-old described being “mesmerised” by Barcelona's passing, suggesting Guardiola's was the best team he had ever encountered. “Nobody,” he said, “has ever given us a hiding quite like that.”
United, though, have not allowed themselves to stand bowed in the shadow of greatness for long. Victory against Benfica at Old Trafford tonight would see Ferguson's team into the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare; improving form in Europe has helped the fear, the awe inspired by Lionel Messi, Xavi and the rest to dissipate.
“Yes (it has become an obsession), but we played a semi-final against them (in 2008) and won that, so that is something,” said the United captain, who will miss tonight’s game due to suspension.
“If you look at the two games in 2009 and 2011, they way they played, they were the better team in both, and they deserved to win in both.
“But this is a new year, with new challenges. Maybe we will play again this year and we will celebrate. We have played them in pre-season, beating them this summer, and twice in the Champions League in the last few years, and I think we have learned some things along the way.”
The Serbian international, though, bristles at the suggestion that United have attempted to mimic the Catalans' style, inculcated in the club's players from a young age at their academy at La Masia.
Ferguson's introduction of Ashley Young, signed for £15 million from Aston Villa, his promotion of home-grown talent like Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck ahead of Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick and his employment, in the early stages of the season, of a high-intensity, fluid, attacking-style drew comparisons with Guardiola's philosophy.
More significantly, it produced some scorelines which would not be unfamiliar to the denizens of Camp Nou, most notably the spectacular 8-2 victory at home to Arsenal.
That approach appears to have been halted — at least temporarily — by the need to regain equilibrium following their humbling by the Premier League leaders, Manchester City, last month, but Vidic is adamant it was never supposed to be a pallid impersonation of Barcelona's approach; instead, he says, Ferguson's side must plot their own path, forging
their own style, if they are to overthrow Guardiola's team's dominance of the competition which occupies their thoughts more than any other.
“We have not changed the way we play to be more like Barcelona,” he said. “They have their own way of playing and so do we. Yes, they have beaten us twice but the success we have had is not something you should underestimate. We have played in three finals in four years. We have our own way of playing and we are Manchester United. Yes, we can improve and we will have to if we want to beat the team who were champions of the world last year.
“It is not about revolution, about doing things different, it is just doing the same things better. We cannot copy the way Barcelona play. The way they play, compared to English football, is alien. I do not feel any extra responsibility as captain, simply the need to keep myself on form and fit. That is how I can help the team achieve its ambitions in terms of trophies. What are they? The league, the Champions League and the FA Cup. We would be satisfied with three.”
Meanwhile, striker Wayne Rooney is expected to be fit for tonight’s match. Rooney missed training yesterday after getting a buffeting during Saturday's win at Swansea. Jonny Evans (hamstring) is also expected to be available.