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Ferguson: 'The energy of the team is far better than a year ago'

Manchester United have not set foot in the Nou Camp since a certain heady night in May 1999, but last night Sir Alex Ferguson was already relishing the chance of going back for a semi-final first leg with Barcelona which means a renewal of battle with one of his most cherished old foes.

United have not beaten Barcelona since the 1991 Cup Winners' Cup Final in Rotterdam. Ferguson preferred to recall their "early education" from Barcelona in group stage encounters on their way to winning the trophy in 1998-99. It saw United draw 2-2 at Old Trafford and 3-3 in Barcelona. "Fantastic games... they represented the way this game should be played, the attacking emphasis," Ferguson said.

The peremptory way in which Roma, a serious force in the Serie A title race, were brushed aside by a team without Rooney, Ronaldo or Scholes at the start, suggested that United are far stronger than the club defeated by AC Milan in last season's semi-final.

"The energy of the team at the moment is far ahead of the energy of a year ago, far better," Ferguson emphasised. "We played a Milan team who had rested eight players [beforehand] and who were better than us."

But Ferguson could be forgiven for harbouring haunting memories of last season's defensive injury plight in Milan. Rio Ferdinand needed three stitches to his right foot at half-time here, having injured his left foot on Sunday. "We'll need a better defence for Barcelona," he joked. Michael Carrick will also undergo tests on a calf injury which saw him substituted at half-time but does not seem to present cause for concern. "It's only bruising," Ferguson said of Ferdinand.

Ferguson rejected the decision to award Roma a first-half penalty after Wes Brown's challenge on Mancini. "It was the wrong decision. He's got ball there's no doubt about that. I thought it was a big decision," he said. He will also take heart from the likely absence in Barcelona, a week on Tuesday, of their captain Carles Puyol.

United can also dwell on one of the club's great performances in Europe which saw them come back from a 2-0 defeat at the Nou Camp in 1984 to win 3-0 at Old Trafford against a Barça side with Maradona in its ranks in a Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final. Bryan Robson and Frank Stapleton scored that night. Wayne Rooney was not even born.

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