Just hours after they wrapped up an historic 19th English League title, and a full ten days before they meet in the Champions League Final in Wembley, Pep Guardiola has started cranking up the pressure on Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson by saying that the Scot's 2011 team are "extraordinarily strong and very similar to Real Madrid" in terms of greatness.
As the build up to the 2011 Champions League Final begins in earnest and with Barcelona as overwhelming favourites to claim the "trophy with the big ears" as Jose Mourinho likes to call it, Pep Guardiola has moved to remove some of the growing pressure from his team by declaring that Manchester United are "extraordinary."
"Manchester United are extraordinarily strong, very similar to Real Madrid," he said. "They are a hard-working side and it's very hard to hurt them."Barcelona last played Manchester United in the Champions League Final in 2009. On that occasion La Blaugrana completely out-played and out-thought a Red Devils team that then included Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Since then, both players have left the club for Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively and there is little doubt that Manchester United circa 2011 is not as strong as their 2009 team.
The same problems remain, primarily a static central midfield, but Sir Alex Ferguson has looked to repair this by moving away from the formation he favoured in '09 - a 4-2-3-1 formation, to a more traditional 4-4-2 set up.
But his lynch pin remains the same, one Wayne Rooney.
Despite the England striker coming back into the kind of form he showed before the World Cup, and United having won yet another EPL title, many feel that this current Red Devils team are no where near as good as their predecessors.
This, combined with the way Barcelona have literally run roughshod over teams like Shaktar Donetsk, Arsenal and Real Madrid means that pundits are firmly backing Guardiola's team to win and that the only slight advantage United have is that the game is being played in Wembley.
In his current 4-4-2 formation, Alex Ferguson employs two out and out wide players while Rooney drops off to act as a deep lying forward and play-maker. This combination has added some defensive steel but it also gives United the ability to break quickly on either flank or through the middle with the lightening fast Javier Hernandez.
This is something that Guardiola is obviously aware of as neither Gerard Pique nor Carles Puyol are blessed with pace while the two full-backs push on relentlessly and he will have to drill his players accordingly.
"We have to be very careful because they can score against you on the break," he said. "We have to know how to interpret the final, depending on how they play, and play the game on our terms."Guardiola knows all about United, he is a student of the game and is every bit as meticulous as Jose Mourinho. However, he also knows that unlike Mourinho, Ferguson will never take the base route to win matches and will always instruct his teams to play on an attacking foot.
For that very reason alone, Guardiola will not underestimate the Red Devils.
"They have a great squad. A great team, extraordinary players," he said after Manchester United had beaten Chelsea.
"They played a Champions League semi-final with a team full of reserves and they won 4-1 - that says everything you need to know about the quality they have."Make no mistake about it though, no matter how much Pep Guardiola talks Manchester United up, Barcelona are overwhelming favourites. For the Red Devils to have drifted to 4/1 for a one of match also tells you everything you need to know about the quality Barcelona has as its disposal.
And if they get off to start they want, they will win the final in an easier fashion than the game in 2009.