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05 May 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that he had suffered a broken night’s sleep as he agonised over his team selection, and the wholesale changes he planned, ahead of the Champions League semi-final.

"I didn't sleep last night thinking about it – I woke up four times – but they did me proud,” the Manchester United manager said.

“When I analysed each individual, they were Manchester United players so why couldn't I play them? The fact it was a Champions League semi-final meant I questioned whether I had done the right thing but I’m glad I was vindicated.”

Ferguson admitted that he would not have made so many changes – nine from the first-leg last week against Schalke – had his team not held such a commanding advantage.

“We have to trust them (the understudies) sometimes,” he said. “It was not an easy decision to make. But there was emotional tiredness last Sunday (the defeat away to Arsenal) so I had to make a decision that with a two-goal lead we had enough leeway to do it. With a tighter scoreline there is no way I could have done it.”

Ferguson said he was particularly pleased that his first-choice players were now fresh for Sunday’s Premier League meeting with Chelsea.

There is a massive difference now from last year when we had to go into the game after losing (the Champions League semi-final first leg) to Bayern Munich,” he said.

“In the first-half of the game (against Chelsea which was lost 2-1) we were really tired. So, a fresh team on Sunday and we will go for it.”

If United avoid defeat they will be on course for a 19th league title. Thoughts will also turn to the Champions League Final against Barcelona at the end of this month, a re-run of the 2009 final which the Catalans won 2-0.

"This team can win the cup – we have got a great team full of ability,” Ferguson said. “Barcelona are without doubt the team of the moment – they play fantastic football and are a pleasure to watch. We were the favourites the last time. We are a little bit more experienced but they are too.

"It has shown in our away form in Europe while Barcelona’s performances this year and last year have been brilliant. I don’t think we will go there lacking in confidence. Our form is very good this season. We are playing a fantastic team but we cannot be frightened out of out skins by that. Our job is to find a solution to playing against them.”

Ferguson said he did not expect the same atmosphere which had poisoned Barcelona’s semi-final against Real Madrid to be repeated in the final and said that he had spoken recently to the Real coach Jose Mourinho, although he would not be seeking his advice.

“I speak to him quite a lot and I spoke to him last week,” Ferguson said. “Real Madrid are a different team from us so I think we will depend on our own knowledge of Barcelona. But you always take information from Jose and his angle because he’s always very helpful like that.”

Ferguson said he was unconcerned by claims, highlighted in that semi-final, of bias towards Barcelona. “With Barcelona and Real Madrid there is a difficult history because of the tribalism with both clubs, they are the two biggest clubs in Spain and that rivalry is intense,” he said. “You look at it and some of the things that went on and say to yourself that you hope it doesn’t happen at Wembley.”

Ferguson said he was also pleased that, unlike with previous finals, United go to Wembley without players suspended.

“No-one will be missing,” he said. “In Rome we missed Darren Fletcher and in 99 (against Bayern) we missed Scholes and Keane.”

He said there was a significant boost with Fletcher’s return and he may be among the substitutes on Sunday. “Some players are big-game players and he’s a big-game player,” he said. “A perfect example of that was Mark Hughes and Darren is also a big-game player.”


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