MANCHESTER, March 31 – Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has highlighted Barcelona as the biggest threat to his side's chances of retaining their Champions League title.
Both sides have managed to avoid one another in the quarter-finals, with United up against Porto and Barcelona facing Bayern Munich, and cannot now meet until the May 27 final in Rome.
Also through to the last eight are United’s English rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
But although Liverpool thrashed United 4-1 in the Premier League this month and saw off Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, Ferguson said Barcelona were the team to beat.
"Barcelona are the form team, they have been terrific this season and everyone is taking notice of them," Ferguson told Inside United magazine.
"Their first-half performance against Lyon in the second leg of the first knock-out round (which they won 5-2 at the Nou Camp) was absolutely brilliant – they were four up in no time.
"They can be a threat to anybody and are quite rightly one of the favourites," the veteran Scottish boss added.
"The English teams have proven the strength of the Premier League in recent years. Last season we had three in the semi-finals and two in the final, the previous year there were three in the semis and Liverpool made it to the final.
"But we have to recognise that our threats don’t just come from England, the big one will come from Barcelona."
Barcelona won the Champions League in 2006 when then coach Frank Rijkaard put together a team renowned for its attacking football.
However, Ferguson said current Barca boss Pep Guardiola had bolstered the Catalan club’s defence.
"I’m not sure they have improved a lot from when we played them last season but they have had a better defensive record since Guardiola took over as coach last year," Ferguson said.
"There has maybe been a bit more concentration on defending than there had been in previous times.
That’s not a criticism of Frank Rijkaard, I just think Guardiola has brought in the awareness that defending is just as important as attacking.
"Gerard Pique, for instance, left us to go back there and has done really well for them. We always knew of his abilities – good talent, mobility and a winning mentality – so I think he’s improved them.
"They got off to a great start to the season and it wasn’t until January that they hit a blip and that happens to everyone. They’re over that now, so they’ll be the threat."
The first legs of the Champions League quarter-finald are due to be played on April 7 and 8.