Barça wary of an improved United
© EFE

Barcelona's players believe Manchester United have improved since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009. Ronaldo played his last game for United in the UEFA Champions League final in Rome - which Barça won 2-0 - before sealing an £80 million switch to the Bernabeu.

United ended up with only the League Cup in their first campaign following the Portuguese forward's exit, but this season has seen Sir Alex Ferguson's side reclaim the Premier League title and progress to the final of the Champions League to face Barça on Saturday at Wembley.

"Their team isn't as direct as before; they like to have the ball," Barcelona midfielder Xavi said. "I don't know if that's because of Cristiano Ronaldo or not, but they move around as a unit now." Striker David Villa added: "Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has liberated them. Many great players come and go and that has allowed them to remain at the top for so long."

Defender Davi Alves reckons United's threat is harder to nullify in the absence of the Portuguese striker. "This Manchester United team is much more unpredictable without Cristiano Ronaldo," Alves said. "They have formed a more balanced group and they are stronger than they were two years ago."

Andres Iniesta also believes United have improved. "They have grown as a team," said the midfielder. "They are dominating in England and now they are fighting for the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo has left, but apart from that I don't think they have made big changes and they are always competitive."

Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has liberated them.
David Villa, Barcelona forward

Coach Pep Guardiola, though, sees little difference to the side Barcelona had beat in Rome. "It's the same team. Only one player is missing from the team that started in Rome," he said. "Only Cristiano Ronaldo has left from that team. [Carlos] Tevez isn't there anymore either, but he didn't start in Rome."

Brazilian full-back Sylvinho, who started in the 2009 final for Barça, but is no longer with the Catalan club, says the two teams are similar to the ones that met two years ago. "The squads haven't changed much," he told Sport. "Cristiano Ronaldo isn't there any more, but United are stronger as a team."

The Barcelona team will travel to London this evening, two days ahead of schedule, due to fears of volcanic ash from Iceland drifting towards England. "To avoid possible disruption due to ash from the volcano Grimsvotn, the Barça first team will travel to London today," a club statement read on Barcelona's website.

The eruption of the Grimsvotn volcano has already led to airlines cancelling a number of flights to and from Irish and Scottish airports. Barcelona were forced to travel by bus to Milan to face Inter Milan in the semi-final of last year's competition after flights were cancelled due to the ash cloud which covered much of western Europe. Jose Mourinho's Inter won 3-1 at the San Siro and went through 3-2 on aggregate.