MILAN (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, looking no worse for wear despite a long bus journey, is preparing for another gruelling experience in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg at “awesome” Inter Milan.
The holders, despite their immense riches and unquestionable style, took a bus to Milan like hard-up schoolchildren following the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland which has grounded flights.
At least the 985-km journey, with an overnight stay in Cannes, gave the Barca coach a chance to find out how much the Italian champions have improved since losing 2-0 in a group-stage game at the Nou Camp in November.
“We’ve had 14 hours on a bus to look at some matches,” Guardiola told a news conference on Monday, adding such preparation was not ideal for his players ahead of their battle with a physical Inter side.
“Tomorrow we’re not playing against nobodies, they’re a team that are a threat with really competitive players. We really want to win but we could lose as we’ll play against one of the best teams in Europe who have had an awesome Champions League.”
Barca ripped Inter apart in their November clash and demolished Arsenal in the quarter-finals with the imperious Lionel Messi scoring four goals in the second leg.
The Spaniards, though, were held to a 0-0 draw by Inter at the San Siro in September and were involved in another goalless encounter in a strength-sapping derby with Espanyol on Saturday.
“We played really well in the quarter-final with Arsenal and I hope we are going to keep the same level. I’d like to create the same number of chances against Inter but I don’t think so,” Guardiola added.
“The game in November is too long ago, it counts for little. A lot has changed. Inter have more confidence.”
Inter coach Jose Mourinho, whose side risk losing their Serie A title to leaders AS Roma despite Friday’s win over Juventus, agreed the Italian champions were stronger than they were in November.
“I accept the world of football says they are favourites but I think it is 50/50,” said the colourful Portuguese, back sparkling in the limelight after refusing to talk to the abrasive Italian media before and after recent Serie A matches.
Inter, last European champions in 1964 and 1965, are desperate for success on the biggest stage after decades of underachievement but Mourinho is not prepared to man-mark Messi.
“In my culture, football is not about one man ... but it’s obvious he deserves special attention,” said the Inter coach.
The winners will play Bayern Munich or Olympique Lyon in next month’s Madrid final.
Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com