Rio Ferdinand says Manchester United’s players can’t afford to be in awe of Lionel Messi as he takes centre stage at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
The Barcelona star heads into the Champions League quarter-final in the midst of a remarkable campaign in which he’s scored 43 goals in 40 games.
Ferdinand faced Messi in Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011, both of which Barca won, but he also got the better of him when United beat Barca in the semi-finals in 2008.
“Barca have a certain way of playing which is possession based football and they press you when they haven’t got the ball, so they (United) have got to be very mindful of that,” the former United defender told BT Sport .
“But it will come down to the little man, Messi. How do they stop him and combat him?
“They can’t afford to give him space. If they give him space to turn and front up he’s going to cause huge problems.
“What the players have to do is make sure they’re not in awe of him, he’s a superstar, a legend, one of the best to ever play the game but they’ve got to take that out of their thinking before the game and that’s half the job.
“Half the battle is the mental battle before the game, if they can sort that out.
“I’m sure Ole will have a plan for him (Messi) so he won’t be able to play 1v1 during the whole game.
“Ole has to be thinking about not conceding and hopefully nicking a goal and taking it to the Nou Camp and having something to play for.”
Ferdinand added that United’s win over Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16 will give them confidence that they can beat Barca.
“Sometimes if you get a result in a competition all of a sudden it wakes you up and brings something out of you that you didn’t know existed,” he said.
“And that’s almost a catalyst for form and momentum within a tournament, and I just hope that’s part of this team now.”