After a thrilling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou last week, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag reportedly advised the fans to “make sure you are there” on Thursday for the important game against Barcelona following a 3-0 victory over Leicester in the Premier League on Sunday. It makes sense given that the Red Devils’ upcoming week, which includes the Carabao Cup final versus Newcastle and the second leg of the UEFA Europa League (UEL) playoffs, might be one that defines their season.
They couldn’t have asked for a better location to play than at home, where they have only lost twice in their last 11 UEFA home games (W6, D3), despite the fact that both losses were by a score of 1-0 to Spanish clubs. The most recent was during this UEL campaign against Real Sociedad, and since then, they have gone undefeated in 17 competitive home games (W15, D2), reestablishing Old Trafford as the renowned fortress it once was.
Even though Barça prevailed during their most recent head-to-head encounter in 2019, they will have to do it again without the suspended Gavi and the injured Pedri. The team’s performance in the first leg left manager Xavi Hernández “happy,” and they followed it up with a 2-0 victory over Cádiz on Sunday to keep an eight-point lead at the top of La Liga. It extended the streak to an astonishing 18 games (W16, D2), which suggests Barcelona won’t be intimidated by United’s recent home supremacy.
A disappointing record over their last nine UEFA road trips may be the reason why Xavi is still concerned about his team’s European travels (W3, D2, L4). The Catalans do not especially have great memories of England either, as their most recent trip resulted in their worst defeat against a Premier League team—a 4-0 thrashing at Liverpool.
David de Gea just matched Peter Schmeichel’s record of 180 clean sheets at United, but he would gladly exchange it for his first-ever head-to-head shutout. Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski, who has scored 38 goals in 32 important UEFA matches since the season began in 2018/19, will try to stop that.
Barcelona has failed to score before halftime in seven of their last 11 UEFA games, including the rematch.
Man United have had a lot of players recently on the other side of the law, but Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer have returned from their european suspensions that they served in the first leg, and Casemiro will also rejoin the team after serving his three-game domestic suspension, which is now over.
It is still unknown if Christian Eriksen, Donny van de Beek, Anthony Martial, Harry Maguire, and Antony will be able to fully recuperate in time for Thursday’s match; the latter’s potential absence should ensure Sancho’s selection over Alejandro Garnacho.
Victor Lindelof will likely be moved to the bench by Raphael Varane. The experiment with Wout Weghorst at number 10 against Leicester did not go as planned, therefore the towering Dutchman may return to a central position with 24-goal Rashford supporting him.
Although Man United is working to reinstate players from suspension, Barcelona has lost Gavi due to a spate of infractions, while fellow Kopa Trophy winner Pedri will also be out with a hamstring injury.
The good news is that Ronald Araujo has returned from his domestic suspension, and Sergio Busquets was an unused substitute against Cadiz after recovering from an ankle ailment. Nevertheless, Ousmane Dembele will also be out of the running for Thursday’s second leg due to a thigh injury.
Because to Gavi’s absence, Ansu Fati can start on the left despite Ferran Torres’ electrifying performance against Cadiz. The experienced Spaniard might therefore team up with Frenkie de Jong and Franck Kessie in the midfield trident.
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw, Casemiro, Sabitzer, Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford, and Weghorst might be Manchester United’s starting eleven.
Ter Stegen, Kounde, Araujo, Alonso, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Fati are all potential starters for Barcelona.
WE PREDICT: MANCHESTER UNITED 2-1 BARCELONA (Man United win 4-3 on aggregate)
Man United’s ruthless charges have slaughtered numerous rivals at Old Trafford this season, and an absentee-hit Barcelona should become the latest victims of the Red Devils’ domination, even with the danger of an impending EFL Cup final to derail their line of thinking.
While Xavi’s team can still expect success in the final third, Man United’s fondness for multiple-goal performances should see them through to the last 16 as Barcelona pack their bags early once more. A more clinical side than Leicester would have taken one of their numerous first-half chances at the weekend.