Barcelona v Manchester United Cheat Sheet
Barcelona v Manchester United
The Europa League draw has thrown up a classic battle of the giants in the playoff round as LaLiga leaders Barcelona welcome Manchester United to the Spotify Camp Nou. The game kicks off at 5:45pm GMT on Thursday 16th February and will be shown live on BT Sport 2 in the UK.
It comes at the perfect time for a Barcelona team who have won their last eight consecutive matches, as they haven’t tasted defeat since a loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League in October. With Manchester United also unbeaten in six, it promises to be a real clash of the titans.
Even though Barcelona would much rather be playing Champions League football at this stage of the season, they are still going to take the Europa League seriously. They also did so when they dropped down into this competition last season and it wasn’t for want of trying that they fell to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt at the quarter-final stage last year.
On Tuesday, we saw just how much this competition matters to the Barcelona squad when seven players turned up at the training ground to work out, even though Xavi had given the squad a day off. The Catalans are keen and Xavi is expected to name a strong line-up, with key players such as Marc-André ter Stegen, Ronald Araújo, Pedri and Robert Lewandowski all expected to start and with just two absences in the form of the injured Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembélé.
Erik ten Hag, on the other hand, won’t be able to field his best line-up, even if he wants to. That’s because both Lisandro Martínez and Marcel Sabitzer are suspended for this first leg, while injury has ruled out Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek and could also rule out Anthony Martial, Scott McTominay and Antony.
The only time Manchester United have won at the Camp Nou was the famous Champions League final against Bayern Munich. They’ve never beaten Barcelona there in five attempts, and it’ll be tough for a depleted unit to conquer the LaLiga leaders this Thursday.
Barcelona’s success this season has laid its foundations firmly upon defensive strength, squeezing out several binary code wins. They have won their past six matches, but four of them were 1-0s.
In LaLiga, they have conceded just seven goals in 21 games, with only one of those coming at Camp Nou, which is less than half the number of goals conceded by any other defence in Europe’s top five leagues. This first leg is likely to be a tense affair with neither side willing to give too much away. Xavi took that approach in last season’s Europa League too, playing the first leg at home against both Napoli and Galatasaray, with those matches ending 1-1 and 0-0.
A disciple of Pep Guardiola but incredibly pragmatic, Xavi will be pleased to see that Manchester United’s 1.41 xG per 90 away from home in the Premier League is significantly less than many of their rivals at the top of the league.
Given that Ter Stegen and Araújo, the two most important contributors to Barça’s supreme defensive record, are expected to start on Thursday night, it’ll be very tough for the visitors to get on the scoresheet.
Casemiro is an almost certain starter for Manchester United, given that he is eligible to play here but not in the Premier League as he continues to serve a suspension. It’ll be his first ever duel with Barcelona that isn’t a Clásico, so he can expect a frosty reception from the Camp Nou crowd.
Looking at his previous experiences against Barcelona, Casemiro is a prime candidate to be shown a card on Thursday night. He was shown eight yellow cards across 19 matches with Barcelona, and it could actually have been more had it not been for the fact that referees try more than usual to keep their cards in their pockets in those big Clásico showdowns.
Italian referee Maurizio Mariani is averaging an above-average 4.8 cards in his European matches this season, and it would be no surprise to see the visiting defensive midfielder and public enemy number one shown one on Thursday.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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