A place in the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 is on the line as Manchester United host Barcelona at Old Trafford later this evening.
The two teams played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in Spain seven days ago and there’s all to play for at the Theatre of Dreams.
Both sides will step on the pitch fresh off convincing wins in their respective domestic leagues. United recorded a 3-0 victory against Leicester City on Sunday. Barcelona thrashed Cadiz 2-0.
That United have the advantage is indisputable – they will be playing in front of their home support and the team will be boosted by several returns of key personnel such as Antony, Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer.
Team News and Tactics
David de Gea will start in goal and the Spaniard will be hoping to build on an excellent showing against the Foxes to help his side keep out Barcelona.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is likely to get the nod ahead of Diogo Dalot. On the left flank, Luke Shaw will start with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane forming the centre-back partnership.
Varane and Lisandro will be primarily tasked with marshalling the lethal Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker troubled Shaw on a few occasions at Camp Nou but the return of Martinez is a welcome boost.
Wan-Bissaka will add much-needed defensive solidity on the right side of defence where the Englishman will have to take care of Ferran Torres.
After putting on a man-of-the-match-worthy display against Cadiz, reports in Spain have indicated that Torres could start in attack alongside Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Like Wan-Bissaka, Shaw will have to lock down Raphinha. The advantage of having Shaw in the left-back position is that he massively contributes going forward.
One of United’s technically-gifted players, Shaw is an invaluable weapon going forward where he links well with forward players. The Englishman also has a great delivery on him and adds an extra dimension to the Red Devils’ attacking phases.
With Pedri and Gavi both ruled out of the game, Barcelona are expected to start a midfield trio of Frenkie de Jong, Frank Kessie and Sergio Busquets.
To counter this, Ten Hag will deploy Casemiro next to either Fred or Sabitzer.
Both Fred and Sabitzer are extremely hard workers off the ball and will cover every blade of grass if need be. Both also offer an extra layer of defensive cover in the middle of the park that will be needed against a foe of Barcelona’s calibre.
It’s anyone’s guess who Ten Hag picks between Sabitzer and Fred, but Sabitzer presents the best alternative considering he’s slightly more conservative and technical with the ball in comparison to Fred.
Wout Weghorst is likely to start in the playmaker role as he did in the Camp Nou. Despite his lack of clinical nature in front of goal, Weghorst’s defensive contributions cannot be discounted – something Gary Neville alluded to in his podcast.
Weghorst will play a bit deeper which will also enable the striker to work with lots of space. The Dutchman’s excellent link-up play will come into good use for the Red Devils.
After his brilliant substitute appearance on the weekend, Jadon Sancho is likely to start on the left wing, in an attack also consisting of Marcus Rashford in the central position and Bruno Fernandes on the right wing.
Rashford, Sancho and Weghorst are fluid and the trio can rotate positions all throughout the game. Sancho can occupy the 10 in instances of the game, letting Weghorst play centrally and shifting Rashford to the left.
United will look to use Rashford’s pace and runs-in-behind to disturb Barcelona’s defensive men. If United struggle out of possession, Rashford will also provide an outlet.
Fernandes will create a huge volume of chances from the right – a role he excelled at against Leicester City on Sunday. Like Sancho, he can also drop into the 10 if required.
Antony could also come in as a substitute if required to do so.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Sabitzer; Weghorst, Sancho, Rashford; Fernandes
As expected, Xavi will look to control the game by dominating possession.
In Gavi and Pedri’s absence, De Jong will be given a freer role and be allowed to roam around and make things happen creatively.
Busquets will be Barca’s main man considering he controls the Blaugrana’s tempo, rhythm and speed of play. The 34-year-old will also be the link between defence and attack.
In defence, it remains to be seen whether Xavi starts with Jordi Alba or Keita Balde. There have been conflicting reports from Spain about this – some suggest Alba will start while others insist Balde will start so as to use his pace in neutralizing the likes of Rashford and Sancho.
There is no doubt that Jules Kounde will start as the right-back for Barca. Xavi’s insistence on having a left-footed centre-back means that Marcos Alonso has a strong chance of partnering the combative Ronald Araujo in the heart of the Catalonians’ defence.
As mentioned, Lewandowski will lead the attack with Raphinha and Torres on either side of him.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Alonso, Alba;Busquets, Kessie, De Jong; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Torres