Barcelona face a stern test in Manchester United
Following their good run in LaLiga, Barcelona now shift their attention to the Europa League where the Catalan side will host Manchester United in the Europa League. This two-legged affair will determine which one of these two teams qualify to the round of 16.
Barcelona will be without two important members of their squad in Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembélé.
The Frenchman suffered an injury in the match against Girona and is expected to miss at least a month. As for the veteran midfielder, he picked up an injury in the match versus Sevilla but should be back in time for the second leg.
A clash with these two European giants is not new. However, these ties were usually reserved for the Champions League, not the Europa League. It goes without saying neither of these teams expected to face one another in this competition but it is a reality of where they are at the moment.
“It still makes me angry to listen to the Champions League anthem from home,” Xavi said in his pre-match press conference.
“But we have to face reality. We are excited about this competition, which has been very beautiful for the teams that have remained.”
“It’s always important, and more so in Europe, since we’re coming off a few seasons without success. It’s a good test, without a doubt, to see that we can compete in Europe.”
As Xavi noted, it will be a good test for his side who currently sits atop of LaLiga, eight points clear of Real Madrid.
While they have only given up seven goals in 21 matches, the same can’t be said in Europe where they conceded 12 goals in six matches and won only once at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona will be looking to make the Camp Nou a fortress once again.
In matches against higher-profile opponents, Xavi has tweaked his system somewhat where instead of playing with a 4-3-3, he’s gone with his version of a 4-4-2. They play an extra man in midfield but the extra midfielder, in this case Gavi, tends to drift wide and becomes a third forward alongside Robert Lewandowski and Raphina.
That formation has paid dividends as it’s the one Xavi used against Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, which they won, and in the wins over Real Sociedad and Sevilla in the Copa del Rey and LaLiga, respectively.
Expect the same formation against Manchester United.
The standout during Barcelona’s recent run has been the defense. The quarter of Jules Kounde, Ronald Araújo, Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde — along with Marc-Andre ter Stegen — has added a safety net that has been missing for a long time. With the first three missing a significant chunk of their Champions League games, it’s no secret why they were leaking goals.
They are going to once again have to be at their best if they hope to contain the likes of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Alejandro Garnacho.
On the other end, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski are going to need to put away their chances which could be few and far between. Barcelona’s inability to put a team away has been an issue and they cannot afford to let opportunities go by the wayside before the return leg at Old Trafford.
Again, being in the Europa League is not what Barcelona envisioned heading into the season. But it is where they are and the least they can do is go out and try to win it. At the very least, it could go quite a way to restoring some of their reputation when it comes to playing in Europe.
Expected starting line-up:
Kounde – Araújo – Christensen – Balde
Pedri – Kessié – De Jong – Gavi
Raphinha – Lewandowski