MATCH PREVIEW: Manchester United vs. Barcelona

The first leg lived up to the pre-match hype, and now Manchester United and Barcelona renew hostilities at Old Trafford on Thursday night to determine who will progress from their Europa League knockout round playoff tie.

The two continental giants – who competed in the Champions League final only 12 years ago – played out a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou last week, and a similarly exhilarating contest can be expected at the Theatre of Dreams.

Turning Old Trafford into a fortress once again, Ten Hag’s charges have 14 wins and a draw to show from their last 15 home matches, but both Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid won at the Theatre of Dreams in 2022, and Barcelona would do well to take a leaf out of their Spanish counterparts’ book.

Being demoted to the second tier of European football for the second year running was nothing short of disastrous for a cash-strapped Barcelona, who are potentially just 90 minutes away from another premature exit from continental competition – one which may not have such dire consequences this time around, though.

As former midfield maestro Xavi now works his magic in the dugout, Barcelona have built up an eight-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table and comfortably returned to winning ways over Cadiz at the weekend – Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski netting in a 2-0 victory.

Also boasting their own stellar unbeaten streak of 18 matches – 16 of which have ended in victory – the Catalan powerhouses travel to Old Trafford having won each of their last 11 away games in all competitions, although Bayern Munich and Inter Milan have both put Xavi’s men to the sword at the Allianz Arena and San Siro this season.

Barcelona nevertheless have a penchant for avoiding defeat against Man United, who are now winless in five games against the Blaugrana since the 2007-08 Champions League semi-finals, but dreams of a highly sought-after piece of European silverware must now end for one giant rising from the ashes.

United have had plenty of players on the naughty step recently, but the duo of Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer are back from continental bans served in the first leg, while Casemiro will also return to the fold amid his three-game domestic suspension, which has now been completed.

Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek continue their long-term recoveries, and it remains to be seen if Anthony Martial, Harry Maguire and Antony can overcome their niggles in time for Thursday – the latter’s possible absence should guarantee a recall for Sancho over Alejandro Garnacho.

Raphael Varane will expect to demote Victor Lindelof to the bench, while the Wout Weghorst number 10 experiment did not go as planned in the first half against Leicester, so the towering Dutchman could revert to a central role as 24-goal Rashford supports him.

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Sabitzer; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Weghorst

About Vince Rosetta 202 Articles
A life long Manchester United fan based in the US.

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