Barcelona will meet Manchester United on Thursday evening in the second leg of the Europa League knockout play-off tie. Blaugranagram previews the game and gives its official prediction.
Away goals no longer apply, so Thursdays game will be a winner-takes-all contest after the 2-2 draw in the Catalan capital last week.
Barcelona have shown stellar domestic form all season, and so has Manchester United ever since Erik ten Hag took control. Barcelona sit 8 point clear at the top of La Liga and Erik ten Hag has led Man United back into the top four, and are even knocking on the doors of the title race.And although this is a Europa League tie, Manchester United and Barcelona are two of the most in-form teams in Europe at the moment. Whoever was to go through from this Europa League knockout round playoff tie would certainly be among the favourites to win the competition.
Manchester United’s European record at home at Old Trafford reads 9 wins out of their last 11. Both losses have come against Spanish opposition, losing 0-1 to Atlético Madrid in March 2022 and 0-1 to Real Sociedad in this season’s Europa League group stage.
Barcelona have dominated Manchester United in recent meetings, and are unbeaten against them in their last 5 meetings (W4 D1). Barcelona have also outscored United 6-2 over the course of this unbeaten streak, and haven’t lost to the Red Devils since 2009.
Barcelona will be missing (at least) half of their starting midfield, with Pedri injured and Gavi being suspended having accumulated too many yellow cards. Busquets is in the squad but there are doubts over his fitness. Ousmane Dembele is back in training but is unlikely to be fit enough to feature. United’s injury list includes Antony, Christian Eriksen, Donny van de Beek, Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire.
To go through, Barcelona will need to break Man. United’s 17-match unbeaten streak at Old Trafford. Barcelona will also have to overcome their terrible away record in European competitions. In three away games in the Champions League group stage, Barca lost twice (against Inter and Bayern Munich), with their only win being against Viktoria Plzen.
Barcelona followed up Thursdays draw with a 2-0 win over Cadiz with goals from Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski. Manchester United were able to beat Leicester 3-0 at the weekend, with Rashford scoring two and also Jason Sancho returning with a goal. Both teams were able to rest key players ahead of Thursdays decisive second leg.
Manchester United have won four and drawn two in their last six games in all competitions. In that time scoring 13 and conceding five. Barcelona have won five and drawn one in their last six. Xavi’s men have scored 11 and conceded three over those six games.
Perhaps the most in-form player in world football as we speak is Marcus Rashford. United’s left winger has scored 10 goals in his last 10 games in the Premier League, and also scored the first goal at the Camp Nou last week. Across the 2022-23 season, Rashford has scored 24 goals in 36 games, which means he has already equalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s top scorer tally (24) from last season.
Erik ten Hag was thoroughly content with his side’s performance, which he said was “dominant”. The Dutch coach is therefore expected to field a similar 11 in the second leg.
Xavi will have to tinker having lost Pedri to injury and Gavi to suspension. Xavi also dropped Andreas Christensen in favour of Marcos Alonso at center-back in the first leg, and although the Spanish left-back netted Barca’s opener, the backline appeared unusually unstable on many occasions. Xavi will also have a choice to make at left back, where Jordi Alba was preferred over Alejandro Balde in the first leg, despite the latter appearing to be first choice as of late.
Man United: De Gea: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Shaw, Martinez: Casemiro, Fernandes, Fred, Sancho: Rashford, Weghorst.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen: Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde: De Jong, Kessie, Roberto: Raphinha, Lewandowski, Torres.
In the first leg, Manchester United’s rapid forwards at times terrorised the Barcelona defence which has looked so strong domestically. Although United weren’t that convincing defensively themselves, the Manchester-clan left Camp Nou feeling like they should have won the game.
If Barcelona produce a performance similar to the one in the first leg, it is likely that Xavi’s men will be knocked out of the competition. Barcelona are certainly capable of producing a complete performance, as we saw against Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. However, combining the absents in Barcelona’s midfield with United’s top form, I believe that a European game of this magnitude comes just a tad too early for Xavi’s men.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Barcelona (United go through 4-3 on aggregate)