Two of the most decorated clubs in European football are set to lock horns at Old Trafford on Wednesday in what is the standout fixture of this season’s quarter-final ties of the UEFA Champions League.
Manchester United and Barcelona have given us some unforgettable and exhilarating games in the past, and the same is being considered again, when the two teams play each other after 8 years, at the Theatre of Dreams, with United looking to take revenge of their defeat to the Catalans in the final of the competition in 2011.
Manchester United come into this match with not the best of form, having lost three of their last four matches in all competitions. However, their heroics against PSG in the Round of 16 of the competition must have given enough confidence to Solskjaer’s side to get one over the La Liga leaders in the same fashion. Barcelona come into the game undefeated in the competition so far, with their talisman, Lionel Messi, being in scintillating form of late and will be his side’s main attacking threat if they are to carry any advantage back to the Camp Nou for the second leg.
Manchester United have a number of injury issues to contend with. Defenders Antonia Valencia and Eric bailly are out long term. Their mid-field maestro Ander Herrera ,their man for the big games, is also set to miss out with injury along with former Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez. Marcus Rashford did miss the last game against Wolves, but is training this week and Solskjaer remains confident he will be ready for the big match. All eyes will be on star midfielder Paul Pogba and if United are to take any positive result out of the game, his contribution and performance will be critical. If Barcelona do start with Sergi Roberto as right back, both Pogba and Rashford will be looking to take advantage from the left side of the pitch as he is not a natural full back and it could be a weak link for the Catalans. United are likely to sit deep and defend with the hope of hurting Barcelona on the counter, utilizing the pace of Rashford, Lingard and Lukaku up top.
Expected Line up: De Gea ; Young , Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw ; McTominay, Fred , Pogba ; Lingard , Lukaku, Rashford.
Barcelona come into the tie as favourites with almost a fit starting 11, Ousmane Dembele seems the only one likely to miss out through an injury even though he has travelled with the squad. Gerard Pique on his return to Old Trafford is expected to start alongside Clement Lenglet in the center of defence, with veteran Sergio Busquets guarding the back four and making it difficult for the United attackers to get any space and time on the ball.
With Phillipe Coutinho expected to start alongside Messi and Luis Suarez as the attacking three, United defenders will be have to be hot on their heels throughout the game as even a small mistake can be punished in the most severe form by the Barcelona attack.
Expected Line up : Ter Stegen ; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet , Alba ; Rakitic , Busquets , Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho.
Even though most expect Barcelona to come out on top at Old Trafford, Solsjkaer’s side cannot be taken lightly and it won’t be easy for Barcelona who are yet to win a match at United’s home. And given the way Man Utd produced the epic comeback against PSG with their sheer spirit and determination, you never know if United could indeed pull out a surprise and go to the Camp Nou for the second leg with an advantage.