Man Utd – Barcelona: Decisive battle at Old Trafford
After a dramatic first leg, will the two teams dare to go all out and decide the winner in 90 minutes in the second leg?
Following a first leg that lived up to the hype and ended in a 2-2 draw thanks to Raphinha’s goal, the Man Utd – Barcelona matchup will move to Old Trafford to determine who will earn a ticket to the knock-out round of the Europa League.
Even after Marcos Alonso opened the scoring for the opponent, MU found a way to break through and Marcus Rashford continued his fine form with the equalizing goal before Jules Kounde scored his own goal. However, the match ended in a draw, leaving Rashford to say that the result felt like a loss for Manchester United, and Erik Ten Hag was not pleased with their poor start in the first half.
In fact, the first-half struggle has become a common occurrence for Man Utd lately, as they faced many chances from Leicester City but Rashford managed to score to put them ahead, and they went on to win 3-0 in the second half. At this point, Xavi and his team likely recognize the strength of MU’s bench options, and Barcelona will approach tonight’s match with caution in the second half.
MU is currently in a crucial phase of the season, with the top spot in the league within reach, and they will play in the League Cup final against Newcastle this weekend, which is a chance to end their trophy drought since 2018. They also have a match against West Ham in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and on March 5th, they will visit Anfield to play against Liverpool in a crucial match that could affect their position in the top four race.
Ten Hag is not too worried about the attacking front as they have scored two or more goals in nine consecutive matches, with Rashford in top form. Moreover, at Old Trafford, they are almost unbeatable with 14 wins and 1 draw in their last 15 matches, with a rare defeat against Real Sociedad in the group stage when Ten Hag was newly appointed.
But Barcelona is also quite comfortable, they are 8 points ahead of Real Madrid in La Liga and their unbeaten streak has risen to 18 (with 16 wins) in all competitions, including 7 consecutive wins in domestic competitions. They have won their last 11 away matches in all competitions, but they were both defeated by Bayern Munich and Inter Milan on the opponents’ field.
Xavi may defend the two defeats in the Champions League group stage with the absence of a significant portion of the current defensive lineup he is using, but it will be difficult to say anything if Barca continues their fragility in the second half of the first leg. Not to mention that he will not have Gavi due to suspension, and Pedri and Ousmane Dembele will both be sidelined due to injury.
To prepare the midfield for this match, Xavi rested Sergio Busquets in the win against Cadiz, so he is expected to start alongside Frenkie De Jong and Franck Kessie. Ferran Torres had a great performance against Cadiz, so Xavi will have to consider whether to use him or Raphinha after the Brazilian heroics in the first leg, while Ansu Fati will take on the left flank to support Robert Lewandowski.
Ten Hag is awaiting the recovery of Harry Maguire and Antony (and possibly Anthony Martial), but his starting lineup remains largely unchanged. Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer have returned from suspension and will start, while Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford will handle the attack on the wings. Wout Weghorst played as a midfielder in the first leg, but that was only a temporary solution (and this article is useless before facing Leicester City), so he will return to his striker position with Bruno Fernandes behind him.
The outcome of this match seems to depend on whether MU will repeat their habit of starting slow, as they did against Barcelona and Leicester over the weekend, not to mention the need for Ten Hag’s players to focus on this match and put aside thoughts of the League Cup final. On the other hand, Barcelona may face difficulties due to the absence of midfielders, which could be the difference in the game even in the event of extra time.
An expected lineup of the Man Utd vs Barcelona match:
Manchester United: De Gea, Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Sabitzer; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Weghorst.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Kounde, Araujo, Alonso, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Fati.
Result Prediction: MU to win 2-1 in extra time.
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