PREVIEW l Manchester United v FC Barcelona

PREVIEW l Manchester United v FC Barcelona

Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams. Where hopefully the dreams are going to be blaugrana

After a scintillating first leg at Spotify Camp Nou that ended 2-2, Thursday at 9pm CET brings the second act of what is turning out to be one of the most fascinating contests in Europa League history. Old Trafford is sure to be a sell-out for this one, but well over 2,000 of the fans packing the Theatre of Dreams will be there to support the visiting side.

A place in the last sixteen is at stake, and the good news is Man United get no advantage out of their two goals at Spotify Camp Nou because that rule has since been dropped.

This will be the sixth time that Barça have faced United away in a competitive fixture, and they have only won on one of the previous five visits. The first, in the old Cup Winners' Cup in the eighties was particularly painful because after a 2-0 win at home, Barça were then beaten 3-0 by goals from Bryan Robson (2) and Frank Stapleton.

That was followed by two lively draws in the group stages. The latter of those was a particularly memorable night for Xavi because it was his European debut, and only his second ever game for Barça after appearing in the Spanish Super Cup against Mallorca.

Paul Scholes secured a 1-0 win for the Red Devils when they met in the semi-finals in 2008. And the only win for Barça, but also in the most recent of the games, came thanks to a solitary own goal from Luke Shaw in the quarter finals of 2019.

Previous meetings at Old Trafford
1983/84 Cup Winners' Cup

Man Utd 3-0 Barça
1994/95 Champions League
Man Utd 2-2 Barça
1998/99 Champions League
Man Utd 3-3 Barça
2007/08 Champions League
Man Utd 1-0 Barça
2018/19 Champions League
Man Utd 0-1 Barça

Where history certainly does favour Barça is when it comes to second legs after the first has ended 2-2. In the nine previous cases, there has only been one when the Catalans ultimately failed to advance.

Team news

Xavi rested a few key names towards the end of the relatively comfortable 2-0 win over Cádiz at the weekend. But he has a couple of major injury concerns in Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri, the latter injured in the first leg, and to add to the difficulties, Gavi is suspended for this one. But Ronald Araujo returns to the 20-man squad after sitting out Sunday's game through suspension, and is in line to make his 100th appearance for the club. Captain Sergi Busquets is also over his ankle injury and should play after being rested against Cádiz.

Manchester United are still without any of Van de Beek, Eriksen or Martial, and there are question marks over the fitness of Antony.

The first leg

Following a tight first half with plenty of chances for both sides but no goals, Marcos Alonso headed Barça into the lead at Spotify Camp Nou last Thursday. But just when things were finally falling into place, goals from Marcus Rashford and an own goal by Jules Kounde turned things around at the other end. Barça dug deep to find a response from Raphinha, and following the equaliser had several chances to win the game...   


United form guide

United continued their excellent run of form with a 3-0 defeat of Leicester City at the weekend. Two of the goals were claimed by Marcus Rashford, who impressed so much in the first leg against Barça, while Jadon Sancho got the other. Rashford has now scored in eight of United's last nine games, while his team has only been beaten once (by league leaders Arsenal) in its last 19 games.

With Manchester City only able to draw with Nottingham Forest, and with Arsenal not looking quite as comfortable as they did a few weeks ago, United are in the kind of form that is slowly edging them into a title race that a few months ago most assumed was a lost cause. With 33 goals, they are also the second highest scoring team in Europe's big five leagues.

In short, it's a monumental task that Barça have in front of them. But they are themselves a team that has not lost a game since club football resumed after the World Cup, and that is an immense eight points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga... This may not be a Champions League game, but it certainly has all the qualities of one. It's going to be a cracker...

Xavi's thoughts

During the pre-match press conference, coach Xavi stated that "Old Trafford is the perfect place to change Barça's story in Europe of the last few years. We are up against a resurgent Manchester United and that is an inspiration to change the recent trend."

He also added that "We want to take the initiative with the ball, above all in our opponents half," outlining the need for "attitude, passion and intensity".

Força Barça
Força Barça

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