The biggest of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final clashes comes our way on Wednesday, when Manchester United take on Barcelona at Old Trafford.

The first-leg ties of the UEFA Champions League are underway and the most enticing contest of the round is set to take place on Wednesday night, as Manchester United and Barcelona lock horns with each other.

Manchester United finished second in their group, behind Italian champions Juventus. Having drawn French champions PSG in the Round of 16, the Red Devils looked done and dusted after a 2-0 defeat in the first leg at Old Trafford. But, Manchester United were not ones to give in. They went on to script an epic comeback beating PSG 3-1 in the second leg to make it to the last eight on away goals.

Coming into the game, Manchester United haven’t been in the best form, having lost three of their last four matches in all competitions, with their latest game ending in a 2-1 defeat to Wolves. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping that his charges are able to put that behind and find a way to stop their opposition on Wednesday.

Barcelona, on the other hand, were table-toppers in their group that also had the likes of Tottenham Hostpur, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven. The Catalans faced Olympique Lyon in the previous round and after being held to a goalless draw in the first leg, they beat the French outfit 5-1 the second time out at Camp Nou, to seal safe passage through to the quarter-finals.

Barcelona’s previous game ended in a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid, taking them further closer to the La Liga title. Ernesto Valverde’s men are unbeaten in 16 matches in all competitions and haven’t lost a single game in the Champions League this season. They will be aiming to go into the second leg at home with a significant advantage.

Team News & Tactics

Manchester United

Solskjaer's biggest test (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Solskjaer’s biggest test (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Manchester United have a number of injury issues to contend with heading into what is probably their biggest game of the season. Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly are ruled out of the contest, while Ander Herrera is also set to miss out with an injury.

Nemanja Matic is a doubt for the game, while Alexis Sanchez also remains out despite having returned to training. Marcus Rashford missed the last game against Wolves with an ankle injury, but has trained with the team and Solskjaer said in his pre-match presser that the England international should be ready for the game.

David de Gea is the undisputed starter in goal for the home team, and he will need to be at the top of his game to keep out the Barcelona attackers. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will start out as the central defensive partnership and will have to deal with the dangerous duo of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Ashley Young and Luke Shaw will be stationed as the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively. Both will have their tasks cut out going up against the Catalans and will need to be watchful as a booking would lead them to miss the second leg at Camp Nou.

With Matic and Herrera doubts for the game, Solskjaer might be forced into tweaking his midfield setup, opting for a two-man pivot comprising of Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba. The latter has been in poor form of late and will need to step up in a big way.

Diogo Dalot should get the nod on the right flank to provide additional protection against the onrushing Jordi Alba, while Rashford, should he be passed fit, will take up the left-side. Jesse Lingard is likely to slot in as the No.10 for Manchester United, with Romelu Lukaku leading the line as the lone striker.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; Dalot, Lingard, Rashford; Lukaku

Barcelona

Thomas Vermaelen and Rafinha are the only injury-enforced absentees for Barcelona. Ousmane Dembele has traveled with the squad, but is not fit enough to start and could be restricted to an appearance from the bench. Jean Clair Todibo has been named in the 22-man travelling party by Valverde, despite not being registered.

There is no looking past German international Marc-Andre ter Stegen in he Barcelona goal. Gerard Pique is nailed on to start as one of the two centre-backs on his return to Old Trafford. He is likely to be partnered by Clement Lenglet again, with Samuel Umtiti struggling to regain form since returning from injury.

Jordi Alba is a guaranteed starter at left-back, while the right-back slot will be a toss-up between Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo. The former has been preferred in recent games and is likely to get the nod again.

Sergio Busquets will slot in at the base of the Barcelona midfield and will look to act as the conduit between the two halves of the pitch. He will be supported by Croatian international Ivan Rakitic, while Arthur will be tasked with controlling the tempo of the game from the middle of the park.

Lionel Messi has been in scintillating form of late and will be Barcelona’s biggest attacking threat, while Luis Suarez will also be a menace to the Manchester United defence. Philippe Coutinho is likely to get the nod on the left flank again in Dembele’s absence, but the Brazilian needs to do more than what he has been doing in recent matches.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho

Key Stats

  • This is the first Champions League meeting between Barcelona and Manchester United since the 2011 final, which the Catalans won 3-1 at Wembley.
  • Manchester United have never lost a home game against Barcelona (W2 D2 L0).
  • Wednesday’s encounter will be the first meeting between the two sides at Old Trafford since the second leg of the 2007-08 Champions League semifinal, which had ended in a 1-0 win for the Red Devils.
  • This is Barcelona’s 17th Champions League quarter-final appearance, a joint-record with Bayern Munich; they have qualified for the 12th successive season, a competition record.
  • Manchester United have won just two of their last 11 Champions League knockout ties (W2 D3 L6), failing to win both of their quarter-final games in the 2013-14 season under David Moyes against Bayern Munich.

Player to Watch

Lionel Messi

Can Manchester United stop the Messi juggernaut? (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Manchester United stop the Messi juggernaut? (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The Barcelona captain has once again had a sensational campaign, that has seen him notch up sensational returns of 43 goals and 25 assists across all competitions. Messi has been the chief driving force of this Barcelona side and has time and again proven to be the difference-maker for his side.

The 31-year-old enjoys a brilliant record against clubs from England, having scored 22 Champions League goals in 30 appearances against English teams – more than any other player in the history of the competition. Moreover, Messi has scored twice in four games against Manchester United – once each in the finals of 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons.

However, in what is quite a surprising stat, Messi has failed to score in his last 11 quarter-final appearances for Barcelona, having had 49 attempts at goal in those matches. He will be gunning to set that record straight when he takes the field at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Prediction

Manchester United 1-3 Barcelona

Manchester United come into the game on the back of a disappointing run of results that has seen them lose three of their previous four matches. They can, however, draw confidence from their performance against PSG and the fact that their opponents haven’t won a single game at Old Trafford till date.

Barcelona, on the other hand, have been looking unstoppable. Each time they have been stretched by an opposition, the Catalans have found ways to come back and preserve their unbeaten run. While they have not won at the Theatre of Dreams, the La Liga champions have come out on top in their previous two meetings against the Red Devils.

Manchester United are likely to sit deep and defend with the hope of hurting Barcelona on the counter-attack. However, the Barca centre-back duo of Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet have been in top form recently. That coupled with the threat that Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez offer in the final third should see Ernesto Valverde’s men course home to a easy win at Old Trafford.

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