A spot in the Last Four stage of the UEFA Champions League will be decided when Barcelona host Manchester United at Camp Nou in the quarter-final second leg.
The UEFA Champions League resumes this week, with the final four teams being decided on Tuesday and Wednesday. The marquee fixture of the week will once again feature Barcelona and Manchester United, who will lock horns at Camp Nou on Tuesday in the second leg of their quarter-final tie.
Barcelona reached the Last Eight stage of the competition on the back of a 5-1 demolition of Lyon, with all the goals coming in the second leg at home. That result suggests just how difficult a task it will be for Manchester United, who progressed to the quarter-finals by scripting a fine comeback tale against PSG, whom they beat on away goals after the Round of 16 tie had ended 3-3 on aggregate.
As far as recent form is concerned, Barcelona are miles better than their visitors on Tuesday, having last been beaten back in January, in the Copa del Rey. Since then, Ernesto Valverde’s men have gone 20 matches without a defeat, with their latest result being a goalless draw that saw the manager rest a plethora of players.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have managed to win just two of their last six fixtures, with each of their last three games on the road ending in defeat. This sequence of results will not fill the fans with a lot of confidence, especially considering they were far from their fluent best in the 2-1 win over West Ham United this past weekend.
The first leg, played at Old Trafford last week, had ended in a 1-0 win for Barcelona, courtesy a Luke Shaw own goal early on. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Champions League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde does not have a single pressing injury concern ahead of the visit of Manchester United. On Tuesday, the Barcelona boss will be without two first-team players – Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring) and Rafinha Alcantara (knee). But, with neither player being a regular, he has nothing to worry about.
The big news is that Lionel Messi did not face the ill effects of a clash with Chris Smalling last week, after having reportedly picked up a minor facial injury. But, Valverde confirmed during his pre-match press conference that the Barcelona captain is fit and available.
Messi, alongside a number of other first-team regulars, should return to the starting lineup, after Valverde made as many as ten changes against Huesca. Messi should have Luis Suarez as his partner in attack, with the third spot in the final third being up for grabs.
Ousmane Dembele looked somewhat rusty this past weekend, meaning Philippe Coutinho is likely to get the nod ahead of the Frenchman against Manchester United. In the middle of the park, Sergio Busquets, Arthur and Ivan Rakitic should all return.
While Arthur will pull the strings in the middle of the park, Busquets will screen the backline, although that is a job that he has not exactly excelled in recently. At the back, three of the starters are certainties, with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet forming the central defensive partnership, while Jordi Alba will be the left-back.
The right-back slot will be a toss-up between Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo, with Roberto likely to get the nod. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, meanwhile, is an automatic selection in the Barcelona goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
The issues pertaining to the bill of health have reduced considerably for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of the trip to Camp Nou. Against Barcelona on Tuesday, the Manchester United manager will be bereft of just three players due to injuries, while Luke Shaw is suspended due to accumulation of yellow cards.
Those who miss out due to injuries are Antonio Valencia (calf), Eric Bailly (concussion) and Ander Herrera (knock), with Herrera being the only major absentee. The big news is that Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez have travelled with the squad to Barcelona, although neither is expected to start.
In Matic’s stead, Fred will continue to operate as the deepest of the three midfielders after impressing yet again this past weekend, against West Ham United. Paul Pogba will be the creator-in-chief for Manchester United, with the Frenchman looking to put Busquets under pressure once again.
The third man in midfield will Scott McTominay, who will be raring to impress against Barcelona once again after being rested on Saturday. The Scotsman will have a big responsibility on his shoulders, especially in the bid to drive the visitors forward whenever they get the rare opportunity.
Up ahead in attack, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku are certain starters, with hold-up play holding the key for the duo on the night. The final spot in the final third will likely be given to Jesse Lingard, after Anthony Martial failed to make an impression against West Ham.
At the back, the absence of Shaw means Ashley Young will likely fill in as the left-back, with Diogo Dalot starting on the opposite flank. At the heart of the Manchester United defence, Chris Smalling will have Victor Lindelof as his partner after the Swede was rested on the weekend. The back four will continue providing cover to David de Gea.
Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): de Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Lindelof, Young; McTominay, Fred, Pogba; Lingard; Lukaku, Rashford
- Barcelona have never lost a home match against Manchester United in European competition (W2 D2), with their last such meeting finishing 0-0 in April 2008.
- Of the 70 previous occasions when a side won a Champions League knockout tie first leg away from home, just four have been eliminated (6 per cent). However, two of those instances have been in this season’s competition, including once by Manchester United, against PSG.
- Barcelona have progressed from 39 of their 41 European ties in which they won the first leg away from home; the exceptions were against FC Koln in the 1980-81 UEFA Cup, and against Metz in the 1984-85 Cup Winners’ Cup.
- Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 30 UEFA Champions League home games, the longest such run in the competition (W27 D3). They have also not conceded more than once in any of those 30 games (15 goals in total) since a 0-3 loss to Bayern Munich in the 2012-13 semi-finals.
- Manchester United have lost 49 Champions League games – they could become the ninth different club to reach 50 defeats in the competition, and just the second English side (Arsenal, 53).
Player to Watch
Paul Pogba is undoubtedly the most pivotal player in the Manchester United first-team setup at the present moment. But, while his importance in the side cannot be stressed enough, the fact that he tends to go missing in the big games cannot be missed either.
Against Barcelona last week, the Frenchman was the most creative threat for Manchester United. But, after a certain point, his impact waned to a great extent. Another such performance is the last thing that the Red Devils need heading into the second leg, especially seeing as Sergio Busquets has not quite been at his best lately.
But, Pogba will take confidence from his showing against West Ham United, not just from the fact that he scored a brace, but also barely put a foot wrong, on and off the ball. The biggest game of Paul Pogba’s Manchester United career beckons, and how he performs will be the key in determining the result.
Barcelona 2-1 Manchester United
Barcelona are perhaps the strongest side left in the competition, and with Gerard Pique in irresistible form, it is hard to see how Manchester United can find a way to score past Marc-Andre ter Stegen. But, their desperation to script another stirring comeback tale has the potential to do the trick.
Having said that, the need for a goal might just leave spaces open at the back, something that a certain Lionel Messi does not need a second invitation to exploit. The key for Manchester United will be the effectiveness in their pressing in midfield.
Expect another close contest between the two sides, albeit one that should see quite a few chances for each side. But, Barcelona should have enough quality to prevail in the end, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Ernesto Valverde & co.