Manchester United vs FC Barcelona: Match Preview

Man Utd vs Barca

Following a thrilling 2-2 draw in the first leg against Manchester United, Barcelona travels to England to face the Red Devils in an all-decider affair. Given the state of the two historical giants of European football, the excitement will just add to the fact that neither team has an advantage heading into the second leg, enticing with the promise of a fierce, entertaining night at the Theatre of Dreams.

Manchester United vs FC Barcelona: Match Details

Date: Thursday, 23rd February 2023

Time: 09:00 pm Central European Time

Competition: UEFA Europa League

Round: Europa League Playoffs

Venue: Old Trafford

Referee: Clément Turpin

Manchester United vs FC Barcelona: Match Overview

As one could expect, Manchester United proved to be a tough rival for the Catalans, pushing the game to a nervy 2-2 draw in Camp Nou last week. After Marcos Alonso’s headed opener, ten Hag’s men turned the score around through Rashford and an unfortunate Koundé own goal, and a rather lucky distant shot from Raphinha was needed to level the score again.

That match brought forth some visible problems on the Garnet and Blue side, with the main concerned areas being the manager himself, Xavi, and his decisions before and during the game. On the other hand, the Mancunians executed a working gameplan to near perfection, and the Blaugranas were indeed lucky to get away with an all-square result.

The biggest tweak from ten Hag was placing his in-form superstar, Marcus Rashford into the striking position, while Weghorst essentially played as an attacking midfielder, with Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho occupying the flanks. This switch enabled Rashford to operate more freely up front, penetrating the not too confident Koundé–Alonso pairing frequently.

Meanwhile, Xavi also had a tweak up his sleeve, but got outplayed by ten Hag. The Spanish master started his best defensive player, Ronald Araújo in the right-back position as he thought that the Uruguayan can neutralize the threat caused by United’s biggest star at the moment, Rashford in the Englishman’s natural position.

Given that Rashford moved centrally, ten Hag evaded this trump card from the Puppet Master, who paid double price for this mistaken move. As neither was Araújo as effective as Koundé in possession from the right-hand side of the Catalans, nor Koundé and Alonso the best duo to contain Rashford’s penetrative runs, the change was badly needed, but it came too late.

In the 66′ minute, Christensen – for whose benching was Xavi called to account even before the kickoff – came in for Alonso, and then Koundé and Araújo also switched their positions back, which was way more comfortable for the Catalans’ defensive structure. However, until that moment, they’ve already conceded twice.

This kind of quick thinking and adaptiveness will be needed the most tonight, which Xavi seemingly lacked last week, reacting too late to ten Hag’s moves. Perhaps, we won’t even see the same tweaks from the Dutch mastermind, knowing that it’s unlikely to have the same effect as it used to have last week, as certainly, Xavi learned from these mistakes as well.

However, new problems arose on the horizon, new challenges for the Spanish coach to be solved. With Pedri and Gavi unavailable for tonight’s crucial match, it begs the question whether it’s worth staying with the same 3-2-2-3 system that the Blaugrana have been using in the past weeks or reverting to a more traditional 4-3-3.

In the absence of such technical players as Pedri and Gavi, the more likely scenario is the return of the 4-3-3. Thankfully, Busquets is back in the squad and is expected to play, which will be, by all means, a huge asset to the Blaugrana as the veteran Spaniard is still unique and excellent in his role.

The frontline also offers much to dissect. Ferrán Torres, following a masterful performance against Cádiz over the weekend, put his name back in the debate for that starting spot on the right wing, and it’s an open question whether he or Raphinha will start tonight on the right wing of the Catalan attacking machinery.

However, the only natural left winger is Ansu Fati, who – despite being fully fit again – is yet to recover his form. Meanwhile, placing either Ferrán Torres or Raphinha on the left would be a waste, which requires a different skillset from what they can offer on the right.

All in all, a massive 90 minutes (or even more) to be played, Barcelona have an extremely difficult, challenging task to fight their way to the next round of the Europa League, and with a potential victory at Old Trafford tonight, the Catalans can continue their chase for a European trophy.

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