Barcelona vs Manchester United: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the much-awaited game between Barcelona and Manchester United on Thursday.

The UEFA Europa League resumes on Thursday with the blockbuster clash between Barcelona and Manchester United. The match features two clubs that have endured a fall from grace in recent years. And going all the way in the second-tier European competition will salvage some pride.

Barcelona endured another disastrous UEFA Champions League campaign, finishing third for a second successive season. Xavi Hernandez will now hope the Blaugrana can avoid the embarrassment of last season, where Eintracht Frankfurt beat them in the quarter-finals. And their recent form will be cause for optimism for the hosts.

On the other hand, Manchester United failed to clinch a top-four finish last term, meaning they started the season in the Europa League. And the Red Devils were sub-par in the group stage, finishing behind Real Sociedad to play an additional round to reach the knockout phase. But like Barcelona, Manchester United will be optimistic about a decent outing after a solid run of recent form.

With Barcelona and Manchester United undoubtedly on the rise, the build-up to Thursday’s clash has been intriguing. Picking a favourite is next to impossible, and each side will fancy the chances of grabbing progressing to the Round of 16. And ahead of the mouthwatering clash at Spotify Camp Nou, The Hard Tackle lists three key players for the game.


Will Casemiro return with a bang? (Photo by Christof Stache AFP/Getty Images)

The midfield battle will determine which way the scales will tilt in the match between Barcelona and Manchester United. With that in mind, Casemiro’s importance for Manchester United becomes even higher than it has been thus far this season.

The Red Devils have sorely missed the former Real Madrid midfielder in the last two Premier League games. They lacked balance and control in the middle of the park in Casemiro’s absence. But that means the 30-year-old will not be the victim of fatigue, unlike a lot of other players.

As for matters on the pitch, Casemiro will be crucial in negating ball progression from top-class midfielders like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Gavi. And if the former Real Madrid midfielder rises to the occasion, Manchester United might even eke out a win.

At the same time, Casemiro will also need to open up play with his long passes, bringing pacy outlets like Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho into the picture. So it is hardly surprising that Luke Shaw recently spoke about his importance for Manchester United.

Frenkie de Jong

Frenkie de Jong can make the difference in the middle of the park. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images)

The other half of the midfield battle between Barcelona and Manchester United features players like Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, and Gavi. While Pedri and Gavi have taken to life as senior footballers swimmingly, de Jong’s output will determine the game’s outcome.

The Dutchman has turned his fortunes around brilliantly after starting the season as a backup option. But de Jong has fought his way into Xavi Hernandez’s plans, compelling Barcelona to decide against selling him. At the same time, he has become a pivotal figure for the Blaugrana.

Of late, the 25-year-old has excelled as a deep-lying playmaker. And with Sergio Busquets out injured, he will need to pull double duty in the middle of the park. But more than the defensive aspect of his game, his playmaking abilities will come to the fore.

Manchester United famously chased de Jong before a move failed to materialise last summer. And Erik ten Hag insisted in the build-up to the game that de Jong would improve any team. As things stand, the Dutch midfielder is making Barcelona stronger. And his presence will likely enable the hosts to get past Manchester United.

Alejandro Garnacho

Marcus Rashford and Robert Lewandowski are undoubtedly the go-to players for their managers to deliver the goods in the final third. And while they will invariably be pivotal figures for the two teams, we have gone with a wildcard pick. So Alejandro Garnacho gets the nod here.

Garnacho might earn a start after helping deliver the three points against Leeds United last week. And the 18-year-old will be the x-factor for Manchester United against Barcelona, irrespective of whether he features from the get-go.

The teenage sensation has an incredible change of pace that no other player in Thursday’s game possesses. Garnacho will not shy away from taking on the defenders. And his pacy outlet might be the key for Manchester United to unlock a stubborn Barcelona defence.

The 18-year-old is also improving his composure and finishing prowess in front of the goal. So it is hardly surprising that high-profile clubs like Real Madrid are keen on signing him. But for now, Garnacho remains focused on delivering the goods for Manchester United.

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