Barcelona will welcome Manchester United to Spotify Camp Nou on Thursday, with both teams looking to reach the UEFA Europa League Round of 16.

The UEFA Europa League resumes this week after a gap of over three months. But before the knockout stage kicks off, a few teams need to qualify for the Round of 16. And Barcelona and Manchester United will meet in the marquee fixture of the play-off stage, with Spotify Camp Nou hosting the first leg on Thursday evening.

Barcelona dropped to the UEFA Europa League for the second successive season after finishing third in the group of death in the Champions League. Failure to beat Bayern Munich and Inter Milan proved catastrophic for the Blaugrana. But they have been top-class in domestic competitions, having won the Spanish Super Cup while opening up a sizable lead over Real Madrid atop La Liga.

On the other hand, Manchester United failed to usurp Real Sociedad in the Europa League group stage. While the two teams finished level on points, La Real had a better goal difference. But the Red Devils have shown promising signs in domestic competitions, reaching the Carabao Cup final while also progressing in the FA Cup. And they are only five points behind Arsenal in the Premier League standings.

Barcelona cruised to a 4-0 aggregate win the last time they met Manchester United in Europe, with the Red Devils drawing a blank in the 2018/19 Champions League quarter-finals. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.

Team News & Tactics


Xavi Hernandez does not have any new injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Against Manchester United on Thursday, the Barcelona manager will be bereft of the services of two first-team players.

Sergio Busquets (ankle) and Ousmane Dembele (thigh) remain on the sidelines and will miss both legs against Manchester United. But despite the absence of the key duo, Xavi has enough quality in his squad to overcome the Red Devils’ test.

Gavi has excelled in an advanced role, especially in the biggest games, where Xavi tends to play four midfielders. And the teenage sensation should fill Dembele’s void in the final third, starting alongside Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha.

Franck Kessie, who continues to attract widespread speculation surrounding his future, started in the middle of the park against Villarreal. And the Ivory Coast international should fill in for Busquets against Manchester United. Kessie will join Frenkie de Jong and Pedri in the midfield trifecta.

Meanwhile, Xavi has settled on a seemingly winning formula in the defensive unit, with Jules Kounde as the right-back. The Frenchman should join Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, and Jordi Alba in the backline. Finally, there is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Alba; Pedri, de Jong, Kessie; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Gavi

Manchester United

Unlike his counterpart in the Barcelona dugout, Erik ten Hag has a lengthy absentee list ahead of the trip to Spotify Camp Nou. The Manchester United manager will be without seven first-team players on Thursday.

The positive news is Casemiro is available to take on Barcelona after missing the last two Premier League games due to a suspension. But Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer will be unavailable due to their respective one-game bans.

Meanwhile, Scott McTominay (knock), Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), Antony (leg), and Anthony Martial (hip) are on the sidelines due to their respective injuries. And none of the five players will be available for the second leg, either.

David de Gea picks himself between the sticks, with Manchester United likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him. As for the defensive unit, Luke Shaw will likely replace Martinez as Raphael Varane’s central defensive partner.

Erik ten Hag has often preferred the Englishman ahead of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in Martinez’s absence. And Shaw will play as a makeshift centre-back for a second successive game. So Tyrell Malacia will start as the left-back, with Diogo Dalot featuring on the right flank.

Casemiro is an automatic pick in the double pivot in the middle of the park. And Fred is the only senior central midfielder available for the first leg. So the two Brazilian midfielders will line up alongside each other, with the duo looking to keep things tight in the centre of the pitch.

Bruno Fernandes will be the most advanced midfielder and will don the armband for the visitors. The Portuguese international will join Alejandro Garnacho, Marcus Rashford, and Wout Weghorst in the final third. The quartet will form a fluid frontline, which will see them interchange positions frequently.

The game against Leeds United showed Weghorst’s ability to reprise the no. 10 role. And Bruno Fernandes will move to the right flank when the Dutchman drops a little deeper. Garnacho will likely exclusively operate on the left wing. And Rashford will alternate between the right-hand side and the central positions.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1):  de Gea; Dalot, Varane, Shaw, Malacia; Casemiro, Fred; Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Garnacho; Weghorst

Key Stats

  • Barcelona and Manchester United have met 13 times in all competitions (six Barcelona wins, three Manchester United wins, and four draws). The first three were in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, while each of the previous ten was in the UEFA Champions League.
  • Barcelona have won the last four meetings with Manchester United. The last club to beat Manchester United in five consecutive matches were Liverpool between 2000 and 2002.
  • Manchester United have won their last five matches in Europe. Only once before have they won six games consecutively in European competition – in their first six outings of the 1965/66 season in the European Cup.
  • Barcelona have lost five of their last 11 European matches at Camp Nou (W2 D4). Their previous five such defeats spread across 101 games between 2002 and 2020.
  • Robert Lewandowski has scored 45 goals in his last 37 games in European competition. He has been directly involved in nine goals across his last three appearances against English clubs: two goals against Tottenham Hotspur in October 2019, one goal and two assists against Chelsea in February 2020, and another two goals and two assists against Chelsea in August 2020. Thursday will be his first appearance against Manchester United.

Player to Watch


Embed from Getty Images

Manchester United desperately lacked balance and control in the middle of the park in Casemiro’s absence. The last two matches have shown how dependent the Red Devils are on the Brazilian international. And the former Real Madrid midfielder will need to be at his best to overcome a tough Barcelona test.

Casemiro often saves his best for the biggest games. And he will also have a stake in the game due to his former allegiance to Real Madrid. Manchester United will hope for a colossal display by the 30-year-old to come away from Spotify Camp Nou still alive in the play-off tie.


Barcelona 2-1 Manchester United

Barcelona might have the meanest defence in Europe (they have kept more clean sheets than any team in Europe’s top-five leagues). But they have somehow displayed a soft underbelly in Europe in their recent campaigns in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. And the in-form Marcus Rashford will look to exploit that on Thursday.

But Barcelona will dominate the midfield battle. And that will set the tone for Robert Lewandowski to make the difference in the final third. And the hosts should have enough quality to eke out a narrow win in the first leg. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Barcelona, with Manchester United remaining in the tie heading into the second leg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I agree to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.


Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.