A place in the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 will be on the line when Manchester United and Barcelona meet at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The 2022/23 UEFA Europa League will get ready for the Round of 16, with eight teams set to seal their passage through to the knockout phase on Thursday. And the marquee fixture will feature Manchester United and Barcelona, with the two powerhouses set to meet at Old Trafford.

Manchester United and Barcelona have had two vastly different campaigns thus far this season. The Red Devils began the 2022/23 season in disastrous fashion, losing back-to-back games. But they have steadily improved and are the potential dark horses in the Premier League title race.

Erik ten Hag’s men are also in the Carabao Cup final, where Newcastle United will be looking to get the better of them. As for the Europa League campaign, Manchester United participated in the group stage before finishing runner-up behind Real Sociedad in Group E. On the other hand, Barcelona reached this stage after finishing third in the Champions League Group C.

The Blaugrana failed to reach the Champions League Round of 16 for the second successive season, finishing behind Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. But they have been sensational in domestic football, winning the Spanish Super Cup while rising to the top of La Liga. But Xavi will be eager to deliver a European trophy for Barcelona this season.

The first leg was an engrossing affair that ended in a 2-2 draw. Barcelona took the lead thanks to Marcos Alonso before Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to a 2-1 lead, only for Robert Lewandowski to ensure a share of the spoils. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.

Team News & Tactics

Manchester United


Erik ten Hag has greeted positive updates on the team news front ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Against Barcelona on Thursday, the Manchester United manager will be bereft of the services of only three first-team players.

Harry Maguire (knee) and Antony (knock) are available after recovering from their respective injuries. In addition, Casemiro has served his domestic suspension, which would not have carried to the Europa League anyway. That leaves Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), and Anthony Martial (hip) as the only players on the sidelines.

Wout Weghorst will continue spearheading the Manchester United attack in Martial’s absence. But the Dutchman will not reprise the role of a traditional striker. Instead, he will put in the hard yards and often drop deep, creating space for Marcus Rashford.

Weghorst’s link-up play will also come into good use for Manchester United, taking some of the burden off Bruno Fernandes. Meanwhile, Jadon Sancho will likely start on the right flank, with Alejandro Garnacho dropping to the bench. The 18-year-old and Antony will be explosive options off the bench for ten Hag.

Casemiro returns to the starting eleven straightaway, with Marcel Sabitzer likely making way. The Austrian international and Lisandro Martinez have served their European suspensions. But with Fred showing brilliant form lately, Sabitzer will have to make do with a place on the bench.

However, Martinez picks himself as Raphael Varane’s central defensive partner. So Luke Shaw should start as the left-back, boosting ten Hag’s creative options. Meanwhile, Aaron Wan-Bissaka should get the nod ahead of Diogo Dalot due to his defensive acumen. Finally, there is no looking past David de Gea between the sticks.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Fred; Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Weghorst


Unlike his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Xavi Hernandez has a new roster issue hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. The Barcelona manager will be without three first-team players on Thursday.

Gavi is the latest absentee, with the teenage sensation missing Thursday’s game due to a suspension. In addition, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele are recovering from their respective hamstring injuries and are out for the foreseeable future.

But Sergio Busquets should finally return to action, sitting at the base of the midfield unit. So Frenkie de Jong will have the freedom to express himself in more advanced areas. And Franck Kessie should complete the numbers in the middle of the park.

Ferran Torres was pivotal in securing a win over Cadiz this past weekend. And he should have done enough to earn a rare start on the left flank. The Spaniard will join Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha in the final third. And Ansu Fati will be an option on the bench.

As for the defensive unit, Xavi is seemingly keen on having a left-footed centre-back in the backline. So Marcos Alonso should start alongside Ronald Araujo at the heart of the Barcelona defence again. Jules Kounde and Jordi Alba should be the two full-backs, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen featuring in the goal.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Alonso, Alba; de Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Torres

Key Stats

  • Manchester United have only won one of their last 11 games against Barcelona in European competition (D5 L5), going winless in the most recent five (D1 L4). Their only victory in this run came in April 2008 in a UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg, with Paul Scholes netting in a 1-0 win.
  • Barcelona have faced Manchester United away from home in European competition on five previous occasions. After failing to win any of the first four (D2 L2), they won 1-0 on their most recent trip in April 2019 (UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg).
  • Manchester United have only lost two of their last 11 European games at Old Trafford (W6 D3), although both defeats in this run came against Spanish opposition: 0-1 vs Atletico Madrid in March 2022 and 0-1 vs Real Sociedad in September 2022.
  • Marcus Rashford has averaged a goal every 76 minutes for Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League this season (four goals in total) – the best ratio of any player to have played at least 300 minutes in the competition this term.
  • Since the start of the 2019/20 season, Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski has scored 38 goals in 32 appearances in major European competition – more than any other player in this period.

Player to Watch

Sergio Busquets

Embed from Getty Images

Pedri and Gavi will be two colossal absentees for Barcelona. So Sergio Busquets’s return could not have come at a better time for Xavi Hernandez. The veteran midfielder has missed the last few games due to an ankle injury. But he should be fit enough to start on Thursday.

Xavi will need Busquets to use all his experience to keep Bruno Fernandes quiet in the middle of the park. And the Barcelona captain will also be crucial in setting a quick tempo and ensuring the visitors catch Manchester United on the back foot.


Manchester United 2-1 Barcelona

The upcoming Carabao Cup final can easily distract Manchester United. But Erik ten Hag has trained his charges to remain alert on matters in the present instead of focusing on the future. And the hosts should take the game to Barcelona on Thursday, taking advantage of the absence of Gavi and Pedri.

Sergio Busquets often benefits from having three midfielders playing around him. But that will not be the case this midweek, which plays into Manchester United’s hands. And the Red Devils should capitalise on that to book their place in the Round of 16. The Hard Tackle predicts ten Hag’s men to clinch a 2-1 win on Thursday, which seals a 4-3 aggregate victory.

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