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Barcelona expected to retain starting lineup from Villarreal clash against Manchester United



Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

When the Europa League draw revealed Manchester United to be Barcelona’s opponent, a buzz of excitement took over the streets of Catalonia. With every passing week, the team’s performances continued on an upward curve and the anticipation for the European clash multiplied.

After what seems like an eternity of waiting, the fixture is finally here. The anthem in the stadium may not be the Champions League hymn the Camp Nou deserves, but the quality of football on the night will be uncompromised.

Barcelona enter the clash unbeaten in their last 16 appearances and on a winning streak of 11 games. Their opponents, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last six games and have scored first in seven of their last eight matches.

Xavi Hernandez undoubtedly sees Thursday’s game as a big test for his young side. Manchester United might as well be the toughest opposition along Barcelona’s route to the Europa League title, and the home leg’s result will prove to be crucial.

In light of the in-form opposition travelling to Spain, Xavi is not expected to make any changes to the starting lineup from the XI that faced Villarreal at the weekend.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen deserves the lion’s share of the credit for Barcelona’s splendid defensive record this term. However, he has a point to price in Europe having conceded 10 goals in five UCL games and will look to make a statement in goal.

Andreas Christensen, arguably one of Barcelona’s best defensive signings in recent years, will start in central defence against Erik Ten Hag’s side as the left centre-back. Xavi could look to make a minor tweak to the setup, however, playing Jules Kounde centrally to solidify the right flank.

Ronald Araujo has been the Spanish tactician’s go-to weapon as a right-back when facing threatening wingers like Vinicius Jr. With a red-hot Marcus Rashford starting on United’s left wing, the Uruguayan could once again feature as an unlikely right-back.

Alejandro Balde is expected to complete the defensive puzzle ahead of Jordi Alba and Marcos Alonso as he goes from strength to strength in a revolutionary campaign.

Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Frank Kessie will be the three starting midfielders against United, considering that Sergio Busquets is unfit to participate. Yet, there could be a minor tweak in the middle of the park between the roles of Frenkie de Jong and Frank Kessie.

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Pedri’s position as an advanced midfielder is under no doubt. However, it remains to be seen as to whether it is the Dutchman or the Ivory Coast international who sits deeper in the setup as the pivot and which one of them is given a bigger hand in orchestrating the attack.

Ousmane Dembele’s unavailability does not leave much to think about in the attacking trident.

In the Frenchman’s absence, Raphinha is expected to start on the left wing with Robert Lewandowski deployed as a central striker. On the left wing, Gavi will look to torment the English with his menacing runs and nuanced combinations.

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