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Three talking points ahead of Manchester United vs Barcelona

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

The team that celebrates at the full-time whistle on Thursday night at Old Trafford will likely be the team that goes on to win it all in the UEFA Europa League. Such is the significance of the upcoming game between Barcelona and Manchester United, a tie that well and truly lit up the world during its first leg.

With the home advantage on their side, Erik ten Hag’s side enter the matchup as favourites after securing a draw in the first leg. However, both teams have a point to prove and a statement to make on the night and will fight tooth-and-nail for a spot in the next round.

Xavi’s Barcelona are just beginning to come to life after a rough start to their European campaign this season. To bow out at such an early stage would be unacceptable for both the board and the manager. Needless to say, the pressure will be on Xavi after the outcome of the first leg.

Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Manchester United vs Barcelona.

1. The real away test

Xavi’s Barcelona have been in imperious form away from home since his appointment by the club. The Catalans have won their last nine consecutive matches away from Spotify Camp Nou and are just one win away from matching Luis Enrique’s record from 2014/15.

It is impressive that the team’s record stands even when seen from a broader outlook. Of his first 25 away La Liga games, Xavi oversaw only one loss and guided his team to at least a draw on the other 24 occasions.

Needless to say, such a statistic comes as a major boost to the squad ahead of a tough fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Yet, one knows that the Catalans’ domestic record has little to do with the European fixture.

Manchester United have made Old Trafford a real fortress under Erik Ten Hag this season and boast of magnificent form at their stadium. Of their last 17 games at the Theatre of Dreams, they have drawn two and won fifteen games with no loss.

The 2-2 scoreline at Spotify Camp Nou last week does not leave the Blaugranas with any option but to win on Thursday. To break United’s impressive home record, however, will require a special effort from Xavi’s men.

The Catalans must turn up with real intensity on the night if they hope to outplay the team that dominated them in their own den. Tomorrow could well be Xavi’s biggest test away from home.

2. Serious problems in the midfield

No Gavi and Pedri for Barcelona (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

There is really only one point garnering headlines across the globe ahead of the meeting between Barcelona and Manchester United – the absence of Gavi and Pedri.

Pedri’s exclusion from the clash is because of an unfortunate injury that the midfielder suffered in the first leg, having to be withdrawn before half-time. His compatriot, meanwhile, misses the game through an accumulation of yellow cards after jumping into a rash challenge at Camp Nou last week.

The young duo have defined the Catalans’ football in recent times and are indispensable to Xavi’s setup. Of the manager’s 71 games in charge of the team, he has only been without both Gavi and Pedri on five occasions, a statistic that shows how important the duo are.

With his two starlets out of action, Xavi has big decisions to take in midfield.

Sergio Busquets returned to the squad against Cadiz but was not risked by the manager on the night. While the captain may not be match fit, it seems impossible to imagine him sitting out the clash on Thursday given the lack of resources.

Frenkie de Jong is another player whose starting spot at Old Trafford is assured. The Dutchman must be the team’s bright creative light against ten Hag’s men and will have all the responsibility on his shoulders.

The final cog in midfield could be either Franck Kessie or Pablo Torre. The latter would be a more natural replacement for the missing playmakers, but Kessie has the upper hand to start given his match fitness, while Sergi Roberto could be a left-field choice as well.

3. An open dependency on Robert Lewandowski

The world of football runs on goals and not opportunities. At the end of ninety minutes at Old Trafford, the team that nets more goals will be the one to go through as opposed to the one that dominates the proceedings.

It is in the Barcelona spirit to look for possession and dictate the tempo. Yet, all that matters, in the end, is the team’s ability to clinically finish the opportunities that come their way. Thus, Robert Lewandowski’s contribution becomes more important than ever.

The Polish international has struggled in front of goal since the return of club football. While he has found the back of the net even as recently as Barcelona’s game against Cadiz, the drop in his lethality is glaringly clear.

If the Azulgranas are to stand any chance against the in-form Manchester United midweek, they will need Lewandowski to be decisive in the face of goal. He is still the world’s best striker on his day, and up against an unstoppable Marcus Rashford tomorrow, he must look to assert his dominance and guide his side through.

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