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Three talking points from Barcelona 2-2 Manchester United

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Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

Ninety minutes of electric and passion-filled football at Spotify Camp Nou saw the clash between Barcelona and Manchester United end in a 2-2 draw.

The Catalans were outplayed from a neutral’s perspective, for it was United that had the better chances all along. Yet, there were a multitude of factors that contributed to the shaky performance.

Marcos Alonso opened the scoring in the second half, but it only took a matter of minutes for Marcus Rashford to equalise. The winger was again in the thick of things for United’s second goal before Raphinha’s long-range shot restored parity.

Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Barcelona 2-2 Manchester United.

1. Xavi’s unnecessary decisions

The buildup to Barcelona’s mega clash against Manchester United was one that made supporters across the globe build expectations at an alarming rate. After all, the in-form Catalan defence was set to be tested for the first time in Europe.

Yet, Xavi Hernandez played spoilsport not only for fans but also for the final result. When the manager announced Barcelona’s starting lineup an hour before kickoff, it left nothing but perplexion on the face of every supporter.

The Spanish tactician had decided to change his working defensive formula for the most difficult game of the year yet, playing a relatively rusty Marcos Alonso in place of the in-form Andreas Christensen. When questioned about his decision before kickoff, he attributed it to ‘rotation’.

Further, Xavi also brought in Jordi Alba for Alejandro Balde, thus comprising heavily on the pace down the left flank.

The season is long and weary, and rotations are undoubtedly a necessity. Yet, nothing warrants such drastic defensive changes for a European clash, especially with Cadiz coming up at the weekend for rotation.

Alonso scored Barcelona’s opener on the night through a towering header. However, he displayed exactly why he should not have started less than two minutes later when he easily allowed Rashford to run past him and put the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Once again, for the second goal, he failed to clear the ball from the area and allowed it across the face of the goal for the eventual touch on Kounde. Barcelona may have salvaged a draw, but questions must be asked of Xavi’s incomprehensible decisions on the night.

2. A night of errors

A forgettable game for Kounde (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

The ninety minutes at Spotify Camp Nou on Thursday were one of Barcelona’s most disorganised and haphazard performances in recent months.

The nerves of a big European clash seemed to take over the Catalans, as did several United players, forcing simple and silly errors with unforgivable regularity.

The uncharacteristic performances began with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, who conceded a near-post goal that he would save nine out of ten times.

Defensively, Kounde often misplaced his passes and found himself dispossessed by United’s high press. Ronald Araujo’s poor clearance almost cost Barcelona a goal while Alonso’s mistakes were the costliest in the game.

Pedri looked half as good as he usually is with some sloppy passes before going off. Meanwhile, Gavi seemed to be hovering dangerously close to being sent off and saw himself disqualified for the second leg with an unnecessary challenge. In attack, Robert Lewandowski was a shadow of his usual self with heavy touches and weak shots.

The fixture may have been played under the Europa League banner, but the quality of football, pressure on the players and nerves all signalled a game of UCL calibre. The impact clearly showed in the performance of Blaugrana players who have all enjoyed flawless campaigns to this point.

3. An uphill battle at Old Trafford

While the first leg between the two European giants had no favourites, the situation will be different in Manchester next week. Erik ten Hag’s men have a slight advantage heading into the tie, both in terms of performance and personnel.

One cannot deny that United were the more pushful of the two sides at Spotify Camp Nou on Thursday. As a result of their solid system and systematic press, the Red Devils created better chances for most of the game and head into the second leg with a boost of confidence.

On the other hand, Xavi will be without some of his most vital players next week, putting his side on the back foot.

For starters, Ousmane Dembele will be unavailable on the night as he is not expected to recover in time for the trip to England. Sergio Busquets’ availability is under a cloud of doubt too, though reports suggest he could make it just in time.

The situation is aggravated by Pedri and Gavi’s absences. The former sustained a thigh injury last night, presumably ruling him out for a month. Meanwhile, Gavi will miss the clash owing to an accumulation of yellow cards.

Without some of his best stars for the next leg, it is safe to say that Barcelona will not have it easy at Old Trafford. Yet, one knows that a playoff round exit would not sit well with the fans and board, and the pressure will be on Xavi to find solutions.

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