Barcelona will look to advance to the next round of the UEFA Europa League as they take on Manchester United, in the second leg of the knockout round.
Coming on the back of a 2-2 draw in the first leg, a win will be imperative for Barça if they are to advance further in the competition. In order to get the best out of this tie, Xavi must be spot-on with his team selection at Old Trafford.
One of the players who missed the first leg but looks set to start this midweek is Andreas Christensen.
Christensen’s breakthrough at Barça
Christensen has been one of the best players for FC Barcelona this season. Since joining from Chelsea on a free transfer in the summer, the Dane has been a revelation for coach Xavi, having built a formidable defensive partnership alongside Ronald Araujo.
The combination of the two has been key in helping Barcelona maintain excellent form in the league since the turn of the year and eventually conjure up an eight-point lead at the top of the table.
Christensen’s technical ability, in particular, has been quite useful in Barça’s build-up play. He has attained a pass completion rate of 94% this season – higher than any other Barcelona player in the league this season.
His tally of 2.3 clearances, coupled with almost one interception and 0.4 blocks per game also stand out among the Barcelona defenders – making him a precious commodity in the club’s backline. His contributions have indeed helped the Blaugrana attain the best defensive record in the league so far this season.
Missed first leg
Keeping in mind Christensen’s solid season so far, Xavi’s decision to leave the Dane out in the first leg against Manchester United was a rather bizarre one. Instead, the Barcelona coach opted for Marcos Alonso as the centre-back alongside Kounde.
Although Alonso ended up scoring a crucial goal in the tie, the presence of Christensen might have greatly helped Barcelona maintain their solidity at the back and possibly keep a clean sheet.
Christensen’s potential addition to the starting eleven against Manchester United in the second leg could essential, as far as Barça are concerned.
The Danish international can help the defence in more ways than one. His ability to read the game, coupled with his anticipation and technical qualities should merge well with the aggression and physicality of Ronald Araujo and the athleticism and speed of Jules Kounde.
It will ultimately offer an excellent balance in the Barcelona defence as they look to keep the Manchester United attackers quiet this midweek.
Not to mention, Christensen is equipped with the passing ability to spread possession from the back and stretch the United press.
He has the skill to offer passes in between the line as well, and with players such as Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong operating in the middle, it may significantly improve Barça’s build-up play.
However, it must be noted that Christensen does not share a good record against Manchester United, especially at Old Trafford. He is yet to win in his three visits at the Theatre of Dreams and he will need to overcome this record, if Barcelona are to advance further in the competition.