Ahead of the Barcelona–Man United Champions League quarterfinal first leg Wednesday at Old Trafford, here’s a look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.
Barcelona will win if …
It avoids crucial injuries. Man U is talented, but was lucky to beat a PSG team that was missing Neymar in the Round of 16. Barcelona is much deeper and more balanced than the Parisian club, and it’s going to show. As long as Barça’s top players are fit, I expect a fairly one-sided affair.
Lionel Messi (who somehow keeps getting better with age) and Luis Suárez have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but their team also lacks any clear weakness. In addition to the Argentine and the Uruguayan up top – who have combined for an absurd 14 goals in Barcelona’s last six matches – Barça is stout defensively. Gerard Piqué and Marc-André ter Stegen, among others, have been excellent all season in big games. Yes, there have been hiccups like last week’s 4-4 draw against Villarreal — when Barcelona was by no means playing its best XI. But the Catalans have been tough to crack when it matters. They allowed a total of one goal in the two round of 16 matches against Lyon and in three recent games against Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, they were not scored on.
Man U will win if …
They score quickly on Wednesday and David de Gea has a performance for the ages. It’s going to take several players turning in incredible efforts for the Red Devils to pull this off, but the most likely scenario for an upset involves an early goal followed by the Spaniard doing something unforgettable (something he is certainly capable of doing). Man U does not lack for dynamic weapons who can create chances. Those players’ fresh legs – their last game was April 2, while Barcelona is coming off a physical battle with Atleti on Saturday – could allow the Red Devils to strike first at Old Trafford.
The EPL club has not, however, been sound enough defensively – and honestly, who has been, considering Barcelona’s form? – for me to expect them to stifle Messi and Co. That means they’ll need de Gea’s A-plus game. We saw in Man U’s upset of PSG that if they keep things close, anything could happen in the closing minutes. Could they get another fortunate bounce at the right time to make an improbable appearance in the UCL semifinals?
Barcelona’s most important player and secret weapon are Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho, respectively.
The case for Messi as the most important player on the pitch goes without saying at this point.
There are plenty of candidates when thinking about the X-factor for Barcelona, but why not the former Liverpool star? With Ousmane Dembélé sidelined due to injury, Coutinho has started his team’s last three games in place of the Frenchman. To this point, Coutinho hasn’t presented Ernesto Valverde with a conundrum – when Dembélé is available, he’ll be right back in the starting lineup – but he should have a massive opportunity on Wednesday (as long as Dembélé remains out). At this point, Barcelona’s opponents should sell out to limit Messi and Suárez, which should mean space for the Brazilian. Can he capitalize?
Man U’s most important player and secret weapon are Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, respectively.
Pogba has to play smarter than he did in the first leg against PSG, when he got himself suspended for the return leg in Paris. We saw last summer during the World Cup that at his best, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the world. This season, he’s been credited as a big reason for his team’s turnaround under OGS. Barcelona’s midfielders and defenders are skilled but are not blessed with the same physical tools as Pogba. If he’s able to take over the game and facilitate for Lukaku and Co. — while occasionally threatening Barcelona’s back line himself — Man U may have a shot after all.
Most fans came away from this team’s comeback win in Paris fixated on the French club’s mistakes, the call that resulted in a spot-kick for Marcus Rashford and the Englishman’s subsequent game-winner. But it was Lukaku who got his team a 2-1 lead with some opportunistic finishes in the early going. Like Pogba, Lukaku has the raw physical ability to give even a well-organized defensive team like Barcelona problems.
Latest Manchester United vs Barcelona Odds
|Manchester United +280||Draw +250||Barcelona -105|
Odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ
Also Read: Champions League Quarterfinal Predictions