Man United will look to secure a first-leg lead in their Europa League play-off round tie against Barcelona when they face the Spanish giants at Camp Nou on Thursday. The Red Devils have won each of their last five matches in Europe, but Barca aren’t immune to the rigours of European competition.
Xavi’s Team Needs a Morale Boost
Barcelona have struggled in the Champions League this season and are looking to get back on track with a win over Manchester United. They are still level on points with the Red Devils but a loss in the second leg of the Champions League would be devastating to the team’s morale and confidence. Xavi knows just how important a win is for Barcelona and will be working hard on his players’ mentality in training to help them overcome this obstacle.
During the match against Valencia, Xavi spent most of his time encouraging his players and correcting their mistakes from the sidelines. He hopes that the win will boost their confidence for Tuesday’s clash with Viktoria Plzen.
In a recent interview with El Confidencial, Xavi admitted that his Barcelona team needs to work harder on their hold-up play and control. This is an area that they have struggled with in the past. In a 3-3 draw against Inter Milan, Barcelona failed to defend properly and it almost cost them the game.
After a successful start to his tenure as Barcelona manager, Xavi has now seen his team drop down into the bottom half of the table and lose three games in a row. They are now 15 points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid and only have a six-point buffer to fourth-placed Real Betis.
Despite this, Xavi has worked hard on his team’s mentality and believes that he can turn them around. He has also spoken highly of his project and has urged his players to play the way they want to.
He has been working with his players in the gym and is confident that they can improve. He wants to see them play a high-tempo and possession-based style of football that is much more similar to the style that he played in as a player.
It is clear that Xavi has his work cut out to bring back success at Barcelona and he will do whatever it takes to do so. The Barcelona faithful will be expecting him to pull them out of the rut they’re in and to get them back on top again. However, Xavi needs to be patient and understand that it will take time to make his mark on the team. He knows that he will have to build his squad over the course of the season but he is determined to make it happen.
Frenkie De Jong
Manchester United have reportedly sent a delegation to Barcelona to try and complete the deal for Frenkie de Jong. The Red Devils have been in constant contact with the Dutch midfielder’s representatives and are aiming to make a final push to sign him before the transfer window closes on Thursday, according to Spanish outlet Jijantes.
The 25-year-old has been on the fringes of Barca’s squad since joining them from Ajax in a PS65m deal last summer. He has made just three La Liga starts this season and one in the Champions League, which has left him frustrated at being overlooked.
Despite this, United remain keen to move for the midfielder and have been making a number of offers. But the club’s bid has been stymied at the moment by the Catalan side’s financial constraints.
It is thought that the Spanish outfit are looking to sell De Jong to raise funds, with the player still owed around PS17m in unpaid wages from his time at Barcelona. It is not clear whether Manchester United would be willing to pay this amount in order to get the Netherlands international.
Another issue that could scupper the deal is the fact that he still has four years to run on his contract at the Nou Camp, which would mean him missing out on a lucrative extension. That would also make it tough for the Red Devils to persuade him to join them in a transfer that would cost him his place in their starting line-up.
If a deal can be done, it is believed that United would look to sign De Jong as a replacement for Paul Pogba. The Dutchman is a proven starter and can play in a number of different positions, including as a no.8 next to Donny van de Beek or Bruno Fernandes in a 4-2-3-1 system.
It is also worth noting that De Jong has a good relationship with United’s new coach, Erik ten Hag. He played for him at Ajax and knows him well. This could be a big factor in rekindling his interest in the Red Devils and making a move to Old Trafford happen.
Man United’s Attack
Manchester United have a chance to win their first match against Barcelona in the Champions League at Camp Nou on Thursday, but they will have to overcome several injury concerns. Four senior players have been ruled out through injury or suspension, including Scott McTominay, Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek. Meanwhile, Casemiro was suspended following his red card against Crystal Palace on Saturday and will also be unavailable for this match.
Despite their injuries, the Red Devils still have enough to put up a solid fight against Barcelona. The first-leg of this UEFA Europa League play-off is a must-win match for United, with the winner likely to advance to the second round and take on the Spanish side at Old Trafford in a weeks’ time.
Ahead of the game, United manager Erik ten Hag has been making changes to his squad to prepare for the European encounter. He has included Brazilian winger Antony, who was recently acquired from Ajax for a fee, Scottish midfielder Scott McTominay, Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez and Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen in his squad.
While there are no major surprises, the Red Devils have already suffered four injuries to key players this season. They’ve lost three of their last four away matches in all competitions, and haven’t won a European match at the Camp Nou since 2014.
The Manchester Evening News reports that four of the team’s senior players did not participate in training on Wednesday. That included French forward Anthony Martial and winger Antony, who were both expected to miss the game, while Scottish midfielder Scott McTominay and on-loan playmaker Marcel Sabitzer were also ruled out of the match with a knee injury.
It’s not the first time United have had to deal with injuries against Barcelona, either. They lost 1-0 at home in the Champions League last season and drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture, which was played at Camp Nou.
In the past, Manchester United have beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the first leg of a tie before losing a second leg at Old Trafford. In fact, the Red Devils have beaten the Catalans on their own turf just twice in the last 20 years.
Man United’s Defense
Manchester United are preparing for an extremely important match against FC Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League playoff on Thursday 16 February at Spotify Camp Nou. This is a big test for Ten Hag and his team, and it will be interesting to see how they react.
Despite a difficult start to the season, United have been impressive in defense so far. Their stifling press is a key part of their strategy, which helps to reduce chances for their opponents by forcing them to hoof the ball long. This tactic also ensures that defenders are able to hold onto the ball and force their opponents into passing backwards.
The Red Devils’ defending has improved under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but they still need to improve their full-back positioning and the way they play with their deep lying midfielders. In particular, they need to protect their centre-backs with a midfielder.
To do this, they will need to strengthen their squad in the coming transfer window. They could potentially look at signing a young centre-back in a position such as Kalvin Phillips or Wilfred Ndidi, who would offer box to box mobility and excellent defensive work.
But, if United are going to challenge for the title this season, then they will need to make an even bigger investment in their center-backs. They need to sign a top-level defender who can take charge of this crucial area of the game.
That’s why we think Fred should be replaced by someone who is more experienced in this position. Fred has been the backbone of the club’s defence in recent seasons, but he will need to be replaced with someone who can step up to the plate.
In our opinion, one player who is perfect for this role is Danish centre-back Andreas Christensen. He has shown his ability to hold his own at the heart of the defence and is a huge threat from distance.
As a result, he is being heavily tipped for a move to the Premier League, where he will be able to use his pace and sweeping ability to disrupt Barca’s attack. As such, he would be the ideal addition to a side that is desperate to finish in the top four this season.