Manchester United host Barcelona on Wednesday night in a Champions League showdown of traditional football powers.
The Red Devils have suffered their first dip in form under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer since his appointment in mid-December. But the former Champions League hero has the chance to write more history in the competition as he leads the side against Lionel Messi and company.
While Manchester United had the weekend off due to the FA Cup in England, Barcelona defeated Atletico Madrid, 2-0, in Spain. Messi and Luis Suarez were on target for the Blaugrana. Messi has scored 13 goals in his last 10 matches for Barcelona. The reliance on Messi at Barcelona has never been greater and the team has struggled without him at his best. Last season’s Champions League quarterfinal elimination at the hands of Roma is proof of how much Barcelona need Messi.
The Red Devils shocked an over confident Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their last-16 fixture. It took a (correct) VAR call and a penalty in second-half stoppage-time, but they got the job done. It was their most impressive team performance this season. But since then, Paul Pogba and other stars have seen their form dip. Reports in England over the weekend claimed several Manchester United stars will seek to leave the club in the summer. It isn’t a great backdrop to the Champions League quarterfinals for the Red Devils.
Marcus Rashford will return for Manchester United. He missed the team’s 2-1 league loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers a week ago. Without a game at the weekend, Solskjaer’s players were able to recuperate from their injuries. Former Barcelona player Alexis Sanchez remains out of action due to a knee injury.
Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele is in line to play after missing four La Liga games. He suffered a thigh strain against Lyon, but could feature. Manager Ernesto Valverde may choose to play Philippe Countinho on the left wing with Messi on the opposite side and Suarez through the middle, however. The first leg may come too soon for Dembele to receive a place in the starting XI.
The two clubs haven’t met in the Champions League since 2011 when they played in the final. Barcelona won that fixture, 3-1, as they overpowered a confused Manchester United side. Barcelona also defeated the Red Devils in the 2009 final, 2-0. That game was the coming out part of Messi and when the world was truly introduced to his magic. The Argentine scored in both finals for Barcelona.
Barcelona have shown they can buckle under pressure. If Manchester United attack Barcelona’s defence, they will get goals. Conversely, Manchester United’s defence will give up goals as well.
Wednesday night’s first leg will see goals fly into the net with over 2.5 scored in a Barcelona win.