Barca & United put on a show
It may have been Thursday night and it may have only been the Europa League, but Barcelona and Manchester United certainly put on a show at a packed Camp Nou.
Indeed it’s fair to say that the game provided far more excitement and drama than the two offerings served up by the Champions League this week.
Both teams went for the win, scored a couple of goals, felt they should have had a penalty and will fancy their chances of progressing next week.
It was fun from start to finish and the tie is now fascinatingly poised ahead of the return at Old Trafford.
Manchester United have home advantage, but Barcelona will know it’s very much all still to play for.
Who will replace Pedri?
Thursday’s draw was marred by an injury to Pedri. The midfielder went off in the first half with a hamstring problem and reports suggest he’ll miss the next month.
The injury comes at a bad time with Sergio Busquets also out at the moment. Sergi Roberto came on for Pedri against Manchester United and may now enjoy a run of games.
Pablo Torre will also be licking his lips after a frustrating season so far. The youngster has already been compared to Pedri and will be hoping to get a shot in the first team.
Xavi has seemed reluctant to use Torre this season, although he has kept him in and around the squad, and this now looks a golden opportunity for the youngster.
Gavi suspension leaves Barcelona short
Barcelona will also have to cope without Gavi next week in Manchester. The midfielder picked up a booking that will earn him a costly one-match ban.
Xavi therefore faces the possibility of rocking up at Old Trafford next week without Busquets, Gavi, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele which would be a real issue.
Gavi for Barcelona vs. Man Utd:— Squawka (@Squawka) February 16, 2023
◉ = Most final third passes (22)
◉ Most duels won (13)
◉ Most fouls won (5)
◉ = Most touches in opp. box (5)
◉ = Most tackles (4)
◉= Most aerial duels won (3)
◉ Most fouls conceded (3)
Will be a huge miss in the second leg. pic.twitter.com/IOQ8nyGppS
There’s a chance that Busquets will be fit for the game, but if not there’s some real selection problems that Xavi needs to overcome if Barca are to progress.
Elsewhere, Manchester United will be boosted by the return from suspension of Lisandro Martinez for the return leg which should strengthen their defence.
Barca’s defense still dodgy in Europe
Barcelona’s defense has been exemplary in La Liga this season but not so in Europe. The Catalans have conceded 14 goals in just 7 European games and just half that amount in 21 league matches. Something’s not right.
The Catalans conceded twice against Manchester United and could have given away a few more. Indeed Erik ten Hag declared rather bullishly after the final whistle that his team should have scored four.
Barcelona certainly gave up a lot of shots on Thursday, as the stats show.
18 - #Barcelona have registered their highest tally of shots faced in a local game this season (18). Meanwhile, #ManchesterUnited have registered their third highest tally on the road in all competitions this campaign (also 18). Madness. pic.twitter.com/SbnFEdDPCy— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 16, 2023
The Catalans did come up against Marcus Rashford, arguably Europe’s most in-form forward, but will know they must tighten up if they are to progress next week at Old Trafford.
Xavi’s decision to omit Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde from his starting XI was a curious one. The coach spoke about needing to rest the duo, but you can’t help think it might have been a better idea to rotate against Cadiz on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Jules Kounde, who has been superb all season, put in a shaky performance, scoring an own goal and seeing Manchester United calling for him to be sent off after a tangle with Rashford.
Raphinha’s frustrations boil over
One of Barcelona’s best players on the night was Raphinha. The Brazilian grabbed a vital equalizer to continue his improving form but was then taken off and reacted pretty strongly.
The Brazilian’s displeasure was evident as he walked off the pitch and he was then spotted punching chairs while on the bench and had to be calmed down by Jordi Alba.
Raphinha was quick to apologize after the game, and Xavi insisted he could understand the forward’s anger and claimed it was a “positive thing.”
Raphinha: "I've already apologized and I will do it again on training. I want to say sorry for my reaction after the change - it won't happen again". #FCB— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) February 17, 2023
"I don't have any problem with Xavi or the club, I just wanted to be on the pitch". pic.twitter.com/g4usBkYn7P
It’s certainly not clear why Xavi wanted to replace Raphinha, particularly as the Brazilian was enjoying a strong showing. However, it’s definitely becoming a real theme at Barcelona and one Raphinha does not seem to be enjoying.
The summer signing has now made 28 appearances for the Catalans this season in all competitions, but he’s only played an entire 90 minutes once - against Sevilla in La Liga back in September.