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Man Utd vs Barcelona: The pressure is on Xavi to win a big game in Europe

The manager can quiet critics with a result against Manchester United

FC Barcelona v Manchester United: Knockout Round Play-Off Leg One - UEFA Europa League Photo by Xavi Bonilla/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Xavi and Barcelona continue to march forward in their campaign to dethrone Real Madrid in La Liga.

It’s been a big step forward in terms of results and performances.

The defense is setting records, and the attack continues to click in spite of the injuries and absences of key players.

Barcelona is making it look easy in Spain with an eight-point lead at the top of the table. Maybe too easy, with some wondering whether Barcelona are the real deal relative to their continental counterparts, or if Spanish football is just experiencing a decline in quality.

That makes this week’s game against Manchester United so important.

Xavi deserves credit for having Barcelona on the cusp of a domestic title that the club desperately needs.

FC Barcelona Vs Cadiz CF - La Liga Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images

But we also can’t forget that Barca is supposed to be the best footballing brand in the world.

You don’t prove that in Spain, but against the top competition in Europe.

Manchester United and Barcelona are Champions League teams playing in the Europa League.

It was unlucky that they drew each other so early in the tournament, but also a blessing in disguise for two giant clubs who want to make their way back to the top as soon as possible.

Winning this game symbolically counts for more than winning the competition itself, given the context surrounding it.

Manchester United is one of the hottest teams in Europe, and they are very well coached.

Manchester United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Xavi is a young manager who’s done well, but the pressure is on to prove he can go mano a mano with one of his most respected colleagues in the game.

Last year’s Europa League failure against Eintracht Frankfurt was a nightmare. Blaming the sea of white at the Camp Nou was convenient at the time, but that excuse was taken away after being knocked out of the Champions League in the fall, with Inter and Bayern Munich getting the better of him.

Xavi knows that a Barcelona manager’s job ultimately depends on European success.

Ernesto Valverde won two La Liga titles, but was embarrassed year after year in the Champions League knockout rounds.

Xavi hasn’t even made it that far, but similarly collapsed in an even smaller competition.

Beating Manchester United is a big opportunity to build his resume.

But it won’t be easy, and he’ll have to get the details right.

The first is the question of rotation.

Xavi has shot himself in the foot over and over again by not fielding his most competitive team when it matters.

It was great to see Ferran Torres and Sergi Roberto shine, but it will be a risk to reward them with a start on Thursday.

FC Barcelona v Cadiz CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Sergi Roberto in particular is in all of the photographs of Barcelona failures on European nights.

Ferran is more justifiable with Pedri out, if Xavi wants to play with three forwards.

But will we see a repeat of Marcos Alonso and Jordi Alba on the backline?

Xavi needs to reflect on why his dominant defense doesn’t show up in European competitions. It may just be because of the pattern of defenders he continues to select for the sake of “rotation.”

Alejandro Balde and Andreas Christensen must be in the lineup, alongside Ronald Araujo at center-back, and Jules Kounde on the right.

FC Barcelona v Cadiz CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

This is the low hanging fruit, and if Barcelona is to come out on top, Xavi must keep it simple, and go with what has worked the best in recent games. Don’t be your own worst enemy at such a critical moment for your reputation as a football manager.

For the neutrals, this Barcelona and Manchester United fixture looks destined to become yet another epic chapter in what has become a great European rivalry.

The managers will have a significant impact on the proceedings.

Will Xavi announce himself as one of the best?

Or will he be humbled by Erik ten Hag?

There’s more on the line for the coach than the team in this one.

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