Barcelona play one of the biggest matches of their season so far when they make the trip to England for the second leg of their Europa League Playoff tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
These two teams played an absolutely incredible first leg that ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated madness and a lot of good football from both sides. United avoided defeat on the road and are a force at home, and Barça will have to find a way to win without three crucial starters in the injured Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé and the suspended Gavi.
Xavi Hernández badly needs a big European win as Barça boss and will no doubt treat this one like a very important game. Here’s how we think the coach will line up his troops on Thursday night.
Xavi surprised everyone when he rested Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde in the first leg, and the decision to bring Marcos Alonso into the defense had mixed results as the Spaniard scored an important goal but was also exposed in the two United goals at Camp Nou.
I suspect there will be no Alonso in this one as Xavi will go back to the “BACK” quartet as Ronald Araujo is available again after serving a suspension at the weekend and Christensen proved against Cádiz how crucial of a piece he is. Alejandro Balde and Jordi Alba have equal chances of starting at left-back, but Balde is the better defender and more suited to road matches of this caliber.
Welcome back, Captain! Sergio Busquets makes a timely return from his ankle injury with the absences of Gavi and Pedri, and despite playing zero minutes against Cádiz there is no doubt Busi will be in the lineup for this one. Busquets was quietly having a very good, very consistent start to 2023 before the injury and will inject much needed calm and poise into a midfield that was chaotic last week.
Frenkie De Jong also figures to start, and the big decision is between Franck Kessie and Sergi Roberto. Kessie has been starting regularly as of late but Roberto was fantastic against Cádiz and is in very good form. There is a chance Xavi keeps the four-midfielder system and starts Roberto on the left wing, but the most likely system is a classic 4-3-3 with three midfielders and two wingers. If that’s the case, one of Franck or Sergi will go to the bench.
Raphinha had his best performance in a Barça shirt last week and is certainly looking forward to a return to England where he was very successful in two seasons in the Premier League. The Brazilian needs another big night as the biggest creative hope currently available without Dembélé and Pedri, and he’ll need to double down on his aggressiveness and dribbling to provide Robert Lewandowski with enough chances to score.
On the left wing, it’ll be either Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati if Xavi decides against four midfielders. Fati was very good as a substitute in the first United clash but Ferran stole the show against Cádiz, and the former Manchester City man could easily find himself in the lineup for this one.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Roberto, Busquets, De Jong; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Ferran (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Manchester United? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!