After a 3-0 win over Leicester City in the Premier League on Sunday, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag apparently told the fans to “make sure you are there” on Thursday for the big game against Barcelona after a scintillating 2-2 draw at Camp Nou last week. Little wonder because this could be a season-defining week for the Red Devils with this second leg UEFA Europa League (UEL) playoffs followed by the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle.
They couldn’t have asked for a better place to be than home for this match, having lost just two of their last 11 UEFA home games (W6, D3) although both were 1-0 against Spanish clubs. The most recent was against Real Sociedad in this UEL campaign, after which they’ve subsequently gone unbeaten in 17 competitive home matches (W15, D2) signaling Old Trafford’s return to the famous fortress that it once was.
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Barça did win on their most recent H2H visit in 2019, but will have to repeat those heroics here without the suspended Gavi and injured Pedri. Manager Xavi Hernandez was ‘proud’ of his side in the first leg which followed up with a 2-0 over Cadiz on Sunday to maintain an eight-point lead at the top in La Liga. That made it an incredible 18-match unbeaten run (W16, D2) and means Barcelona are unlikely to be fazed out by United’s recent home dominance.
Xavi may still be worried about his team’s travels in Europe amid an underwhelming record across their last nine UEFA road trips (W3, D2, L4). The Catalans do not particularly have fond memories of England either with their recent visit ending in a 4-0 thumping defeat at Anfield, their heaviest against any Premier League club.
David De Gea equalled Peter Schmeichel’s record of 180 clean sheets for United over the weekend but would happily trade that for his first-ever H2H shutout. Trying to prevent that will be Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski whose 38 goals in 32 major UEFA matches since the start of 2018/2019 is more likely to than any other player.
Including the reverse fixture, Barcelona have failed to score before halftime in seven of their last 11 UEFA matches.
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