Premier League Matchday 35: Tricky Away Trip For Manchester United
As we get ready for a huge Champions League quarter-final clash between Manchester United and Barcelona, we have the perfect people on hand to preview the first leg from the point of view of both sides. Liam Canning and Jason Pettigrove team up to discuss how things may play out at Old Trafford.
Man Utd (Liam Canning): After another disappointing loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester United will have to drastically improve if they are to record a positive result against the high-flying Barcelona.
It is obvious that, even at Old Trafford, Ernesto Valverde’s side are going to dominate possession and dictate play.
As seen in previous big matches over the last few years, Ander Herrera is likely to be the player whose task is to disrupt the distribution lines emanating from Sergio Busquets. If the Spaniard can achieve the same result as he did when going up against Eden Hazard, then the Red Devils have a chance.
The key for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team is not to panic. There is no need to rush into things and the most important aspect of their tactical performance will be to remain compact and rigid when on the back foot.
Where Man United can get joy is on the counter-attack, just as they did in the previous round against Paris Saint-Germain. Through the likes of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, the Red Devils do possess the speed of transitioning from defence into attack – it will just be a case of whether they can execute the balls in behind to catch Barça off guard.
The last time these two teams met – over a decade ago – Manchester United came out on top thanks to a Paul Scholes thunderbolt. If ever there was a time for Pogba to truly show the world his ability to influence matches at the elite level, this would be it.
Barcelona (Jason Pettigrove): Depending on which side of the fence you sit, Ernesto Valverde’s ‘safety first’ approach either deserves plaudits or is a sacrilegious way of playing the beautiful game, given that most supporters align with the Johan Cruyff style.
As always, I’d expect Barça to take the game to their opponents and press at every opportunity. That’s something that PSG did in parts to United, but it was never really sustained enough to cause the Red Devils too many issues.
Trying to withstand it for 90 minutes will be a much harder task.
United do, however, have the luxury of a week without a game whilst Barça have the toughest of fixtures against second-placed Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Looking to wear down United’s players in order to strike later in the game if needed will almost certainly form part of Barça’s game plan.
If Ousmane Dembele is fit for the tie, and he’s back training with the squad, then I’d expect a 4-3-3 formation. Messi and Suarez would complete the front three with a midfield of Busquets, Rakitic and Arthur.
Ter Stegen will be between the posts with a back four (left to right) of Alba, Lenglet, Pique and Semedo.
In terms of tactics, Barça will look to play the ball wide at every opportunity and will aim to capitalise on Dembele’s pace particularly. There’s simply no way the likes of Ashley Young live with him once he’s into his stride.
Suarez has more than enough to keep Smalling occupied and Messi arriving late into the box will cause United problems if they don’t assign a player to go with him each time.
In order to limit the danger that United will have through the centre, I’d expect to see Arthur stick reasonably close to Busquets, shielding the back four, allowing Rakitic to shuttle back and forth as needed.
Man Utd (Liam Canning): Either Pogba or Rashford. Both have been carrying slight knocks over the past few weeks and their performances have dipped, but on the stage of a Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona, performances rise.
If the France international can release the ball over the top at the earliest opportunity possible, Rashford’s pace and nous to get around Gerard Piqué will be enough to have a clear sight on goal.
Barcelona (Jason Pettigrove): Need you ask the question?!
Lionel Messi is in the form of his life and that’s bad news for United. He was man of the match at Old Trafford in 2008, and it was only through luck and a Paul Scholes special that Barça lost that day.
He will dictate the visitors’ rhythm and patterns of play, and whilst United are likely to put more than one man on him to dilute his goal scoring threat, as we’ve seen time and again this season, he’s more than capable of bypassing them and opening up the defence with a slide rule pass or two.
Man Utd (Liam Canning): The defence. Unfortunately, it is all over the shop. There appears to be no cohesion in the back line and they can barely withstand pressure from the likes of Wolves. Barcelona will look to wear United down and spin them around, which they have a great chance of doing.
Luke Shaw has shown more attacking intent this season than he had previously, but Ashley Young has noticeably struggled to create anything down the right-hand side. The crosses are poor and he makes it easy for the opposition to thwart the danger and turn it into a quick breakaway.
With Barça’s flourishing attack, United could quite easily find themselves two or three behind by half time if they are not at the races.
Barcelona (Jason Pettigrove): I’d have to say the weakness is against pace down the flanks.
The way in which Barça play ensures that their full-backs, Alba and Roberto/Semedo, push on as a supplementary attacking presence.
Against teams who are quick on the counter, and with pace in wide areas, it creates problems because it’s sometimes difficult for the full-backs to get back.
As a consequence, the centre-backs are pulled out of position in order to cover, and that brings its own issues.
Man Utd (Liam Canning): A draw. The easy answer is a win, of course, and that would be something every Manchester United fan hopes for, but a draw is more realistic.
Barcelona are unbeaten in their last five, but they do have a chink in their armour which was highlighted in their 4-4 draw against Villarreal last Tuesday. Their next match, against Atlético Madrid, will also be telling.
Solskjær produced the goods away in Paris to get to the quarter-finals, and now he needs to hold tight and be patient against Valverde’s men. There will be chances to score and Manchester United simply have to take them.
Barcelona (Jason Pettigrove): A score draw wouldn’t be disastrous, although Ernesto Valverde will absolutely go for the win and will want to keep a clean sheet.
It’s a game where you’d predict goals and if Barça can strike early it will force United to come out and play, and that’s where they can be picked off by the Catalans swift passing carousels.
An away goal is a must because a goalless draw or even a loss to nil is a dangerous result to take back to Camp Nou.
Listen to Liam and Jason’s podcast: Eye On LaLiga 07.04.19 Champions League Quarter Final Preview: