After last week’s exciting first leg at Camp Nou, Manchester United and Barcelona lock horns at Old Trafford on Thursday evening with everything to play for in their Europa League play-off.
The tie is nicely poised at 2-2 following a fantastic game in Spain in which both teams had more than enough chances to win. Manchester United continued their excellent run of form with a 3-0 win over Leicester City in the Premier League at the weekend, while Barcelona went eight points clear of rivals Real Madrid at the summit of La Liga with a 2-0 win over Cadiz.
Without further ado, let us take a look at the three key player battles that could determine the outcome of the titanic European clash between Manchester United and Barcelona.
#Frenkie de Jong vs Casemiro
Barcelona will be without two of their best players against Man United on Thursday. Pedri picked up a thigh injury in the first leg, while Gavi is suspended following a booking in the second half. In the absences of two Spanish young talents, Frenkie de Jong will have to take the responsibility of organising the Barcelona midfield.
Frenkie de Jong is a fantastic player with excellent passing ability and reading of the game. The Dutchman’s vision and incisive passing could be crucial in unlocking the Man United backline. That is why Casemiro’s role in midfield becomes even more important for Man United.
Casemiro has been key in the Red Devils’ resurgence under Erik ten Hag this season, contributing hugely to both in defence and attack. The Brazilian will look to control the game for the hosts and must stop De Jong from influencing Barcelona’s play in the final third.
#Marcus Rashford vs Ronald Araujo
Undoubtedly one of the most in-form strikers in world football, Marcus Rashford has been ruthless in front of goal this season. He has scored 24 goals in 36 appearances so far, including the equaliser to make it 1-1 against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the first leg.
Revitalised under Ten Hag’s coaching, Rashford is in the best form of his career at the club and has netted 16 goals in his last 17 games. The England international’s pace, movement and link-up play have caused problems for many teams this season and Ten Hag will want his star man to wreck Barcelona’s defence.
If Rashford starts up top in midweek, Ronald Araujo will have his work cut out. Araujo has established himself as one of Europe’s best defenders in the last 12-15 months, and his pace and physicality will be crucial in central defence to contain the red-hot Rashford.
If the Uruguayan can keep the Man United forward quiet, Barcelona’s chances of dumping United out of the Europa League will become higher.
#Robert Lewandowski vs Raphael Varane
Robert Lewandowski is a player Ten Hag’s Man United must do everything possible to keep in check. The veteran striker has netted 24 goals in 29 appearances for Barcelona this season, including scoring the second goal in the recent 2-0 win over Cadiz.
Lewandowski, one of the best goalscorers of this century, is a lethal striker, and if anyone holds the key to unlocking a tight-knit defence, it is the Pole. Raphael Varane will be tasked with keeping the Polish striker quiet. Varane is a solid and assured defender whose strong partnership with Lisandro Martinez has been a big reason for the Red Devils’ tight defence.
With Martinez back after serving his suspension and expected to partner Varane in central defence, Lewandowski must work hard to get past the rock-solid duo.
I am Rohan Sengupta from one of the busiest cities in India, Mumbai. A Journalism graduate with a keen interest in sports, football is something I simply cannot live without and writing, discussing and analyzing the game is what I do 24*7.