A Battle of Epic Proportions Begins: United v Barcelona

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This game featuring Manchester United and FC Barcelona kicks off the start of the UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals

Get ready for some great football, big names, and fantastic entertainment. This is the first of eight games in this round, and this tie will be decided over two legs; the first at Old Trafford (Manchester) and the second at Camp Nou.

The remaining La Liga team is one of the greatest ever, is it enough?

FC Barcelona is the only remaining team from La Liga after both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid were the eliminated. Barcelona would love to use this opportunity to reduce the gap in Champions League trophies. Right now Barcelona trail by eight wins to Real Madrid. Barcelona are one of the bigger favorites for this competition and they’ve lived up to the name so far with very little resistance.

Barcelona have a decent (11 points) cushion over both Atletico and Real Madrid. Barcelona really haven’t found much resistance in the domestic either with only 2 losses. The next closest competition (Atletico) has five and nearly the same number of draws as well. While they don’t want to let off the gas, there’s really not much chance they aren’t already in the Champions League for the next season.

Shockingly (except… not), Barcelona’s dominance has continued so far in the Champions League. They are averaging just shy of three goals per game and so far they have conceded six total in eight games. I think if this form continues it’ll be very difficult for United, de Gea hadn’t been in the same form as years passed. If Barcelona can keep a clean sheet, it will put astronomical pressure on Manchester United, which they haven’t been particularly successful with.

Players to watch:

– Lionel Messi: Messi is another player in the category of the top players, possibly ever. The level of his domination is made evident by the fact that he has 33 goals in La Liga. If that’s not enough, he adds 12 more assists to have scored or have a hand in more than 50% of the team’s total goals. This form only continues in the Champions League where he’s averaging a goal per appearance along with 3 more goals. Whenever you think about Barcelona, Messi comes to mind for obvious reasons; don’t expect this match to be any different. Manchester United have been poor against players that are good at dribbling; especially if they have to use a less than ideal line up.

– Philippe Coutinho: After his big money move from Liverpool many people have written him off. Others talk about his plummeting transfer value, but in the Champions League Coutinho has been a good distributor. He has more assists in eight Champions League appearances than in 29 La Liga ones, although he has three more goals there. That puts him tied for the top distributor on the team, and he should be looking to put some good balls in for Messi and Suarez.

– Luis Suarez: Suarez has flown slightly under the radar beneath Ronaldo and Messi. However, he’s put together a very respectable 20 goal season for FC Barcelona. Despite his goal numbers in La Liga, he’s taken a bit of a backseat providing only a couple assists. I don’t think that a 20-goal league scorer really makes it through an entire Champions League campaign goalless. I think he’ll get some good service in this game and may even get on the scoresheet with a goal or assist.

Is the Ole-effect enough to send the Red Devils gunning for the next round?

Transfer rumors have already started to be a major point of discussion for United fans after some less than impressive losses. With the top-four beginning to slip away, this may be United’s opportunity to remain in the premiere Continental competition. If (and it’s a sizable if) they win the Champions League, they would automatically qualify for next season’s competition. Not to mention if this were to happen the fourth-placed English team would have their spot pulled out from under them.

This team has been all over the place this season to the point where it’s hard to determine if they will show up at all. Under Mourinho, they looked like the second-best team in nearly all circumstances. Ole sorted out the Red Devils form, at least temporarily, but now even he hs seeing a dip. The team was right on the verge of finding a top-four place, just in time to sink to a few losses. They’ve left Mourinho’s park the bus philosophy in favor of a more attacking one, but their weaknesses still haven’t been solved.

True to the discussion above, there’s been some mountain-highs and some valley-lows in a very short amount of time. Leg one against PSG brought out concerns only to have them overcome in leg two with a much improved (but still lucky) performance. I think it’s a whole new level of competition with Barcelona and falling behind early will likely have a very different result. Manchester United has scored ten goals across their eight games played, but have only allowed 6. Manchester United will be free of any disciplinary suspensions, but will still have some players on the injury list. Currently, the team has the following players injured: Eric Bailly, Antonio Valencia, Nemanja Matic (questionable), and Ander Herrera. Although having returned to training, Alexis Sanchez is not expected to be in consideration.

Players to Watch:

– Romelu Lukaku: I think most people would be very surprised to hear that Lukaku is the leading scorer for this team. He’s not had the greatest season with only 12 goals on the season. Despite that, he’s added two more in the Champions League as well as an assist. Depending on the specifics of the lineup that Solskjær rolls out, he will likely be supported by Pogba. Pogba can provide brilliant service for Lukaku, but it’s still up to Lukaku to make the most of his chances.

– Chris Smalling: I don’t think I’ve featured more than a couple defenders in this section and I’m not going to lie, I might end up regretting this one. After the public statements from Smalling and the prospect of taking on a Messi to which he’s reportedly responded with “bring it on“. Defense has been one of the weak points for United this season, so to challenge one of the best players in the world; it’s either a fools errand, or he feels like they have a solid plan. If United make a match of this, it will take a concerted effort to slow (or bottle) Messi.

– Paul Pogba: Pogba is second on the team in goals scored to our first player to watch, Romelu Lukaku. However Pogba has provided nine assists to his teammates. He seems to be a bit of a barometer for how this team will fare, it he comes out with a swagger and focus the team will too. United will need a monster game on the attacking side of the ball, because I don’t see a clean sheet coming here. There’s lots of rumors abounding in regards to Pogba leaving United this summer, either for Real Madrid or for Juventus. This would be a fantastic opportunity to either secure himself another United contract or dramatically increase his perceived value.

What to expect in this Champions League game:

I’ve alluded to my thoughts on this one, I just can’t see a scenario where United keep a clean sheet in this one. Barcelona just has too much firepower, I think Manchester United will have to take a some risks in getting forward to make it a game. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Messi score with a Suarez assist. If Smalling can hold him to one goal and no assists — I think it’s a win, but United will still have to keep up.

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Last Updated: April 9, 2019

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