Manchester United still need their best to beat Barcelona in Europa League

Unless you’ve been in hiding in the last few months, you’ll be fully aware of the encouraging strides Manchester United are making under Erik ten Hag, a man former United defender David May thinks can get the Red Devils eventually competing with rivals Manchester City once again.

While there are plenty of positives surrounding the club at the moment, Erik ten Hag’s team faces a huge challenge against another resurgent behemoth in Barcelona in the knockout round play-offs of the Europa League.

Manchester United finished second behind Real Sociedad in their group, resulting in this unmissable encounter coming to fruition. The first leg at the Nou Camp will be followed by a meeting at Old Trafford seven days later, with both sides fancying their chances heading into arguably the most appealing match of the Europa League calendar so far. Both teams certainly possess the quality to reign supreme, with it likely to come down to who rises to the occasion over the two legs.

With both sides heading into the two games in a rich vein of form, it’s a game that will garner attention. There will be endless media stories surrounding both ties, fans will create an atmosphere at home and on the sofa while potentially exploring any live betting opportunities to improve the all-round viewing experience, and there will surely be a number of twists and turns along the way as both sides showcase the improvements they’re making under their emerging managers. Manchester United certainly need to be at their best if they’re to stand any chance of seeing off Barcelona, though, with the Blaugrana offering a number of attacking threats.

Containing Robert Lewandowski will be key

One of the most prolific strikers in Europe over the last decade or so, Robert Lewandowski has continued his goalscoring exploits in Spain after making the switch from Bayern Munich. With 18 goals in all competitions at the time of writing, the Polish goal machine is integral to Barcelona’s chances of success. Stopping the supply to him will be crucial, with the likes of Pedri, Gavi, Frenkie de Jong, former Leeds United player Raphinha, and Ousmane Dembélé likely to be supplying the fox in the box. If Manchester United can produce a high-energy performance and deny any service to Lewandowski, then their chances of victory will certainly increase.

Marcus Rashford could be the star man for United

Marcus Rashford is back to his very best and it’s a pleasure to watch. Barcelona will certainly be looking at how they can nullify the England frontman, with Rashford’s impressive showings resulting in a number of transfer links to the Nou Camp over the years. Xavi will know all about Rashford’s game but containing him is an entirely different matter. While United might have to sacrifice one of Rashford’s supporting attackers to supplement a midfield area of the pitch that could determine the outcome of both matches, the academy graduate is likely to be the main threat over the two legs. As always, service to Rashford is key, particularly in a match where chances might be few and far between. Rashford appears to be up for the challenge these days, though, with this massive clash likely to bring the very best out of him once again.

United must win the midfield battle

As we’ve already touched on, Barcelona’s side contains a number of superb midfield players that are capable of dictating the play and dominating what is a key area of the pitch in any modern-day encounter. While playing on the counterattack might be the tactics deployed by Ten Hag, it will be a necessity to stop Barcelona’s ball players from settling into their rhythm. As such, United’s boss will need to select his most combative and energetic midfield as they attempt to stop the likes of Pedri, Gavi, and De Jong dominating proceedings. Manchester United are certainly capable of seeing off Barcelona over the two-legged affair, though, but it will require a mammoth effort from the team’s midfielders in particular.

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