The biggest occasion of the season is looming for both Barcelona and Manchester United, with the two European heavyweights set to take each other on in less than 24 hours.
Barcelona, Champions League dropouts this season, welcome the Reds to the Spotify Camp Nou in the round-of-32 Europa League play-off round.
This fixture has set the scene for some of football’s most memorable moments and although it is not in the Champions League this time, stakes are still extremely high and both teams are treating the two-legged affair with huge importance.
Speaking ahead of the game, manager Erik ten Hag discussed Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong and now, the verdict is in from another star of the Catalan club.
Raphinha, who joined the La Liga leaders from Leeds United last summer, has hailed his old rivals as ‘one of the best’ clubs in the world.
“I expect a tough match. It’s one of the best matches you can play, I hope it will be a good one,” he is quoted as saying by Barca Universal. “They are a difficult team and we know we need to win.
“We are ready for the match, not only against United, but for the entire season. It’s natural that there is fatigue during this stage of the season, but we are now in our best form and ready for th next stage.
“Manchester United is one of the best clubs in the world. They had a difficult time but they are a great team, and they have great quality players.”
Barcelona’s qualification for next season’s Champions League via their league finish is almost certain and although United are also fairly secure in the Premier League, they may seek security by treating the Europa League as a potential route into Europe’s fine dining table.
Another added incentive is putting an end to United’s six-year wait for silverware, even though they will play the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle at the end of this month.
United’s last trophy-winning campaign ended with winners’ medals in both of those competitions and Ten Hag will be keen to put his side in a position to repeat that feat.