Barcelona vs Man Utd – Analysis, Prediction, Team News
Thursday 16th February 2023
As part of our Europa League Predictions, we take examine Man Utd’s visit to Camp Nou. Both sides have improved immensely since the European group stages – Barcelona in particular. Who will prevail? Read on with our Barcelona vs Man Utd prediction.
Barcelona (Champions League Form)
Barcelona vs Man Utd Match Preview
Barcelona come into this game having been eliminated from Champions League Group C. They were drawn into a tough-looking group with Bayern, Inter, and Viktoria Plzen; the Catalans could only manage one point against the Germans and the Italians. These results left them eliminated with one game to spare. It was a disappointing campaign for Barca, with twelve goals conceded and two thumpings from Bayern.
On the domestic front, Barcelona have been much better. They lead La Liga by 11 points from Real Madrid, having played a game more. They have only dropped seven points all season and are heavy favourites to win the Spanish title. They have only conceded seven goals and have kept 16 clean sheets, which speaks volumes about their defensive prowess. They enter this game in great form and as the favourites for the tie.
Man Utd entered the Europa League in the group stage. After conceding a somewhat contentious penalty and losing the first game of Group E at home to Real Sociedad, they then went on to win their next four games against Sheriff Tiraspol and Omonia. However, Sociedad had won their first five, so United had to win by a two-goal margin in Spain to finish top of the group and avoid this knockout round. Ultimately, they won by one goal and were handed this tie against Barcelona.
United travel to Camp Nou in reasonably good league form. They have been picking up results since the return from the World Cup. The highlight was a 2-1 home victory against rivals Man City. However, in the last five, they have only won two (drawing two and losing one). They come into the game off the back of a victory against Leeds at Elland Road. They sit in third place, five points behind Arsenal, having played two more games. They may be dreaming of an outside shot at the title.
Barcelona and Utd now meet in Spain in the first leg of this knockout tie. Barca have had the better of the recent matches, progressing 4-0 on aggregate in the Champions League in 2019. However, they no longer have Lionel Messi, the architect of that victory. Utd may feel confident in this first leg.
Injuries and Suspensions
Might Not Play:
Will Not Play: Busquets, Dembele
Might Not Play: Antony
Will Not Play: Martinez, Sabitzer, Eriksen, Van de Beek, McTominay, Martial
Barcelona vs Man Utd Lineups (Predicted)
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Balde, Christensen, Araujo, Kounde; De Jong, Pedri, Kessie; Gavi, Lewandowski, Raphinha
Man Utd (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Malacia, Shaw, Varane, Dalot; Fred, Casemiro; Rashford, Fernandes, Sancho; Weghorst
Barcelona vs Man Utd Analysis
Barca’s Defensive Record
As stated, while Barcelona shipped goals in the Champions League, they have a fantastic record in La Liga, only conceding seven in 21 games. They are top of the shots conceded table, too, with only 43 shots on target coming against them. Barca are strong defensively and concede few chances. Crucial in this have been four players at the back – goalkeeper Ter Stegen and defenders Christensen, Araujo, and Kounde.
Ter Stegen has been inspired, making saves when he has to and being fantastic with his distribution (as always). The centre-back pairing has taken care of most strikers this season, with Araujo being very aggressive and brilliant at tackling and man-marking. Kounde is more of a centre-back playing right-back, and he offers balance – while Barca overload with the left-back (either Alba or Balde), Kounde plays more restrained. This tactic worked and was especially effective until Dembele got injured – Barca would use the left to attack and be a little more constrained on the right. Their ability to maintain possession also allows them to be defensively strong. After all, if the opponents don’t have the ball, they can’t score.
Barca’s Passing, Pressing and Attacking Ability
So how have Barca used their possession (an average of 63 per cent in the league) effectively? They play similarly in midfield to the great Guardiola team, which used Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, and current coach Xavi so efficiently. Busquets is still playing (though out of this first leg), and he acts as the metronome for the team, taking the ball from the centre-backs and trying to play short passes in midfield.
De Jong is also important (after the unrequited interest of the opponents here), and he is very press-resistant and good at breaking lines with his passing and runs. Young sensations Pedri and Gavi have been fantastic and can control the ball against most opposition. Barca get the ball down in midfield and play their passes – they have completed over 12,000 in the league to wear down their opponents. Out of possession, they are terrific at pressing and winning the ball back quickly, with Gavi playing as a quasi-left-winger to put pressure on the opposition right-back. This ability, both on and off the ball, allows them to control games.
Man Utd could be better at playing through a press and being accomplished in tight spaces. They are a more direct team with several players who can be flustered when closed down (Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Fred and others). Barca will seek to pass around United and stop potential transitions at the source. The Catalans will try to play the game in the Utd half and pin the English team back to prevent them from breaking towards the Barca goal. Barca will seek to find little gaps that their creative midfielders and wingers Torres, Fati, and Raphinha can exploit to either try to score themselves or assist central striker Lewandowski. The Pole is ageing but remains a deadly threat in the box.
United’s Threat in Transition
As stated, United are a direct team and a massive threat on the counter-attack with the fast players in their side – Rashford, Garnacho, and to a lesser extent, Antony and Sancho. If United can win the ball in deeper areas as Barca apply the pressure, they can transition in the blink of an eye. They can use the creative and incisive passing of Fernandes to release the tricky wingers. Weghorst is also a pressing player and he will try to bear down on Barca’s defenders and Ter Stegen.
We believe Casemiro is crucial in this game – the former Real Madrid man has plenty of experience playing against Barcelona in this stadium. His intelligent positioning and ability to intercept and win the ball could set the springboard for United to attack. They are a better team when the Brazilian is in the side, and his composure will be crucial.
When the Barca press is activated, the United defenders must be brave at the back and not lose the ball in dangerous positions. Martinez will be a big miss in this respect, but if they can beat the press, the spaces will open up. This situation is where Sancho, Rashford, and Garnacho are deadly – when they can run with the ball, make their way into the box, play cutbacks, or come inside to shoot. The United three supporting Weghorst can create magic moments from nothing, and Barcelona will be mindful of their threat.
This game pits two European heavyweights that have been dormant in recent years against each other. Barcelona haven’t won the Champions League since 2015 or La Liga since 2019. United last won the premier European trophy in 2008, and this season will mark a decade without a Premier League title. However, both clubs are improving under new management. Ten Hag has made United a better team, and Xavi has used his considerable experience and tactical savvy to transform Barcelona. This tie is possibly more fitting for the final than an early knockout round, so it should attract plenty of interest and be the game to watch.
As for who will win, this writer believes that while United have improved, the hype around the club is out of proportion with the actual level of said improvement. The English media is behaving like United are undoubtedly back. In contrast, we still see some of the same issues as before – being outplayed in some games and depending on counter-attacks and moments of brilliance, even if it is better than before. The overreliance on Casemiro in midfield is also not ideal. They are doing well, but we are not yet convinced.
United certainly have a chance of getting back to the top in England. However, they must temper their expectations and not get carried away; they cannot run before they can walk. Barca are the better-coached team with better players. They are also further along in their development. Barca have home advantage, and we see them taking a lead to Old Trafford next week. United are undoubtedly a threat in attack, so we will back them to score a goal, which could be crucial if they can win at home.
Barcelona 2-1 Man Utd
Barcelona vs Man Utd Betting Tip – Barcelona Odds:
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