BARCELONA: Barcelona will await the arrival of Manchester United early this Friday morning in a clash that has twice graced the final of the Champions League but this week is somewhat embarrassing in the play-off round of the Europa League.
The Catalan side were knocked out of Europe’s premier competition at the first hurdle as Manchester United finished as runners-up in their Europa League group stage, pitting the two against each other.
Despite the high status of both teams who once held the title of giant, they are among the most improved teams and are at the best level of performance in the continent.
Barcelona and Manchester United are both being built by great coaches Erik ten Hag and Xavi Hernandez who aim to quickly return to Europe’s elite stage.
The teams last met in 2019 as United slumped after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson while Barcelona’s decline began again.
Five-time Champions League winners Barca won the quarter-final 4-0 on aggregate, but the only player United will likely face near Camp Nou is goalkeeper Andre ter Stegen.
Barcelona have since overhauled their entire squad at their expense last summer, sparking criticism after being knocked out of the Europa League.
Robert Lewandowski is a dangerous striker signed by the Catalan squad while Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen have already confirmed their status as key defenders among the best in Europe.
Barcelona have conceded just seven goals in La Liga this season, keeping 16 clean sheets in 21 games and Xavi’s side are unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions.
Xavi took over the team in November last year and led the team from mid-table to second place in the league.
“It’s been over a year since Xavi came and a lot of things have changed, maybe even the mentality and the way we defend,” Ter Stegen said this week.
“(Xavi) has a plan, maybe it takes longer than expected, but you see the results step by step. We have a better idea to do it on the pitch and this is the key to success.”