Manchester United vs. Barcelona, Wednesday 10th April, 20:00
The 3-1 second-leg comeback over PSG a month ago is undoubtedly the highlight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s brief reign at the club to date, though three defeats in the four outings since is also unquestionably the low point so far.
In mitigation, these were challenging fixtures all on the road versus Arsenal and twice against a Wolves side that have experienced success after success when facing the ‘Big Six’ this term, though that is cold comfort ahead of the visit of Barcelona. The Catalan giants are of course footballing royalty, though they certainly beatable.
They’re only W3-D5-L1 on their travels in Europe since the beginning of last season, with their last away knockout win an incredible three years ago now, while their 4-4 stalemate with Villarreal in their last road trip demonstrated that they can be highly vulnerable at the back.
Cutting off the supply to Lionel Messi will be critical as this isn’t the same Barcelona of yesteryear. Indeed, gone are the days of Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta and the passing carousel that Sir Alex Ferguson once spoke of.
They’re a more direct team these days, but crucially there’s an over-reliance upon the Argentine (and to a certain extent striker partner Luis Suarez) to deliver the goods.
However, you can’t keep Messi quiet for 90 minutes (let alone 180 over two legs) and so we’ll need to be landing our own punches at the other end to make it through to the semi-finals.
Fortunately, there is hope in that regard, with Barca’s high press leaving room on the counter. We’ve enjoyed our greatest success playing that way under Solskjaer, and we’ll need to be brave going forwards as we’re not getting through the round without scoring a few of our own.
A horrendous injury crisis made the turnaround against PSG even more iremarkable, but we have few remaining issues in that department.
Alexis Sanchez is definitely out but wouldn’t have got into the team anyway, but while Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian all have slight niggles, only the first two of those would get selected and both are excepted to feature in the starting line-up in any case.
Meanwhile, Barca are only without Rafinha, with the bit-part player suffering an avalanche of injury problems in recent seasons, while Ousmane Dembele is reportedly fit for the bench having been sidelined for the past month.
Barcelona’s ability to slip up on the road gives us hope and we’ll need a positive result to take to the Camp Nou to stand a chance of going through. However, with Barca on the hunt for away goals to take back home for the second leg, plus our ability to hit on the counter, we’re expecting goals.
13 of Barcelona’s last 19 encounters with English sides since 2009/10 have seen at least three, while nine of these saw four or more. That record is even more pronounced when the game was played in England with seven out of nine featuring a minimum of three strikes as five saw four or more.
*all odds are subject to change
Over 2.5 Goals at 1.68