Europa League knockout round playoffs will be decided this midweek, with the second legs played on Thursday evening. There are some mouth-watering matches on the schedule, and following a dramatic first leg, there’s still plenty to clear up. Followers and armchair fans may find it difficult to decide which game to watch from such a packed card, but there’s only one winner for us, and it comes from the Theatre of Dreams. Manchester United host Barcelona at Old Trafford from 20:00, and with the tie locked at 2-2, we’re in for a gripping game.
Man Utd holds the home advantage and will take confidence from last week’s stunning 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou. That was a difficult game to predict, with both sides capable of winning in Spain, but a four-goal draw seemed a fitting end to what had been such a terrific contest. Football fans were kept on the edge of their seat for the entire 90+ minutes, and there’s plenty more to come. These two giants of European football will go head-to-head once again, and there’s no telling what might happen.
The head-to-head stats concerning Man Utd and Barcelona already makes for fascinating reading. This will be the 15th time the pair have met in competitive action, with the Spanish side dominating over the years. The scores show Barcelona is currently on six wins, with Man Utd offering only half that number and the other five ending in a draw. Barca hasn’t lost to Man Utd since 2008, and that’ll give the visiting fans confidence. Will that unbeaten run continue, or will the Red Devils use their home advantage to stop the rot?
United were second best in Group E
Despite being one of the pre-tournament favourites to win this season’s Europa League, Manchester United had to be content with finishing as best of the rest in Group E. The English Premier League side ended as runners-up behind surprise but deserved winners Real Sociedad who won five and lost once. United posted the same tally of five wins and a defeat but finished with a positive seven-goal tally when the Spaniards went one better. It was a close-run contest, but United could have no complaints. It’s obvious that they haven’t yet hit top form at this level.
United traveled to the Camp Nou last week hoping to score an upset win over a team with their eyes firmly set on winning the La Liga title after being eliminated from the Champions League. That match remained goalless at the break before Alonso struck on 50 minutes to give his side the lead. It didn’t last long, cut out by Marcus Rashford less than two minutes later. United was then forced to swallow some of their own medicine after going 2-1 ahead when a Kounde own goal handed them a 2-1 lead on the road, but there was to be one final twist in the tale when Raphinha equalised on 76 minutes. The tie now hangs in the balance.
Since battling to an impressive draw in Spain, Man Utd returned with a Premier League tussle with Leicester City on Sunday as they pushed to go four games unbeaten. That match would’ve taken a bit from the legs of the hosts, but changes were made to the squad, and it’s at this time of year that strength and depth become crucial. United boasts one of the biggest and most talented player pools in European football, and it’s begging to show as they put together a strong run of form at the business end of the campaign. They’ll be hoping to score a home win over a huge name and earn the confidence needed to challenge Arsenal and Man City for the Premier League trophy.
Barca dropped the ball
Barcelona was the pre-match favourites, with many respected TV pundits and odd-makers to win the first leg against Man Utd. They are flying in La Liga, and the home advantage was considered enough to see them bag a crucial win in the first leg. But it wasn’t to be. Games at this level in knockout football rarely follow the script, and Barcelona knows they came close to losing that game. They must improve if they are to eliminate Man Utd and march on to the next round. Do they have another gear?
There can be no denying that Barcelona is a weaker team following the departure of Lionel Messi to PSG last season. Still, the team’s recovery has been impressive in this campaign. Most Real Madrid fans expected their team to build on last season’s La Liga triumph and dominate the competition for years to come, but they have been forced into a re-think. Barca is top of Liga, enjoys a cushion over the chasing pack, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, they are getting stronger.
We last saw Barca in La Liga action on Sunday when they enjoyed a home match against Cadiz. That wasn’t nearly as demanding on the squad’s fitness levels as Man Utd’s trip to the King Power, but they must now travel to England. Barcelona must be at their very best to have any chance of progressing, especially with the game level after the first leg. Do they have the character to swing this tie in their favour? We don’t have the answer to that question yet, but it’ll be great fun to find out on Thursday.
Man Utd v Barcelona prediction
Man Utd will be backed by a capacity crowd that knows what’s at stake here. Both United and Barca know they have bigger fish to fry in trying to win their respective league titles, but the first leg showed how much the managers want to win this game and the trophy.
Europa League odds
22bet members can place bets on Man Utd to win this game at 2.28 while Barcelona is 3.46 for a win on the road. The draw can be backed at 3.07.
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