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manchester united vs barcelona preview stats tips 23/02/2023 sport-preview

Manchester United vs Barcelona – Preview Stats & Tips 23/02/2023

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Manchester United vs Barcelona: Thursday, 8:00pm

After a pulsating first leg at the Camp Nou last week, Manchester United and Barcelona will do battle in an intriguing second leg on Thursday.

Last Thursday’s Europa League play-off knockout encounter ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw after an enthralling second half.

Barcelona dominated possession and made a third more passes, but the shot count was level at 18-18. And it was United who would have come away thinking they should have won after Marcus Rashford’s second-half performance saw them score twice.

They were pegged back, though, and had to settle for a draw – but they will be more than confident of finishing the job at Old Trafford.

United ran out 3-0 winners over Leicester at the weekend in a game in which they shaded the possession count. Whether they will be happy doing that against Barca remains to be seen.

Barca boss Xavi is well aware of United’s attacking threat on the counter-attack, making reference to it last week.

“They play marvellous counter-attacking football, Rashford getting in behind, Bruno [Fernandes] finding long passes. We wanted to calm things down from the constant end to end, but United are very good at playing the way they want to,” said Xavi after the 2-2 draw.

Barca are a possession team. In fact they have recorded more possession away from home (62.1%) than at home in LaLiga this season. They also had more possession (53%) away in the 2-0 defeat at Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage.

They also claimed a massive 72% possession away at Inter Milan, but again, lost 1-0. Their only LaLiga defeat of the season came in the 3-2 loss against fierce rivals Real Madrid – where again they dominated possession.

It could well be a similar story at Old Trafford with United expected to play on the counter-attack, while Barca look to methodically manipulate the ball.

Jules Kounde and Marcos Alonso tried to play out from the back, but Rashford’s speed on the press made it risky and the same will likely apply again.

United’s collective press was good, as per UEFA’s Technical Observer report. United tried to stop balls into the Barcelona midfield and instead forced them wide.

The distances between United’s defensive, midfield and attacking departments were expertly  short, making United a difficult team to play through.

But United still offered a considerable threat with Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Fernandes – and the speed of their breaks was a key factor.

United had five shots within 15 seconds of a turnover in Catalonia – and we can expect more of the same at Old Trafford.

Not only will Barca have to deal with the most in-form attacker in Europe in Rashford, but they will also be without the injured Pedri and suspended Gavi.

Sergio Busquets will return and Franck Kessie could start in Barca’s three-man midfield. Those enforced changes will weaken the visitors, especially in their brave counter-pressing style.

Xavi will insist on Barca trying to play through United’s compact centre field with Wout Weghorst a key workhorse in nullifying Barca.

It could be those changes that tip the balance in favour of United and it could be the swift breaks led by Rashford – who has scored 16 goals in 17 games since the World Cup – that kill off a Barca team who are unbeaten in 18 matches.

Key stats

  • Man Utd have seen under 2.5 goals in their last three home matches against Barcelona in all competitions
  • Man Utd are unbeaten at home since September
  • Erik ten Hag’s side have lost just twice in 21 home games in all competitions this season
  • Barcelona are on an 18-match unbeaten run in all competitions
  • Barcelona have lost twice away at Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in the CL this season
  • Barcelona have lost just one of 22 LaLiga matches this season

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