The encounter at Old Trafford promises to be one of the biggest tests in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s young managerial career.
Here, we analyse the key tactics he may employ to get the better of Ernesto Valverde.
Click here for Barcelona’s key tactics.
Maintaining a compact shape and cutting out passing lanes particularly through the middle will be paramount to United’s attempts of containing Barcelona.
The absences of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera only make the system even more necessary. Scott McTominay and Fred will be tasked with replicating their dogged displays away to PSG in the previous round while Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard offer more drive and creativity going forward.
McTominay’s role will be crucial as the 22-year-old must operate as a sweeper ahead of the back four while paying special attention to his left where a centrally-drifting Lionel Messi may target pockets of space that could appear behind Pogba should the Frenchman not be as defensively diligent.
A diamond system will also enable United to pose a significant threat on the counter attack. With a two-pronged attack, it’s a strategy that worked exceptionally against Chelsea and Tottenham.
With Pogba on the left of the diamond, he can be available deep enough to receive the ball and try to hit one of either Romelu Lukaku or Marcus Rashford early.
The Belgian offers options for flick-ons or even to hold the ball up while his strike partner would be the chief threat in behind. If neither pass is on, Lingard could prove key in the transition, driving forward before linking up with the front men.
Barcelona have been vulnerable this season to sides who haven’t been afraid to go from back to front quickly and Solskjaer will be confident his side possesses the weapons in their armoury for such an assault.
As someone who has featured for both teams, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be watching the two-legged clash with interest. The Swedish international believes that Paul Pogba and Lionel Messi are the two players who can make a difference for their respective sides in this crucial tie.
Although it’s a team sport, the striker believes that both the players have enough quality to make the difference single-handedly.
“I think it will be a very interesting game. Two big teams, two big clubs playing against each other,” Ibrahimovic told Barcelona’s official website.
“Both teams with great history and it will be exciting to see and fantastic players in each team. Let’s see who will be the strongest on the day. Obviously, Messi makes the difference in each game he plays, it’s no secret. I think for United, you have Pogba making the difference there.
“It will be more of a battle between Messi and Pogba, even if it’s a collective sport. I think in these games it’s all about the teams, not an individual player, but these are the players that make the difference so it will be interesting.”
Naby Keita’s strike took a big deflection to spark celebrations at Anfield as early as the fifth minute before Trent Alexander-Arnold set up Roberto Firmino to make it 2-0 to the hosts less than 20 minutes later.
Eder Militao, the highly-rated young centre-back who signed for Real Madrid in January for a reported €50m, was in action against the Reds before he begins his career in Spain from next season.
He had a tough test against Mohamed Salah and here, we analyse his performance.
Passes – 23
Pass accuracy – 78.3%
Tackles – 6
Interceptions – 2
Clearances – 4
Blocks – 2
Fouls – 0
Dispossessed – 1
Militao had his hands full right from the start with a lively Salah to contend with. Porto as a unit were a bit erratic, looking to attack Liverpool with quick forward passes. However, that usually meant the hosts were allowed opportunities to win possession back swiftly and were usually successful.
The front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Firmino were able to come to life during numerous transitions. Militao had to be on his toes and largely coped well with Salah’s threat though he did seem to suffer from lapses in concentration when there were runs made off the ball.
Playing on the left of a central defensive three for Porto, Militao had the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with Salah but held his own in what was arguably the most captivating battle on the pitch.
Whenever the Egyptian ran at him, he positioned his body well and was equal to the attacker’s dribbling, thwarting him time and again. It’s no surprise that he won a six tackles, more than any other team-mate.
While he came out on top when facing Salah head on, it was his awareness that was lacking when the Liverpool forward ran off his shoulder or drifted inside. While Militao can’t be expected to shadow Salah all over the field, he failed to hand him off to a team-mate and when he allowed the forward to roam unmarked, he often failed to pick up Trent Alexander-Arnold’s run on the outside.
There was one moment when Salah gave him the slip with a little feint, allowing a pass to run across him and then chase after it in behind which really exposed the Portuguese.
There’s some good for Madrid to work with but unfortunately, Militao seems to exhibit the same shortcomings that so many Los Blancos defenders have struggled with in the past. He has great attributes and is a fine athlete. He is capable of making eye-catching interventions as well but it’s the finer aspects of defending where he’s found wanting. The ability to suss out danger and be a step ahead of a striker is where he does not impress.