The Catalans are well on course to complete the domestic double having taken an 11-point lead in La Liga while they play Valencia in the Copa del Rey final. However, they’ll be enticed by the prospect of securing another treble.
Here, we analyse the key tactics Ernesto Valverde may employ to get the better of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Click here for United’s key tactics.
ARTHUR ON THE BALL
Barcelona are bound to dominate possession but how they utilise it will determine their success in Manchester. As such, Arthur will be pivotal to scripting what could be a vital away victory. United will try to close down the visitors aggressively as soon as they enter the final third but deeper in midfield, the Catalans should enjoy some time on the ball. It’s not just his vision and passing that makes Arthur dangerous but his outstanding ability to control the tempo of a game.
He’s capable of exchanging passes patiently in midfield before fizzing the ball into the feet of Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez. As things grow increasingly congested through the middle, he’s the one most adept at spreading play by spraying passes out to the advancing full-backs.
COUTINHO OVER MALCOM
With Ousmane Dembele not entirely fit for this encounter, Valverde may opt for Coutinho to start on the left of the front three ahead of Malcom. The former Liverpool star is accustomed to the English game but more importantly, would aid Barca’s attempts to dictate play in a congested midfield.
Coutinho can drop short to link up with his compatriot Arthur, – something he does more effectively than Malcom – giving the visitors a numerical advantage on that side of the midfield. His movement centrally could also draw Ashley Young infield, allowing the marauding Jordi Alba to have a free run down the outside.
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.”