Having overturned a 2-0 deficit in the previous round against Paris Saint-Germain, they will have the belief that they can do something similar again. But Barcelona at home are a different beast – they are unbeaten in 30 straight European games at the Camp Nou.
Here’s a look at the talking points for United as they look to break that run.
POGBA NEEDS TO BACK UP THE TALK
Paul Pogba had a decent game on Saturday, not just because he scored two penalties – without the funky run-up – but because he was actually trying to dictate play in midfield and demanding the ball, even if it didn’t always work.
After the game, he was candid about the team’s performance, acknowledging that they would need to improve against Barcelona. He’s also been quoted saying that United should believe they can pull off a comeback, regardless of how good their opponents are.
Which is true, of course – a side that has won away at Juventus and PSG this season, the latter result a historic, miraculous win that got them into this round, should believe they can repeat the feat at the Camp Nou. But for them to do it, they’ll need their best player on his best form.
Pogba often talks a good game. Now, he needs to back that up.
Pogba: “A Champions League quarter-final is just beautiful. We just have to enjoy it, give our best and trust ourselves. The game is not done, it's not closed. I know it's Barcelona, we're playing in their home, but it's never closed. It's still 90 minutes.” #mufc [Mail]— United Xtra (@utdxtra) April 14, 2019
WILL SOLSKJAER DITCH THREE-AT-THE-BACK FORMATION?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken to deploying three at the back in recent big games, with mixed results. It worked in the comeback against PSG, but in other games, it’s left United’s defence looking confused and vulnerable. The players aren’t used to the formation and it shows.
It’s likely that United’s poor defending is exactly why Solskjaer has opted to add a defender to his formation, but after it backfired against Wolves two weeks ago and wasn’t quite effective last week against Barcelona, perhaps it’s time to ditch the experiment and revert to a back four.
Plus, United need to score, and that urgency should bring them out of their shell. Playing an attacking formation against Barcelona is fraught with risk, but does Solskjaer have any other choice?
UNITED’S ATTACK NEEDS TO START FIRING AGAIN
Though United acquitted themselves well in the first leg, for that to be a sign of their potential rather than a missed opportunity their attack needs to start firing again.
Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Romelu Lukaku have managed a combined three goals in United’s last six games, with the scoring runs they’d enjoyed earlier in Solskjaer’s reign having disappeared into memory. Lukaku is scoreless in five straight appearances and Martial has managed one in his last seven, though Rashford at least is in some semblance of form, scoring three in his last six games.
The young Englishman is also probably the least fit at the moment, carrying an injury he picked up in February against Liverpool and looking short of 100% since then. He needs his colleagues to regain their touch in front of goal; otherwise, the man who scored the winning penalty in Paris will be fighting a lone battle.
Paul Pogba #mufc's top scorer again on 16 goals. Eight of them have been penalties. Lukaku's got 11 goals fewer than he had at this stage last season.— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) April 13, 2019
Camp Nou plays host to the English outfit who must overturn a 1-0 deficit following victory for the Catalans at Old Trafford last week.
Here, we look at the key tactics Valverde may employ.
Ousmane Dembele’s likely return to the starting line-up should see his pace and trickery on the left wing stretch United’s defence, creating space for Lionel Messi when he drifts inside.
The Argentine, along with Luis Suarez, definitely missed the scrambling effect the 21-year-old has on defences during his injury layoff.
The Frenchman’s threat means Jordi Alba’s marauding runs forward from full-back carry more weight as well, bringing his cut-backs for Messi into play. As the game progresses and United begin to commit more numbers forward, Dembele’s searing pace will prove crucial on the counter-attack, something that they sorely lacked during the closing stages at Old Trafford.
Given that United only had 35 per cent of possession at home, it’s conceivable that they may enjoy even less at Camp Nou. For their part, Barcelona must drive home that advantage and ask more questions of the defence.
With Dembele likely to push up with Messi and Suarez in possession, Ivan Rakitic must support the front three in the final third.
During a prolonged spell of controlled passing, the Croatian can take up a number 10 role in behind the attack to create more problems for the visitors. Sergi Roberto can then push up and tuck inside to sit alongside Arthur and Sergio Busquets, maintaining pressure on United.
The Norwegian takes his side to Camp Nou where they must overturn a 1-0 deficit following Barcelona‘s victory at Old Trafford last week.
Here, we look at the key tactics he may employ.
MIDFIELD DOUBLE PIVOT
The tie remains finely poised and a 4-2-3-1 formation may help Solskjaer find the sweet spot between defence and attack. With Nemanja Matic back fit and Scott McTominay rested over the weekend, United could field a double pivot with Paul Pogba given licence to attack ahead of them.
The defensive midfield duo would be tasked with containing Barcelona in the middle of the park while serving as a launching pad for attacks in the transition, unleashing the front four when the opportunity presents itself.
With the energy he possesses, McTominay can even join in the attack on occasion with Matic’s presence offering insurance, especially when the full-backs get involved as well.
CONTAINING BARCA’S LEFT FLANK
A banged-up Lionel Messi was hardly in his element at Old Trafford but even then he managed to produce the decisive moment. Attempts to shadow the Argentine are futile but nullifying the tools he uses most is a viable ploy.
Ousmane Dembele’s likely return to the starting XI should strengthen Barca’s left flank, boosting Messi’s link-up play and service.
Deploying McTominay on the right of a midfield double pivot would help keep Dembele and Jordi Alba in check. Ashley Young was poor in the first leg but should retain his spot as that would allow Diogo Dalot to occupy the right flank ahead of him, offering more cover in defence in tandem with drive and quality delivery in attack.