How a midfield double pivot can help Man United pull off a famous comeback against Barcelona

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to mastermind another successful away leg result if Manchester United are to avoid elimination from the Champions League on Tuesday night.

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.

Click here to read Barca’s key tactics.

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.

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Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen believes 1-0 advantage over Man United is a dangerous one

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Barcelona No1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen believes their one-goal advantage over Manchester United is “not enough to defend” ahead of the return leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

The Spanish champions walked away from Old Trafford with a 1-0 win following Luke Shaw’s early own goal but Ter Stegen is wary of a United side that have already upset the odds this season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side trailed 2-0 at the halfway stage of their last-16 fixture against Paris St Germain, only to stage a remarkable comeback at the Parc des Princes to reach the last-eight.

Ter Stegen said: “The good thing is that we play differently to PSG but they are really dangerous.

“They are very quick. You always have to have be alert. I think it’s they key to win this very difficult game. They know how to play in a very calm way. They made things really hard for us (in the first leg).

“The result we got in Manchester is dangerous because it’s a very small advantage, it’s not enough to defend.

“We need to step forward and create risky situations. We have to keep the ball and create good chances and score.”

Ter Stegen’s cautiousness could be, in part, due to Barca’s shocking downfall against Roma at the same stage of the competition last season.

Barca were given a few nervy moments by United in the first-leg.

Barca were given a few nervy moments by United in the first-leg.

The Catalan giants seemed to be coasting after claiming a 4-1 victory at the Nou Camp but they were left shell-shocked as their Italian opponents rallied to win 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to progress on away goals.

Speaking about the stunning turn of events, Ter Stegen added: “It was hard of course but it’s another year on, we got over it.

“We don’t want that to happen again. We need to bear it in mind and look forward.”

Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde rested several first-team players at the weekend in an effort to keep them fresh for Tuesday night – but the tactic backfired as they were held to a goalless draw by LaLiga’s bottom club Huesca.

One positive from the fixture was Ousmane Dembele’s return to action after a month on the sidelines because of injury.

The Frenchman played 67 minutes on Saturday and may retain his starting role against United – though Valverde is wary of overburdening the 21-year-old.

“It’s a possibility that he may start, he might not” Valverde said. “The other day he played 60 minutes that is what we wanted.

“We didn’t want him to play that long but he felt OK, we just wanted to have him ready for this game. I’m not sure he will be able to play for 90 minutes.”

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces balancing act as Man United take on a refreshed Barcelona side

Andy West 15/04/2019
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Barcelona host Manchester United for the decisive second leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night, and the Spanish side are clear favourites after earning a 1-0 win at Old Trafford last week.

United have already staged one spectacular comeback to dispose of Paris St Germain in the previous round, but surely they won’t be able to mount another remarkable turnaround this time…or will they?

Will United go for it?

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would undoubtedly settle for a repeat of his most famous visit to the Camp Nou: the 1999 Champions League final, when he pounced to give United the title with the second of two goals in the dying moments against Bayern Munich.

However, Solskjaer surely cannot count upon his team mustering such late heroics again, especially after they already scored in similarly dramatic circumstances to advance to this stage with a stoppage-time penalty at Paris Saint-German. Sooner or later, United’s late luck will run out.

Instead, Solskjaer will have to construct a game plan which gives his team a chance of getting the goal(s) they need before the 90-somethingth minute, and his biggest challenge is balancing the need to score with the equally pressing need to keep Barca out.

The temptation might be for United to sit back and attempt to keep things tight until the final 15 or 20 minutes when they can make a late bid for glory, but few visiting teams at Camp Nou ever prosper by adopting a passive role and letting Barca have the ball. In all probability, United will have to score at least twice rather than nicking a 1-0 and taking their chances in extra time, and Solskjaer must urge his players to show positive attacking intent even though that risks giving Barca the space to take the tie away from them.

Ole gunnar Solskjaer (1)

Dembele back for good?

A similar question, of course, is faced by Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, whose team have to decide between protecting the lead they already have or going all out for the kill. Playing at home with a goal advantage against a relatively limited opponent, the team’s natural instinct will surely be the latter, and Valverde is expected to encourage his team’s attacking endeavours by elevating Ousmane Dembele into the starting line-up following his return from injury.

With his explosive pace, trickery on the ball and eye for a goal, Dembele adds an extra attacking dimension to a Barca team which is otherwise heavily reliant upon interplay between Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, along with the regular forward bursts of Jordi Alba.

Dembele is also a rather dangerous selection from a defensive viewpoint due to his tendency to take risks in possession and consequently lose the ball and expose his team to counter-attacks. Assuming Barca progress it will be fascinating to see whether Valverde trusts the young Frenchman sufficiently to play him from the start of the semi-final away leg, but leaving him on the bench for this meeting with United would surely be a touch too negative even for a naturally cautious coach like Valverde.

So Dembele, unless he has suffered an unreported setback in his recovery from injury, will probably start, and he can use the game as a great opportunity to prove he should stay in the strongest starting eleven for good.

Ousmane Dembele

Ousmane Dembele

Rested Barca; jaded United?

Last week’s first leg saw Barca head into the game in a physically fragile state, having just played a gruelling top of the table league battle with Atletico Madrid, a few days after an equally demanding 4-4 midweek draw at Villarreal; United, meanwhile, were as fresh as daisies after being given the weekend off due to their lack of involvement in the FA Cup.

This time around, however, the tables have been turned. Barca boss Valverde rested all ten of his outfield starters from the first leg at Old Trafford in Saturday’s goalless draw at Huesca, with Messi and Suarez among those who didn’t even travel to the game and instead got some valuable time to put their feet up.

United, on the other hand, were forced to work hard for a home win over West Ham, a much-needed victory in their quest to secure a top-four Premier League finish and a return to next season’s Champions League.

That could well be a significant factor on Tuesday night. Barca were uncharacteristically sloppy in the first leg, regularly playing themselves into trouble with a series of needlessly misplaced passes, and the efforts of the previous couple of games were surely a factor in that lacklustre display. United, though, had the energy to work very hard off the ball and deny Barca the room to play, but they won’t be in such a fresh condition at the Camp Nou.

At the highest level, those small differences in physical shape can make a massive difference, giving the split-second of additional time on the ball that allows players like Messi and Suarez to take advantage. And if United are at all jaded from their weekend exertions, Barca could well punish them.

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