BARCELONA – FC Barcelona is set to host England’s Manchester United with its eyes set on making it back to the UEFA Champions League semifinals, for the first time in four seasons.
Barcelona intends to make the most of its 1-0 away win in the first leg at the English club’s home ground, Old Trafford, last week when it hosts the Red Devils at the Camp Nou.
In the three previous editions, fellow Spanish team Atletico Madrid as well as Italy’s Juventus and AS Roma had eliminated the Catalan in the quarters.
At the Camp Nou, coach Ernesto Valverde’s men will try to prevent the English side from joining the list of the teams who have stopped Barcelona from reaching its European dream in the recent years.
The last time Barcelona reached the semis was in 2015, when the La Liga giant – then under Luis Enrique – went on to lift the trophy, its fifth UCL title in the history.
That year Barça claimed the treble, winning La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
It is a feat that Barcelona could yet repeat this year, considering La Liga is practically in the bag already.
Valverde is well aware of this.
For that reason, the coach massively altered his starting line-up for the La Liga against last-placed Huesca, which eked out a scoreless draw.
Absences in that game included: Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets, as well as the suspended Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez.
Valverde, thus, will be able to rely on his famed 4-3-3 line-up against United with Philippe Coutinho likely to form an attack trio along with Messi and Suarez.
United has an uphill struggle as it arrives in Barcelona trailing on the scoreboard due to its 1-0 loss in the first leg, thanks to an own goal from defender Luke Shaw.
United had to dig deep at the weekend to squeeze out a 2-1 win over 11th-placed West Ham United in the Premier League.
Midfielder Paul Pogba secured the win after successfully converting a controversial penalty.
United’s hopes of a miraculous comeback at the Camp Nou – similar to what happened at the Parc des Princes against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarters – seem at least possible.
To achieve that, the English side will likely play more offensive soccer than in the first leg, while Shaw, the only scorer in that match, is to be suspended over a booking accumulation.
Therefore, coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is expected to get back to a 4-3-3 formation that he discarded last week, and possibly line up players like Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford.
FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Rakitic, Arthur; Messi, Coutinho and Luis Suarez.
Manchester United: De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Smalling, Dalot; McTominay, Fred, Pogba; Rashford, Lingard and Lukaku.
Referee: Felix Brych (GER).
Stadium: Old Trafford. 1900 GMT.