Man Utd vs Barcelona Prediction and Preview
Man Utd and Barcelona meet on Thursday evening in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League knockout round playoff tie. We preview the game at Old Trafford and reveal who our Opta predictor thinks will win.
Man Utd vs Barcelona: The Quick Hits
- Manchester United are the Opta supercomputer favourites to go through, with a 44.1% chance of winning this match.
- Star player Marcus Rashford is averaging a goal every 76 minutes for Man Utd in the Europa League this season.
- Barcelona’s midfield injury crisis means that they have just a 29.4% chance of winning at Old Trafford.
If the first leg is anything to go by then we are in for another festival of football at Old Trafford on Thursday night. Away goals no longer apply, so the 2-2 draw in Spain last week means it is winner-takes-all as Man Utd and Barcelona face each other in the second leg of the Europa League knockout round playoff tie.
Barcelona are on course for their first LaLiga title since Lionel Messi left the club and Erik ten Hag has Manchester United back in the Champions League places, tapping ever so gently on Manchester City and Arsenal’s door at the top of the Premier League. A Europa League title would be nice for either side, but these teams have their ambitions set much higher. This fixture is a chance to show the world that these two clubs are back and that they mean business once again.
Manchester United have only lost two of their last 11 European games at Old Trafford (W6 D3), although both defeats in this run came against Spanish opposition: 0-1 versus Atlético Madrid in March 2022 and 0-1 against Real Sociedad in September 2022.
Barcelona have got the better of Manchester United of late, as they unbeaten in their last three matches against them (W2 D1 L0), while they’ve outscored the English side 6-2 during this unbeaten streak. The Red Devils are looking for their first win in fixtures between these two sides since April 2019.
Barcelona have faced Manchester United away from home in European competition on five previous occasions. After failing to win any of the first four (D2 L2), they won 1-0 on their most recent such trip in April 2019 (UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg) before going on to decimate United at Camp Nou with a couple of goals from Messi.
Barcelona are missing most of their midfield with Pedri injured and Gavi suspended. Sergio Busquets is just returning from am ankle injury suffered a couple of weeks ago and might not be available for 90 minutes. Ousmane Dembele is back in training but might not make it back in time to feature either. Meanwhile, Casemiro’s suspension in the Premier League means he got a rest at the weekend against Leicester City but is back to play a team he played against 13 times with Real Madrid. United will be without Antony, Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek, Harry Maguire and Anthony Martial.
It was Total Football at the Camp Nou last Thursday night. Maybe not the type of Total Football Johan Cruyff imagined, but it was chaotic, end-to-end and endlessly fun. Even though it was just the first leg of a Europa League knockout round playoffs tie, it felt like something more important was at stake. Two fallen giants on the rise, trying to prove that they are back among the giants of Europe.
United boss Erik ten Hag said after the first leg that “If you face the number one team in Spain in an away game and you are that dominant, you can see it as a positive” and his side did, at times, rampage forward against a hapless Barcelona defense but they didn’t look entirely convincing at the back themselves.
Xavi dropped Andres Christensen for Marcos Alonso for the game and the results weren’t pretty. He also played Jordi Alba in place of Alejandro Balde at left-back. The injury to Pedri and suspension for Gavi mean he will have to tinker again ahead of the second leg.
Manchester United followed up Thursday night’s draw with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Leicester City on Sunday afternoon. That man Marcus Rashford was back among the goals, with a brace. Jadon Sancho also announced his return with a goal. Barcelona beat Cadiz 2-0 with goals from Robert Lewandowski and Sergi Roberto. Those games were relatively uneventful meaning both managers had a chance to get key players some rest ahead of this Thursday night.
United have been tough to beat at home this season in the Europa League with two wins and just one loss in three contests. United will be out to prolong a 17-match home unbeaten streak (W15 D2 L0) in all competitions.
Barcelona, meanwhile, had one win and two losses in their three Champions League group stage contests away from home. The Spanish side currently find themselves on a nine-match away winning streak in all competitions.
In their last six matches in all competitions, Manchester United have won four and drawn two. They scored 13 and conceded five in that period, scoring first in four of the six contests.
Barcelona have won five and drawn one in their last six. They scored 11 and conceded three over that stretch, netting first in all six. They have a huge period ahead of them, with a Copa del Rey Clásico at the start of March and another game against Real Madrid in LaLiga shortly after. The next month will define their season starting with Thursday night’s trip to Manchester.
Players to Watch
Manchester United: Marcus Rashford
Is there anything in the world of football as inevitable as a Marcus Rashford goal right now? He has scored 10 goals in his last 10 games in the Premier League and scored the equaliser last Thursday night at the Camp Nou after Marcos Alonso had given Barcelona the lead.
Across all competitions in 2022-23, Rashford has scored 24 goals in 36 games, while he has a career-best shot conversion rate of 22.6% and minutes per goal ratio of 113. Those 24 goals are already level with United’s top scorer last season – Cristiano Ronaldo (24) – across all competitions. Since the return of football after the 2022 World Cup, no player from Europe’s top five leagues has more goals (16) or shots on target (30) in all competitions.
These are peak Lionel Messi or Ronaldo numbers, two players with rich histories for either club. Rashford always had the potential to become a star but is now fulfilling that potential and it has been astonishing to watch.
Pedri is injured, Gavi is suspended and Sergio Busquets’ status remains up in the air. Frenkie de Jong will be expected to put in a serious shift at Old Trafford on Thursday. What Xavi does with his options in midfield could decide the game but instead of speculating, let’s take a look at a player who is settling into life in Barcelona.
Raphinha isn’t quite putting up Rashford numbers, but he has scored five goals since the return of football after the World Cup. The Brazilian’s importance has only grown more pronounced since Ousmane Dembele’s recent spell on the sideline. The French winger is back in training but might not make it back for the game on Thursday.
Strangely, Raphinha was taken off after 83 minutes for Ferran Torres during the first leg. It was arguably his best game in a Barcelona shirt, and he wasn’t happy, cursing Xavi from the bench. He had more shots (six) and shots on target (three) than any other Barca player, scoring and assisting a goal too. The Brazilian didn’t start but came off the bench on Sunday after 74 minutes. Starting the game on the bench might have been a punishment or it just underlines Raphinha’s importance to the team as Xavi eyed Thursday night.
Man Utd vs Barcelona Prediction
Barcelona have only won once in five attempts at Old Trafford. The supercomputer doesn’t fancy them to win this one either. It gives them a 29.4% chance of victory on Thursday. Erik ten Hag was delighted with his team’s performance in the first leg, and he’ll be confident of beating Xavi’s side on their own turf. As confident as the supercomputer? It gives United a 44.1% chance of winning this one.
The Man Utd vs Barcelona prediction from the supercomputer also gives a 26.5% chance of a draw. If it’s even half as entertaining as the draw in the first leg, the neutrals will be begging for extra time at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
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