Manchester United and Barcelona are poised to meet in their second-leg Europa League clash at Old Trafford this Thursday.
The first leg was a hotly contested battle between Xavi Hernandez and Erik ten Hag’s men, ending in a 2-2 draw.
According to Sport journalist Jordi Gil, all signs indicate that Xavi will play with four midfielders to take control of the middle of the park (via Sport).
This strategy will ensure the Catalan giants can quickly snuff out any United counter-attacks, who have proved to be deadly during transitions.
A new starting eleven
Barcelona will take to the pitch without the injured Pedri and the suspended Gavi.
In their place, Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessié are expected to join the starting eleven to marshal the midfield alongside Sergio Busquets and Frenkie De Jong.
While Xavi may be without Pedri and Gavi, he will be given a boost by his captain’s return. Busquets had previously been out with an ankle injury.
Gil writes that Sergi Roberto, Kessié, and Busquets will start with De Jong, who will take up a role similar to Pedri on the left of midfield. By comparison, Kessié will likely operate more towards the right flank.
Regarding the rest of the starting eleven, the only real question marks revolve around Jules Koundé and Ronald Araújo.
The Uruguayan defender started in the first leg. Still, Marcus Rashford proved problematic, forcing Xavi to shuffle things at the back in the last 20 minutes.
On Thursday, Xavi could play his usual line-up in their most natural positions.
Keeping Rashford under wraps
Rashford is a man in form and can’t stop scoring. Despite this, Xavi cannot set up his team to keep Rashford from firing on all cylinders.
After all, Ten Hag has shown that he is a master tactician with contingency plans that Barça cannot pre-empt.
Youth on the bench
Barcelona’s bench features many starlets, including Casadó and Pablo Torre. The duo are the only natural midfielders available as a substitute.
Xavi has deployed substitute Jordi Alba on the left flank in the past, which may be an option depending on how the game develops.
The absence of Ousmane Dembele is a massive blow to the Catalan giants. However, Xavi can still call upon Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres if he needs a pair of fresh legs up front.
Team Ten Hag
Ten Hag will likely field a team with fewer changes than his Spanish counterpart. The suspended Lisandro Martínez is likely to return as centre-back.
This will allow Shaw to play at his favoured left-back position and, unfortunately, push Malacia back onto the bench as a substitute.
The availability of Antony and Harry Maguire has also given United a boost. However, the trio of Anthony Martial, Christian Eriksen, and Donny Van de Beek are still unavailable.
Both teams have it all to play for. Fans everywhere can look forward to a football feast of 90 minutes featuring two of Europe’s giants.