A blockbuster encounter between two European juggernauts takes place a Camp Nou on Thursday night as Barcelona play host to Manchester United in the first leg of their Europa League playoff.
The two teams have previously etched their names into Champions League folklore, but their latest meeting over two legs will be their first in Europe’s secondary club competition.
Barca have lost five of their last 11 European games at Camp Nou, but they head into Thursday’s contest having won each of the last four meetings with Man United. Indeed, Champions League final triumphs in 2009 and 2011 against the Red Devils were followed by a 4-0 aggregate win in the quarter-finals of the same competition in 2019.
Almost 15 years on from their last Champions League triumph in 2007-08, Man United have had to get used to the rigours of Europa League football, competing in the competition on six occasions in the last 12 seasons.
The Red Devils started this year’s group stage on the wrong foot with a narrow 1-0 home defeat against Real Sociedad, but Erik ten Hag’s men responded well with five successive victories, although they ultimately had to settle for a second-place finish behind Group E winners Sociedad on goal difference, forcing them to enter the playoff round as opposed to booking an immediate qualification spot in the last 16.
United, who have lost just four of their 16 away matches in all tournaments this season, will be keen to improve their record against Spanish opposition as they have won only three of their last 14 such knockout fixtures in European competition. United came up short against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League second round last season, with a 1-0 first-leg home defeat followed by a 1-1 away draw in the reverse fixture.
On the injury front for United, Donny van de Beek (knee), Christian Eriksen (ankle), Anthony Martial (hip), Scott McTominay (muscle) and Antony (leg) are all set to miss out through injury, while Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer are both suspended.
However, Casemiro is available for selection after missing the last two Premier League games due to suspension and the Brazilian is set to partner compatriot Fred in center-midfield.
Ten Hag may consider recalling center-back Raphael Varane at the expense of Harry Maguire, while Jadon Sancho could continue on the right flank, joining Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and Wout Weghorst in the attack.
Europa League schedule
It’s a 5:45 PM kickoff in the UK, which translates to 12:45 PM on the east coast of the U.S.
Europa League channel
Those in the UK will need Sky Sports Premier League or the accompanying streaming services such as Sky Ultra to watch the game. Those Stateside can only watch the game on ESPN’s streaming services. Everyone else, head on over to LiveSoccerTV to find your viewing options.
Europa League streaming
The Sky Ultra, Sky Sports Main Event, or Sky Go Extra App is the place to be if you’re in the UK. In the States, you can watch the game on the ESPN streaming app. If you’re in Canada, you can stream the game through DAZN.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Dalot, Varane, Shaw, Malacia; Casemiro, Fred, Bruno Fernandes; Sancho, Weghorst, Rashford