The Europa League has its share of stardust and big names this season, though a clash between Barcelona and Manchester United is about as good as it gets in terms of prestige for the continent’s secondary club competition.
With a nine-point lead in La Liga to sit on and a run of 15 victories in 16 matches in all comps since October to revel in, everything looks rosy in Barca’s garden under hometown boy Xavi, though success in Europe would be a real feather in his cap his term.
Standing in his way is an improving Man Utd, who have been making positive strides under Erik ten Hag,and Camp Nou is gearing up to host what could be a seismic play-off round first-leg encounter between the sides.
As per the usual routine, I’ve put a stats pack together for this evening’s high-profile contest below which should arm you with more than enough info to construct top-tier bet builders for the game. Use the metrics in conjunction with my Stats Pack Guide to get the most value from your experience.
Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Busquets have both been officially ruled out of tonight’s first leg and Ivorian international Franck Kessie and youngster Gavi will be vying for Busquets’ position in midfield alongside Frenkie de Jong and Pedri.
Alejandro Balde has seen a lot of action at left-back lately, though Xavi could plump for Jordi Alba’s big-game experience in that position today. Robert Lewandowski will the focal point of a three-man frontline further up the pitch.
Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek are out injured for United, while Anthony Martial and Antony are both rated as major doubts. Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer meanwhile, are suspended and cannot feature.
Luke Shaw could be moved centrally to partner Raphael Varane at centre-half with Tyrell Malacia slotting in at left back, while Casemiro, who is serving a ban domestically, is free to reprise his role in midfield. Jadon Sancho will hope to earn a second start on the spin.
Barcelona have been doing some good work in forward areas in La Liga this season, though the main driving force behind their surge to top spot has been their efforts defensively.
Barca are conceding just 0.33 goals per 90 in the Spanish top tier, while their opponents have been allowed to register just 2.05 shot on target (p/90) against them. Xavi’s backline was a little leakier in the Champions League before Christmas however, conceding 12.2 attempts per game on average.
Indeed, Barcelona’s goal difference was zero in Group C when they finished third behind Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, and they failed to win any of their four fixtures against either of those big hitters in the section.
Erik ten Hag has been asked for more controlled performances from United this season and while results and standards have been on the up, many of their games have been on a knife-edge, due largely to the Red Devils’ modesty in the final third.
United are just the fifth-most prolific team in the Premier League this term, and they notched a meagre-looking ten times in six Europa League group matches before the turn of the year despite sharing a section with outfits like Sheriff and Omonia Nicosia.
The Mancunians’ card count has been notably high domestically too and they could be a smart inclusion at 5/6 to pick up over 2.5 cautions again this evening. It’s worth noting that United have won just three out of 14 knockout ties against Spanish opponents in Europe.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Deadly Pole Robert Lewandowski has been tough to stop during his maiden campaign in Spain and the veteran striker has also been hitting 4.9 shots per 90 in Europe, with a healthy 2.2 of those efforts proving accurate (p/90).
The 34-year-old is good value at 8/11 to lodge 2+ shots on target again this evening, while Frenkie de Jong could be worth a look at 2/1 to hit the mark with a single shot. The Dutchman will be keen to impress against the club that chased his signature for the entire summer of 2022.
Marcus Rashford has been in blistering form since the turn of the year, though Europa League defences also felt his wrath before Christmas when the wide attacker averaged 4.3 shots per group game in the tournament.
The 25-year-old managed to hit the target 2.5 times per runout in the UEL group stage, and while he might be a little more starved of service this evening, he looks superb value at 4/7 to clock one attempt on target. Bruno Fernandes, who had three shots on target at Leeds on Sunday, is priced at 5/6 in the same market.
Player Goals and Assists
Picking out Robert Lewandowski as anytime goalscoring candidate borders on unimaginative, but why not take advantage of the 34-year-old’s insane consistency in the final third? Lewa has scored 23 times in 27 appearances in all competitions for Barca and he averaged a goal per game in the Champions League between August and December before his club’s elimination.
Lewandowski is even money to rattle the net anytime this evening, which is a price too good to knock, while Brazilian flanksman Raphinha, who has six assists in all comps in 2022/23, is 7/4 to create another goal against United.
With goals in 12 of his last 15 appearances since Christmas Day, Marcus Rashford is enjoying the hottest streak of his Manchester United career, and the 25-year-old, who has notched against Man City and Arsenal since January first, can usually be relied upon to deliver in fixtures of significance.
Rashford managed to set up his teammates four times during that same productive spell and United’s crown jewel is a good price at 9/5 to either score or assist this evening. Elsewhere, Casemiro had posted five goal contributions in six games before his recent domestic ban and the former Real Madrid stalwart would love to do some damage at Camp Nou. The Brazilian is a whopping 7/1 in the same market quoted for Rashford.
When Xavi was in his pomp at the beginning of the last decade, Barcelona were football’s most celebrated pass-masters and as coach, the 43-year-old is trying to implement the same philosophy today.
Barca have controlled 65% of the ball per La Liga fixture on average this term, while they also held possession for 65.2% of the time in the Champions League before their elimination. The more defensive players tend to rack up the most touches and passes, though Frenkie de Jong could be of interest today when he assumes Sergio Busquets role in midfield.
The Dutch international is even money to play 70+ passes against United – a target he has beaten in two of his last three runouts for Los Cules.
Manchester United will expect to shoulder a counter-attacking role at Camp Nou this evening against their possession-hungry hosts and that in turn should keep their players’ individual passing figures on the low side.
The vast majority of market value is found in the 50+ passes stakes, though I don’t expect any of United’s players to distribute their way near a tally that high in Catalonia.
With Sergio Busquets out injured, the baton passes to Frenkie de Jong this evening and the Dutchman will have to ramp up his aggression in midfield to compensate for Busquets’s absence. The 34-year-old Spaniard was Barca’s most carded player (three) in the Champions League group stage and De Jong is 3/1 to pick up a booking this evening.
His teammate Ronald Araujo is of interest at 8/11 to commit at least one foul. The Uruguayan was handed man-marking duties against Vinicius Junior when Barcelona played and beat Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in January. Araujo committed four fouls that evening and he could be instructed to put the squeeze on Marcus Rashford in a similar way later on.
Elsewhere, Jordi Alba could be worth backing at 4/1 to enter the referee’s notebook if he starts. With his pace lessening with age, the 33-year-old has been racking up more and more cards. Alba could choose to kick Jadon Sancho instead of chasing him today.
Bruno Fernandes spends a good chunk of time picking himself up off the ground, though he often needs little encouragement to hit the deck. Frenkie de Jong will have to time his challenges on the Portuguese playmaker carefully.
Marcus Rashford could find that he is shadowed closely by Araujo at Camp Nou and the United star’s sparkle could be snuffed out by the hard-hitting Barca defender. Jadon Sancho is still feeling his way back to prominence, though he has the ability to really put Jordi Alba through the wringer in one-on-ones.
Match-Ups to watch
Jordi Alba vs Jadon Sancho
Frenkie de Jong vs Bruno Fernandes
Ronald Araujo vs Marcus Rashford
Manchester United Cards
Casemiro and Fred should form a bruising double act at the base of United’s midfield today and both Brazilians tend to rack up fouls and cards in plentiful amounts whenever they feature.
At 13/10 and 2/1 to see yellow again respectively, Casemiro and Fred are certain to be on plenty of coupons this evening as they harass their more technical Barcelona counterparts.
Luke Shaw is as no-nonsense as they come, and whether he starts at left or centre-back this evening, the England international looks like a solid option in either the card or foul markets. Four of the five bookings collected by Shaw in all competitions this term were picked up in away games for United. The 27-year-old is good value at 15/8 to have his name taken again this evening.
Both Pedri and Gavi are diminutive in stature and the technically gifted duo regularly have to absorb tackles and hits from more physically-robust opponents. Casemiro and Fred will dish out punishment to Barca’s youngsters if and when they get within reach.
Raphinha often blows hot and cold, however, when he gets the blend of tricks and pace in order, he can be a nightmare to mark, and the Brazilian will test the timing of Luke Shaw’s interventions later today.
Match-Ups to watch
Casemiro vs Gavi
Fred vs Pedri
Luke Shaw vs Raphinha
My Bet Builder Picks of the Pack
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