Two of world football’s biggest clubs go head-to-head in the Europa League first knockout round, emphasising just how far both have fallen.
For a second consecutive season, Barcelona have been eliminated in the Champions League at the group stage.
This time round, they accumulated just one point from four matches against Bayern Munich and Inter, so slumped to another third place finish.
In stark contrast, Xavi’s team have been almost flawless in La Liga, winning 11 of 12, since their sole defeat, coming in the Clásico in mid-October.
This leaves Barça eight points clear at the top of the table, well on course for their first title in four season.
The Blaugrana have conceded just seven goals in 21 league games, despite shipping 12 in six Champions League fixtures.
Given their advantageous position in La Liga, Xavi’s side are going all out to win the Europa League, for both financial and sporting reasons.
Here though, they’ve been given a nightmare draw, up against one of the form sides in all of Europe.
Manchester United did win five of six Europa League group matches, but finished below Real Sociedad on goal difference, failing to score once more in San Sebastián on the final matchday.
So, rather than serenely booking their place in the round of 16, the Red Devils will come up against the side that thwarted them in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League Finals.
These days, under Erik ten Hag, they are getting back to their best, winning seven of their last ten Premier League engagements, most-recently beating Leeds on Sunday.
This leaves them third, also through to the Carabao Cup Final, set to take on Newcastle in just ten days time.
Man United haven’t exited the UEFA Cup this early since 1995, dumped out by Rotor Volgograd on away goals in the first round.
Then again, they don’t often come up against the run-away Spanish league-leaders at such an early stage of the second-tier competition.
This clash at Camp Nou is certainly not one to be missed, but who will be heading to Old Trafford the happier?
Barcelona team news
Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembélé are both injured, although the former is hopeful of being fit for the return leg.
Without Busquets, Frenkie de Jong sits at the base of midfield, alongside Franck Kessié and Pedri, with Gavi deployed as an auxiliary left-winger.
Marc-André ter Stegen has kept 16 clean sheets in just 21 La Liga matches so far, remarkable, but has conceded 53 goals in his last 31 appearances in UEFA competition.
At the back, Andreas Christensen has established himself as Ronald Araújo’s partner, with Alejandro Balde usurping Jordi Alba as the first-choice left-back.
Robert Lewandowski has scored against 111 different clubs during his career, looking to add Manchester United to this extremely long list.
Predicted XI (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Koundé, Christensen, Araújo, Balde; de Jong, Kessié, Pedri; Raphinha, Gavi, Lewandowski.
Manchester United team news
Casemiro is in the midst of a three-game domestic ban, but will be back in for this one, facing Barcelona for the 20th time.
In less good news, Lisandro Martínez and Marcel Sabitzer are both suspended due to yellow card accumulation, the latter carrying that ban over from his time at Bayern.
Harry Maguire did start a league game for the first time since 3 January on Sunday, but Luke Shaw is more likely to start alongside Raphaël Varane, deputising for Martínez, with Tyrell Malacia at left-back.
Jadon Sancho scored on his only previous to Camp Nou, while Marcus Rashford has now netted 13 times since the World Cup.
David de Gea, Victor Lindelöf, Scott McTominay, Fred, Anthony Martial and Rashford all started Man United’s last meeting with Barça in April 2019, that a 3-0 defeat.
Predicted XI: (4-3-3): de Gea; Dalot, Varane, Shaw, Malacia; Casemiro, Fred, Fernandes; Sancho, Rashford, Weghorst.