What will be key to a Barcelona victory at Old Trafford?

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde during the press conference at Old Trafford, Manchester. (Photo by Ian Hodgson/PA Images via Getty Images)
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde during the press conference at Old Trafford, Manchester. (Photo by Ian Hodgson/PA Images via Getty Images) /

Barcelona are gearing up to face Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United

Although a resurgent Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjær may not have been the best draw for Barcelona, their dip in form comes at the right time for Ernesto Valverde’s side. But how can the Red Devils be defeated at their own stomping ground?

United have lost 3 of their last 5 games, but none of them have been at home. They were beaten twice by Wolverhampton Wanderers away from home, while Arsenal registered a 2-0 win at the Emirates. Their record at Old Trafford under Solskjær has been very good.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has led United to just one loss at home, but that was against Paris Saint-Germain. They ended up making a dramatic comeback in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 in order to progress to the quarter-final.

Barça certainly don’t want a repeat of that unexpected event, but a few away goals will go a long distance in securing a semi-final spot as Barça are also very strong at home. But the main deciding factor against Manchester United will be the performance of the defence.

While the stamina of the attackers is tested against lesser opposition who tend to sit back in their own half, the stamina of the defenders is tested against strong opposition who constantly ask questions of the goalkeepers and hit the side on the counter.

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It was Gerard Piqué’s inspired leadership of the defence which allowed Barça to win 1-0 against Real Madrid in the Clásico at the Santiago Bernabéu. Similarly, the firebrand centre-back needs to step it up against his former side, where he developed under Sir Alex Ferguson.

The former Spain international will face a big aerial threat in Belgian centre-forward Romelu Lukaku, and Marc-André ter Stegen has an affinity for indecisiveness with crosses. But the biggest threat will be faced by the right-back who is fielded by Ernesto Valverde.

United’s focal attacking point is the left wing, as their best players like to operate down the left flank. The two-pronged attacking prowess of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial can cause a lot of problems for either Nélson Semedo or Sergi Roberto.

The man-marking also needs to be on point, with the burden falling on the midfielders. Sergio Busquets will need to be alert so as to prevent counter-attacks by cutting out balls by the likes of Juan Mata and Paul Pogba. In all likelihood, Busquets will be booked against United.

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The attack is reliable, and will eventually find the back of the net. If not by coherent attacking strategising, the likes of Lionel Messi through pure individual brilliance. But the defence needs to work as an unit to keep the dangerous United attack at bay.