UEFA Champions League 2018-19: How Manchester United can stop the rampaging Barcelona
The Champions League draws were announced yesterday at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. The fans will be treated to four mouth-watering clashes, but the biggest of them all would definitely be Manchester United vs Barcelona.
These two sides share a rich European history which includes the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley, in which Barcelona clinically dismantled Fergie's United 3-1.
However, both the clubs have come a long way from that tie. United is no longer the unstoppable force it was during the times of Sir Alex Ferguson. Barcelona, on the other hand, has not won the competition since 2015.
United would be raring to go all the way to finally come out of the post-Ferguson mess. Meanwhile Barcelona would be aware that they have the chance to pull one over their Spanish rivals Real Madrid at the world stage.
Considering their respective seasons, Barcelona will start as favourites. United have only very recently stabilized their ship. However, they proved through their heroics against PSG that they are capable of shocking even the world’s best.
Even though it’s too early to strategise for the Barcelona game, United could look at doing these things to boost their chances of winning:
1. Shackle Lionel Messi
This is a no-brainer. You cannot stop Barcelona unless you negate the impact of its talisman, Lionel Messi. Messi showed against Lyon how he can single-handedly win games in the world’s top competition.
But United have a plan which worked against a similar player, Mohamed Salah. United’s game against Liverpool can serve as a blueprint to stopping Messi. Luke Shaw did a brilliant job at Old Trafford against Salah, which critically affected the coherence in Liverpool’s attacks.
Ander Herrera, the man-marking hero, is another contender to do this job. However, the stakes are much higher here and even a minor error would not go unpunished.
2. Unlock Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba is unarguably the biggest weapon in United’s arsenal who is capable of swaying the momentum in any match. This match seems to be the perfect platform for Pogba to show that he is a world-class midfielder.
The World Cup winner missed out on United’s historic win at PSG due to a one-match ban, and would be raring to go against the likes of Messi, Suarez, Busquets, Pique, etc.
Under Solskjær, he has been at his absolute best. But the Norwegian needs to make sure that Pogba is again allowed to play the role of the play-maker so that he can pull the strings and find the trio of Rashford, Lingard and Martial.
United's success depends to a large extent on Pogba, and that is why it becomes absolutely crucial to get this one right.
3. Have a Plan B
Barcelona’s first team is arguably the most tenacious in the world. So Manchester United must be ready with a Plan B in case their main plan does not pay off.
United also have to deal with Barcelona’s prolific bench strength. The substitutions are likely to play a key role in deciding the outcome of the match.
United do have the bench to make an impact, but the current injury crisis has depleted the squad strength. They need to make sure their players are fit and firing when Barcelona arrive at Old Trafford.
In the game against PSG, their academy kids came in handy. But this Barcelona side operates a notch higher, where complacency definitely won’t be an issue.
A victory over Barcelona would not only end the rumours surrounding Pochenttino, but would also announce to the world that the old United is finally back.