They might be favourites to win the tie over two legs, but there’s no way that Barcelona will be taking Manchester United lightly, particularly at Old Trafford.
Playing at the Camp Nou for the second leg may seem to afford the Catalans an advantage of sorts, but Ernesto Valverde and his team will want to make that a formality.
In order to do so, they’ll need to take the game to the Red Devils and quieten the expected 75,000 crowd.
But just how are they going to manage it?
For a start, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has done a magnificent job of ensuring that his side have been on the front foot in almost all of their matches.
Perhaps the only one where they were put under real pressure came in the second leg against PSG, but, importantly, this wasn’t sustained for long periods.
Barcelona will seek to assert their authority from the first whistle and get United’s players moving all across the Old Trafford pitch, disrupting their shape in so doing.
In the likely event that United will put more than one player on Lionel Messi throughout, the Argentinian will probably have to drop deeper than he might like, but that affords him the opportunity to arrive late into the box, in itself a problem for the hosts.
Much will depend on Ousmane Dembele‘s fitness, because he could be the real thorn in United’s side. He’ll have the beating of Ashley Young on the right side all game long, and if Messi gets the opportunity to play those arcing balls in behind the right-back, Dembele and Jordi Alba will have rich pickings.
Paul Pogba has become a talisman of sorts for the Red Devils and his marauding runs into the heart of opposition territory has caused issues for a number of sides.
As long as Arthur Melo and Sergio Busquets work closely together as a pair, providing ample protection for their back four, they can dilute the Frenchman’s influence and give Ivan Rakitic the opportunity to shuttle freely in the space the Pogba will create.
With the central areas likely to be congested Barca will want to use the flanks as much as possible, but if they can tempt United’s defence into committing a foul or two in or around the box, Messi’s delivery – whether directly or otherwise – affords them more chances to get on the scoreboard.
Gerard Pique can be important at both ends of the pitch, and it will be interesting to note which of the two keepers – Marc-Andre ter Stegen or David De Gea – is the busier. Their excellence between the posts could be the deciding factor on the night.
What a game we have in prospect…!