Manchester United welcome Barcelona this evening hoping to tilt the balance of power that has emerged in the clubs’ most recent competitive meetings. These two sides have a long and storied history in the Champions League together, including two incredibly one-sided finals in 2009 and 2011 (both won by Barca) and a pair of 3-3 draws in the group stages of the 1998-99 competition. Going back further, in 1984, United lost the away leg of a Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final 2-0, only to produce a remarkable comeback in Manchester, winning 3-0 and progressing on aggregate.
Seasoned watchers think little of their chances across the two legs of this tie. Can a team that has played Wolves three times in a season and not won one of those games really have any hope of getting close to the present-day Barcelona side? Granted, a lot of the same questions were being asked when the Red Devils were drawn against PSG in the last round – and we all saw how that worked out. If nothing else, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men aren’t under much pressure to pick up the win here; virtually no-one expects it, and even a draw would be seen as a pleasant surprise.
We can expect a high-scoring battle
The old cliche that “attack is the best form of defence” may have its limitations, but let’s be completely honest. For Manchester United in 2019, defence certainly hasn’t been the best form of defence. Cut open too easily and too often at this ground by PSG in the last 16, OGS’ men were fortunate to escape the first leg with just a 0-2 margin. They then went to Paris, got their heads down and scored twice in the first half-hour – Romelu Lukaku’s goals coming either side of one for the French side from Juan Bernat.
United then banked on PSG getting nervous and doing something stupid – which has been a signature move for the cash-rich French champions in European competition these last few years. The error eventually materialised in time added on at the end of the game, and Marcus Rashford hammered home the entirely avoidable penalty United had been gifted. Their defence may have lost them the game in Manchester, but their attack won the tie. They’ll need to trust their forwards again here – there’s no point banking on stopping Messi & co – and Unibet’s price of 39/20 on there being more than 3.5 goals in this game is certainly tempting.
Barca have their own ghosts to exorcise
Much like last season, the Catalan side come into the quarter-finals with the ribbons more or less already tied to the La Liga trophy – eleven points clear, they’re evidently the best side in Spain. This time last season, they were seen as a sound bet for the Champions League, and were up against AS Roma in the last eight. They won the first leg 4-1, all but sealing a place in the semis. Unfortunately for boss Ernesto Valverde, the key words in the last sentence are “all but”; a 3-0 loss in Rome saw Barca crash out of the competition, and they watched as the third-best side in Spain, Real Madrid, went on to win a third consecutive European title.
With Real already out of the running, Barcelona once again find themselves with domestic business more or less tied up, and conscious of the need to avoid the mistakes of last season in the continental arena. They have the second leg at home this time, and will want to avoid a slip-up on foreign soil. We can expect a business-like performance from the favourites tonight – and while Man U can probably be relied on to find the net themselves, we’d predict a Blaugrana win here. Betway have 11/4 on the visitors winning a game in which both sides score, and that seems like value to us.
Back Barca for a convincing win
United have lost three of their last four games, and two of those defeats have come at Molineux against Wolves. To be fair, the West Midlands side have vastly outperformed expectations all season and have shown a particular resilience against the top teams in England – yet a team that hopes to beat Barcelona should be doing better than Solskjaer’s side have been in the last month. The last time United were written off so casually ahead of a match, of course, they went to Paris and trounced PSG – so they could justifiably point to the risks of predicting a loss for them here.
However, the difference between Barca and PSG is as follows: when the Parisians choke in Europe and are knocked out in a tie they should have won, it’s stopped being a shock. It’s just what they do. When Barcelona did it last season, it came out of nowhere, and you have to feel that they’ll have worked on keeping their standards up for the full 180 minutes of a tie. That could well be United’s downfall here. Our score prediction for this meeting is a 3-1 Barcelona win – that can be backed at 13/1 with 888, which may be worth investigating.
Bets of the Day
More than 3.5 goals (Unibet, 39/20); Barcelona win and BTTS (Betway, 11/4); 3-1 Barcelona (888, 13/1)