Faced with the uphill task of overturning a one-goal deficit at the Nou Camp, Manchester United’s clash against Barcelona promises to be a thrilling affair. With only a few hours left before kick-off, FOX Sports Asia takes a look at 5 key battles which may decide the game’s result.
#5 Scott McTominay vs Sergio Busquets
One of the first visuals from the first leg at Old Trafford shows Scott McTominay winning a 50-50 ball against Spanish International Sergio Busquets, with the Spaniard subsequently bringing the youngster down on the edge of the area. The early clash set the tone for the encounter as the young Scot went up against the Spaniard several times, emerging victorious on a number of occasions.
The Manchester United academy player was not a single bit fazed by his counterpart’s reputation and played a pivotal part in United’s compact set-up that restricted Barcelona to so few clear-cut chances. Indeed, such was his influence on the first leg that McTominay was rested for United’s league game against West Ham.
If the Red Devils are to pull off another miracle act, he will have to be United’s Busquets on the night.
#4 Chris Smalling vs Luis Suarez
Although Chris Smalling’s flailing arm disrupted Lionel Messi enough to reduce his influence on the 1st leg, it was Barcelona’s number 9 that the Englishman came up most again. The much-maligned Smalling got tight to the Uruguayan each time he tried to compete for a header and to everyone’s surprise, completely shut him out for almost the entirety of the game.
The Old Trafford crowd proved there is no love lost between Mancunians and the former Liverpool striker, who will be desperate to up his game for the second leg and see Barcelona through to the next round.
#3 Marcus Rashford vs Gerard Pique
Former Manchester United player Gerard Pique’s battle with Marcus Rashford was touted as the one which would decide the first leg and it eventually did, with the Catalan keeping Rashford quiet for the duration of the game.
Rashford was uncharacteristically out of touch at Old Trafford and couldn’t cope with Pique’s experience despite possessing pace much greater than the Spanish defender, who himself looks past his prime, waiting to be put in his place by one youngster or the other.
#2 Lionel Messi vs David De Gea
Out of his usual depth during the first leg in Manchester, Lionel Messi’s weekend rest means the Argentine will come back fully prepared to make United pay for their first leg profligacy.
The Champions League is home to the biggest nights in world football and what else can be bigger than the world’s best player coming up against the best goalkeeper in the world? Keeping him at bay might just hand a chance to Manchester United to progress further in the competition.
#1 Paul Pogba vs Ivan Rakitic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic named Paul Pogba and Lionel Messi as the men to watch out for prior to the second leg and the Frenchman’s clash with Rakitic is one of the many things that will decide the complexion of the day.
Lacking involvement in the play during the first leg, Pogba will need a big performance to silence all doubters after his recent dry spell. Even though Rakitic’s European pedigree is far more certain, he too will accept no less than a place in the semi-finals of the competition.