Barcelona are the visitors as Manchester United line up in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in five years.
Ahead of Wednesday’s eagerly-anticipated clash at Old Trafford, Football Paradise takes a look at the LaLiga side.
Barcelona are giants of the European game – as Manchester United know all too well. The previous two occasions these sides met were the Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011, with Barca running out 2-0 victors in Rome before overcoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s side 3-1 at Wembley two years later. The Catalan side have been crowned European champions on five occasions in total but have stuttered since last winning it in 2015. Their last three Champions League campaigns have all ended at the quarter-final stage at the hands of Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Roma respectively.
Barcelona are 16 matches unbeaten in all competitions and it seems a case of when, rather than if, they wrap up a 26th Spanish title. Also through to May’s Copa del Rey final against Valencia, they are 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid in LaLiga after scoring twice late on to beat their nearest rivals 2-0 on Saturday at the Nou Camp. On the road, Barca are unbeaten in eight away matches in all competitions and have lost only three times all season. They beat Tottenham 4-2 at Wembley and drew 1-1 with them at the Nou Camp as they won Group B ahead of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, before securing a 5-1 aggregate win against Lyon in the round of 16.
Ernesto Valverde did not immediately enthuse all associated with Barcelona upon his appointment but he has proven to be a shrewd appointment. A striker in his day, the one-time Spain international was part of the Barca squad that won the Copa del Rey and Cup Winners’ Cup during his time at the club between 1988 and 1990. Valverde began his coaching career at Athletic Bilbao and returned there in 2013 after, among other things, leading Espanyol to the UEFA Cup final and Olympiacos to three Greek championships. Bilbao won the Spanish Super Cup and finished runners-up in the Copa del Rey after Valverde’s return. He became Luis Enrique’s successor in 2017, with Barca winning the league and cup double in Valverde’s first season at the helm.
One to watch
Lionel Messi – who else? One of the greatest players of all-time, the Barcelona forward is showing no signs of slowing up at the age of 31. Messi has so far scored 33 goals in LaLiga, while he has netted 26 goals in his last 22 matches for the club. The Argentina international scored in both the 2009 and 2011 Champions League final triumphs against United, while his 22-goal haul in 30 matches against English clubs is more than he has managed against teams from any other country. Barcelona are blessed with a star-studded squad, including one player whose skills were honed at United. A teenage Gerard Pique was snaffled from Barca in 2004 and the future World Cup winner made 23 first-team appearances for the Old Trafford giants before returning to Barcelona in 2008.
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