‘Man Utd Need Best Display Of Season To Beat Barca’

Manchester United must produce their “best performance this season” to beat Barcelona and reach the Europa League last 16, says manager Erik ten Hag.

The sides, who shared a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp on 16 February, meet in the second leg of their play-off at Old Trafford on Thursday.  “When you face such big teams as Barcelona you have to play your best, otherwise you don’t have a chance,” said Ten Hag.

United, who have not won a trophy since 2017, play Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.  They are third in the Premier League – five points behind leaders Arsenal – and face West Ham United in the FA Cup fifth round on 1 March.

“We have the opportunity,” said Ten Hag, who took over last summer.  “But the first focus point is always the next game and we can’t win the (Europa League) trophy this week.  “We have to keep in the same mindset that every day we want to give a better version of ourselves.”

Ten Hag described having dinner with legendary former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who won 13 league titles, this week as “massive”.  “I always enjoy speaking with people who have a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience. He wants to share it; he wants to help and support,” Ten Hag said.

“You feel Manchester United is his club. He feels so committed and he wants that we are doing well.  “It was a great night and I look forward to the next night with him.”

Winger Antony and defender Harry Maguire are expected to be available against La Liga leaders Barcelona following injury, but forward Anthony Martial remains sidelined.  Defender Lisandro Martinez and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer return from suspension.

Barcelona are without midfielders Pedri and Gavi because of injury and suspension respectively, with France forward Ousmane Dembele still ruled out with a hamstring problem.

But experienced midfielder Sergio Busquets has been included in the squad after missing the first leg because of an ankle injury.

Barcelona manager Xavi said: “It’s a really tough game, Manchester United are one of the best teams in Europe and they are showing it.  “It’s the best Manchester United over the last few years and a great bit of work that Erik ten Hag has done.

“At the Nou Camp they showed a great passion and we have to match that. It’s a tough stadium to go to and we have to show the personality, play the way we can and be very intense during the game.  “The mentality is what we need to play a game like this.

Manchester United are still up there with Manchester City and Arsenal [in the Premier League] so it’s a perfect stage to show Barcelona can compete with these teams.”

Xavi, a four-time Champions League winner as a Barcelona player, praised the impact of United defender Raphael Varane and midfielder Casemiro.

“They are really important for the team, not only as players but their mentality and they are used to playing these games” he added.

“It was very important for United they could get in Casemiro [from Real Madrid last summer].  “These kind of players are making the difference in their team.”

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