Barcelona and Manchester United collide in the Europe League’s knockout stages this week, a clash that little more than a decade ago was deciding the Europe’s more glamorous sister competition.
Both teams are looking to return to former glories under new management and will view success in Europe this season as a stepping stone to greater things. As two of world football’s biggest clubs prepare to do battle, we’ve put together our combined XI from the two squads.
Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Barcelona
Barcelona have found form under Xavi this season to create a significant lead at the top of La Liga, with the club’s defensive record a driving factor in their title charge.
The Spanish side have conceded just seven goals in 21 league fixtures during the current campaign, recording 16 clean sheets.
16 clean sheets and seven goals conceded in 21 games.
Good luck getting past Marc-André ter Stegen 🛑 pic.twitter.com/LhEnqglquF
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 12, 2023
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has twice as many clean sheets as his next nearest challenger in La Liga and remains one of the last remnants from Barcelona’s last European title – the 2015 Champions League. The German has made 356 appearances for the Catalans, but at 30 remains one of the world’s best goalkeepers and a part of the club’s immediate rebuild.
Right-back: Diogo Dalot – Manchester United
Diogo Dalot has cemented his status as Manchester United’s right-back this season, with the defender beginning to fulfil his potential in the Premier League.
Touted as Europe’s best full-back in his age group upon arriving at Old Trafford, it has taken time and development for Dalot to show that promise. This season the 23-year-old has been excellent, having demonstrated defensive improvement alongside the attacking threat he has long carried.
He has been a key figure in the Red Devils’ improved back four and the club are working on a contract to secure his long-term future.
Centre-back: Ronald Araujo – Barcelona
Ronald Araujo is fast emerging as one of world football’s best centre-backs, having been a cornerstone of Barcelona’s defensive record this season.
The Uruguayan has grown in stature to become a leader of a Barcelona backline which has conceded just seven La Liga goals so far this season. Araujo’s controlled aggression and athleticism are crucial to the club’s high defensive line and his return from muscular issues earlier in the season and been a huge boost to Barcelona’s title charge.
Solid as a rock!! 🙌@RonaldAraujo_4 🔵🔴 @FCBarcelona #VillarrealBarça#LaLigaSantander #LaLigaHighlights pic.twitter.com/hXNoxKOlDh
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) February 14, 2023
Barcelona have averaged a huge 2.82 points per game with Araujo in the side this season, the highest of any La Liga player. Speculation this week has suggested the central defender could be used at right-back to combat the threat of Marcus Rashford this week, having performed similar shutdown roles on Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior in recent El Clásicos.
Centre-back: Lisandro Martinez – Manchester United
Lisandro Martinez has taken little time to become a terrace favourite at Old Trafford.
The summer arrival from Ajax has been in brilliant form for Erik ten Hag’s side this season, overcoming a tough start to emerge as one of the Premier League’s most consistent centre-backs. A fine distributer from the defensive line and full of South American fighting spirit, he has become a hugely popular figure during his debut season in English football.
Lisandro Martinez is turning haters into fans 🤫 pic.twitter.com/tAtNPMLGWh
— GOAL (@goal) February 10, 2023
The combative Argentine – a World Cup winner in Qatar during the winter – has captaincy credentials.
Left-back: Luke Shaw – Manchester United
Luke Shaw is producing some of the finest football of his career this season, with the defender invaluable to Erik ten Hag’s improving team. Whether stationed at centre-back or his more familiar full-back role, the England defender has excelled.
Technically proficient and an elegant carrier of the ball upfield, he produced a perfect first touch and pinpoint cross to set up Marcus Rashford’s opener in the win at Leeds last weekend. It was an example of the creative quality he possesses and Barcelona will need to cut out the service he can provide.
Midfield: Casemiro – Manchester United
Casemiro will do battle with Barcelona once again this week, having regularly duelled with the Spanish giants during a decorated career at Real Madrid.
The Brazil international won five Champions League trophies during his time on the opposite side of the El Clásico divide, before departing for Manchester United in search of a new challenge last summer. He has made a stunning impact in English football and has stamped his mark on Premier League midfields, combining combative defensive work with drive and elegance in possession.
The game changer for the Red Devils 😍 @Casemiro | @ManUtd pic.twitter.com/gBtyLVFVpg
— Premier League India (@PLforIndia) January 12, 2023
He has been the midfield general that has long been required to solve United’s soft centre.
Midfield: Frenkie de Jong – Barcelona
If Manchester United had got their wish, Frenkie de Jong would have lined up in their colours for this week’s meeting.
Erik ten Hag chased a deal for De Jong last summer as he sought to reunite with a midfielder who had impressed under his management at Ajax. The Dutchman has since produced some of the best football of his career at Barcelona, with Xavi hailing De Jong as ‘one of the best players in the world’ earlier this month.
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Press-resistant with an immaculate first touch and an ability to control games from the base of the midfield, it’s easy to see why Ten Hag was so keen to reunite with his compatriot last summer.
Midfield: Pedri – Barcelona
Barcelona boast a lineage of elite midfielders and Pedri has the potential to become a club great. The 20-year-old has become an irreplaceable member of the side since his arrival from Las Palmas, underlining his status as one of world football’s most exciting talents.
He has collected the Kopa Trophy and Golden Ball Awards at Barcelona and was named as the European Championship Young Player of the Tournament in 2021. With flawless close control, an understanding of the game and decisiveness in the final third, Pedri is already among the finest midfielders in world football.
His career has already contained plenty, but promises much, much more. He is the present and the future of the Barcelona midfield.
What a future this kid has!! 🤩
Who remembers this golazo from @Pedri last season…? 🤔#BarçaSevillaFC#LaLigaSantander #LaLigaHighlights pic.twitter.com/CPlZlxsA93
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) February 5, 2023
Right-wing: Ousmane Dembele – Barcelona
Ousmane Dembele has had a remarkable turnaround at Barcelona, with the winger having come close to leaving the Catalans before an impressive renaissance.
Dembele’s injury issues have prevented Barcelona from seeing the best of the Frenchman on a consistent since his £96.8m arrival from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, but last season proved a positive one as he came in from the cold to star.
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Dembele led La Liga for assists (13) despite starting just 15 league games, while he has continued to be a productive presence this time around with 15 goal involvements in all competitions this season.
Only Rafael Leao has completed more take-ons in the Champions League this season than Dembele, despite Barcelona’s group stage exit. His speed and natural two-footedness is a nightmare for opposition full-backs.
Left-wing: Marcus Rashford – Manchester United
Marcus Rashford is on fire right now, a run of form that has made the Manchester United forward one of Europe’s most exciting talents.
Rashford has scored eight goals in nine league appearances for United since the season’s restart, with his goals having propelled Erik ten Hag’s side into third spot in the Premier League table. The England international has broken through the 20-goal barrier for a third time and looks to have evolved his game into a more complete skillset.
👉👑#MUFC || #LEEMUN pic.twitter.com/kN8j61AhBr
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 12, 2023
He’s scoring headers and bullying defenders with a combination of strength and speed, with the attributes Rashford has long had beginning to be put together consistently.
Forward: Robert Lewandowski – Barcelona
Robert Lewandowski signed for Barcelona last summer in search of a new challenge, having spent more than a decade terrorising Bundesliga defences.
He scored 447 goals and won ten league titles across spells at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, before taking his goalscoring gifts to Spanish football. It’s been so far, so good for Lewandowski in La Liga, with the Poland international the division’s top scorer and averaging a goal every 102 minutes.
𝘽𝙤𝙧𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙘𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙜𝙤𝙖𝙡𝙨… 🇵🇱✨@lewy_official 💙❤️ @FCBarcelona #LaLigaSantander pic.twitter.com/IwAo83JpW3
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) September 28, 2022
Even at 34, he remains a centre-forward capable of winning games singlehandedly and stopping Lewadowski will be paramount to United’s chances across the two legs.
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