Manchester United may have got the toughest draw they could have in the Europa League by meeting Barcelona – but Xavi insists it works both ways.
To get to the round of 16, Manchester United will have to get past a two-legged tie with Barcelona. The Red Devils came second in their Europa League group, whereas their La Liga opponents came third in their Champions League pool.
It is the most eye-catching tie of the draw. They are two of the competition’s most prestigious remaining clubs this season, but only one will reach the round of 16.
Manchester United will have a lot of preparation to do in order to compete well with Barcelona, who are currently top of La Liga after 13 matches. Their next game takes place on Tuesday against Osasuna.
However, from the Spanish side’s perspective, it will also be a challenging encounter. According to Barcelona boss Xavi, Manchester United represent the fiercest foe the draw could have paired them with.
Xavi told a press conference: “We will have to compete. Going to Manchester against a really tough rival and a historic side that has grown a lot with [Erik] ten Hag, with great individual players.
“Yes, it is the toughest rival, once again, in the Europa League. We will have to compete. It’s a massive challenge for us. Our players will probably be more motivated against a strong team and we will have to compete.”
There will be plenty of interesting subplots when the two-legged tie takes place in February.
How will Frenkie de Jong perform at Old Trafford, for example? Will Memphis Depay be back against his former club?
They are just two of many Barcelona players who will be looking to make an impact. It will be a big occasion for both squads – and the competition won’t even be that far in then.
Hence, a lot is at stake, not just the bragging rights of the round in itself.
Bold Barcelona prediction by Scholes to be put to the test
All eyes will be on Old Trafford and Camp Nou for when the fixtures take place.
One man who may find it particularly intriguing is Manchester United legend Paul Scholes, who had already boldly named Barcelona as his preferred opponents for the next round.
After Manchester United advanced to this phase of the competition, Scholes told BT Sport last week: “I would love them to draw Barcelona to get the juices flowing and get a good atmosphere.
“I think they are capable of beating Barcelona.
“On the other hand, they are a really good team. As much as I want to play them, they are probably the team you want to avoid.”
Well, they haven’t avoided them, so it is up to the players to prove their worth. Until then, they have plenty of commitments domestically either side of the World Cup.