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Why Xavi’s assessment of Man United’s performance vs Barcelona is wrong



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Credit: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Xavi was extremely complimentary of Manchester United’s performance against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Thursday evening but also held an underestimation of the level of Erik ten Hag’s team.

United travelled to Spain for the first leg of their round-of-32 Europa League tie with fire in their bellies. Marcus Rashford stole the headlines in the 2-2 draw, playing a major part in both goals for the visitors.

Despite never winning against the La Liga side at their home, The Reds will feel unfortunate to not break that duck after a solid performance.

Xavi was impressed by the performance of United after praising Erik ten Hag before the game and warned his team that they need to be ready to perform when they travel to Manchester next week.

“It was a really tough game, really difficult with a lot of intensity, passion, rhythm. We have to be proud because we competed well until the end,” he told BT Sport.

“We could have won in the last two chances but we played against a top team in Europe. Manchester [United] is coming back and today they showed their best version.

“We competed really well, we need to be proud. Now we need to compete well in Old Trafford.”

However, despite a rallying performance, United were actually far from their best on Thursday evening. And that’s more of a compliment to Ten Hag and his side than it is a critique.

United struggled against Barcelona’s press during the game but played without two of their key build-up players in Diogo Dalot and Lisandro Martinez. The former has only recently returned from injury and the latter was suspended for the tie.

This also meant that Luke Shaw was moved across to the middle when usually he combines with Martinez to aid progression for The Reds.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was also targetted throughout the encounter and with no natural right winger either, United’s threat from the right was limited – Bruno Fernandes was also playing away from his most effective position.

Considering that most of Barcelona’s success in the first leg came from United being poor in their own half – by either losing possession deep or losing the ball by playing long – United have so much room for improvement if certain players can return to the side.

Even in the midfield, Ten Hag’s side are running light. Fred and Casemiro are not a bad pairing but it seems obvious that they’d be better off with Christian Eriksen or Marcel Sabitzer alongside the no.18. Fred is still blowing hot and cold when he starts games for The Reds.

Xavi has acknowledged the impact of Ten Hag at Old Trafford but the promising sign is that his statement that United were at their best at the Camp Nou is wrong. Hopefully, they can show him that next week.