Barca manager cautious ahead of United Europa League play-off

Barcelona manager Xavi says the club’s Europa League play-off against Manchester United in February is going to be a massive task.

“[They have] great individual players and it is the toughest rival once again in the Europa League,” he said shortly after Monday’s draw.

“We will have to compete, going to Manchester against a really top rival and a historic side which has grown a lot with the arrival of (Erik) Ten Hag.

“We will have time to analyse it, they are a strong team in both defence and attack, not just for Cristiano Ronaldo, but other players [too]. Manchester United are a historic club and they also need to win. Two big teams and it’s going to be a massive task.”

Xavi’s side dropped into the competition after finishing third in their Champions’ League group, while Man United lost out on top spot to Real Sociedad.

Barca and United have faced each other 13 times in European competition, although Man Utd have only won three of these meetings. The last came in April 2008 with United winning 1-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-finals.

After a goalless draw at the Nou Camp, Paul Scholes’ 14th-minute winner at Old Trafford knocked Barcelona out. United would go on to win the competition that year, beating Chelsea on penalties in the final.

But Barcelona have won each of the last four meetings, including two Champions League finals. They were 2-0 winners at the StadioOlimpico in May 2009 and beat United 3-1 at Wembley two years later.

Their last European match-up was in the 2018/19 quarter-finals with Barcelona winning 4-0 on aggregate.

It is also a chance for Cristiano Ronaldo to face off against his former El Clasico rival. The ex-Real Madrid player has scored 20 goals in 34 career appearances against Barcelona, although has never managed to do so for United.

The Europa League play-off comes in the middle of a busy February for United, who also face Leeds, Leicester and Brentford in the Premier League.

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho’s Roma will face RB Salzburg with the possibility of being drawn against his former Man United side if both teams qualify for the last 16.

Fellow Serie A side Juventus will take on Nantes, Sevilla – six-time winners of the Europa League – will face PSV Eindhoven and Ten Hag’s former team Ajax will take on Bundesliga side Union Berlin.

Europa League play-off fixtures in full:

Barcelona vs Man Utd

Juventusvs Nantes

Sporting Lisbon vs FC Midtjylland

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Rennes

Ajax vs Union Berlin

Bayer Leverkusen vs Monaco

Sevillavs PSV Eindhoven

RB Salzburg vs Roma

Europa League key dates:

Play-off ties: February 16 and February 23

Last-16 draw: February 24

Last-16 ties: March 9 and March 16

Quarter-final and semi-final draw: March 17

Quarter-final ties: April 13 and April 20

Semi-final ties: May 11 and May 18

Final: May 31 at the Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary

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