Aston Villa v Man Utd: Pictures
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Barcelona boss Xavi has admitted that his team got the worst possible draw when they were paired with Manchester United in the play-off round of the Europa League on Monday afternoon. The Catalan giants will do battle with United over two legs for a place in the competition’s round of 16, with the ties set to be played seven days apart in mid-February.
The result of the draw was a disappointing one for United, who would have been hoping for an easier ride as they look to progress into the latter stages of the Europa League by claiming an aggregate victory over Barcelona. It seems as though Xavi was also less than impressed with the draw from his own perspective as he gave his immediate reaction when quizzed on his thoughts in a press conference shortly afterwards.
“The draw has given us the most difficult rival again, like in the Champions League group stage,” said Xavi. “Luck was not on our side. Manchester United are a great rival, a historic club, the worst that we could wish for.
“They have great individualities, but I’d highlight the group they have. We’ll prepare well and analyse the opponent as we have to.”
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United’s two-legged tie against Barcelona will also see the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to the Nou Camp, with the 37-year-old bagging a brace in his last game against the Spanish outfit for Juventus in the Champions League back in 2020.
“It’s not just Cristiano,” added Xavi. “We are going to face a team that has grown a lot under [Erik] ten Hag and we’ll have to challenge them on the pitch. Big historic club, they will have the same urgency to win as us.
“[Ronaldo is a] huge player, he has defined an era of football and I’m sure he can still make the difference right now.”
It remains to be seen whether United will be able to get the job done over two legs against Barcelona as they look to maintain their hopes of ending their five-year trophy drought by progressing into the last 16 of the Europa League, which they won outright back in 2017. Barcelona, meanwhile, reached the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament before they were knocked out by eventual winners Frankfurt and will be equally determined to avoid another early exit at the hands of the Red Devils.
They were forced to enter UEFA’s second-tier competition earlier this month after crashing out of the Champions League by finishing as the third-placed side in their group, while United ended up second in their Europa League group behind only Real Sociedad, who pipped them to top spot on goal difference. It remains to be seen how the upcoming play-off tie between the two clubs will go, though, with the fixture easily the highest-profile of this season’s entire tournament thus far.
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