Football: Barca weight up options for Old Trafford

FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has a couple of decisions to make before his side takes on Manchester United in Old Trafford in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie.

Last Saturday’s 2-0 win at home to Atletico Madrid means Barcelona need just 10 points from the last seven Liga Santander matches of the season to be crowned in Spain and that means Valverde has no need to hold anything back against the English side.

Most of the Barca team virtually picks itself, with Leo Messi and Luis Suarez certainties in attack, along with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic in midfield, Jordi Alba, Clement Lenglet, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba in defense and Marc Andre Ter Stegen in goal.

That means that in theory there are three places up for grabs.

In defense it looks as if Nelson Semedo could come into the side for Sergi Roberto, with the Portuguese right back’s greater pace considered a factor when it comes to stopping Manchester United’s Marcos Rashford’s pace on the break.

Artur Melo has been in good form for Barca of late, but could also step down to allow the greater aggression and Champions League experience of Arturo Vidal a game in old Trafford.

Valverde has the toughest decision to make in attack, where he has several options to accompany Messi and Suarez.

Ousmane Dembele has travelled with Barcelona, but after a month out through injury, the coach will be unwilling to rest the winger from the start and will probably keep him as an option off the bench if needed. And Sergi Roberto could push forward into a more forward role, where he would provide width on the right and extra cover against United’s pace on the break.

The final option is Philippe Coutinho, who played on Saturday. The Brazilian has looked out of form in 2019, but showed sign of his enormous talent against Atletico Madrid, he also knows the English game well following his time with Liverpool and would offer Valverde the option between switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 during the game if needed.

Of course Valverde could spring a surprise and play both Arthur and Vidal in midfield with a straightforward 4-4-2, but with his side likely to dominate midfield against a hard-working but technically more limited Manchester United side, the coach is likely to place faith in a system that has worked very well for him so far this season.