Manchester United could receive a huge boost to their Champions League hopes as Barcelona forward Luis Suarez is struggling to be fully fit for the first leg at Old Trafford. This could give United a massive advantage in the tie, given Suarez’s sumptuous link-up play with Lionel Messi, and the distinct lack of quality options up front for Barcelona aside from those two greats of the game.
Suarez must be fully fit to be at the top of the game against United to cause their side problems and he plays a key role in their set-up. Barca switch between a 4-4-2 formation and a fluid 4-3-3 which allows Messi a free role in both systems. The Argentine is allowed to float into space where he is most effective and can influence games at the drop of a hat.
However, he is reliant on Luis Suarez to be the front man in both of these systems, holding the ball up and relentlessly chasing defenders to force errors. This harrying that we have seen symbolise Suarez’s career gives defenders more than just Messi to worry about and a Suarez recovering from injury may not give the United defenders such issues.
This weekend, Ernesto Valverde chose four hardworking central midfielders in a system that worked a dream for Lionel Messi. Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Arthur and Arturo Vidal across the midfield allowed Barca to win the ball back from a solid defensive base and feed their main man. This system could be used as a more defensive option at Old Trafford but does rely on Suarez being on top form.
In the unlikely scenario that Suarez is not declared fit, Barcelona are likely to run with the renowned 4-3-3 formation. However, this could harm their chances as it would mean Lionel Messi would move into a central role with Philippe Coutinho coming in on the left.
Although Coutinho would love a goal at Old Trafford he has not been an instant hit with his new side and although he has improved recently, he would have to work hard to justify his selection. That also would leave an opening on the right-hand side but with Ousmane Dembele out for three weeks with a hamstring strain, the Catalans could go with Malcom on the right.
The Brazilian is another new signing who has found life difficult at the Nou Camp, getting just 129 minutes of playing time in the league this season. It would be a real surprise to see him start, given he is yet to start a game in the Champions League this term. Alternatively, Kevin-Prince Boateng could be moved into an attacking role and be used as a direct replacement for Luis Suarez.
United will be up against it if Messi is at his best, but Luis Suarez will play a crucial role in deciding this tie. If he is on top form and firing then Barcelona’s systems work, if he is slightly off the pace then they may find things tough, with their other injuries.
Solskjaer’s men do have a chance in this tie but they will need to get themselves onto the front foot and pressure the Barca back line with their talented attackers. Trying to come up with a plan to stop Messi is almost impossible so attack really is the best form of defence. It should be a cracker.