Unleash rested Casemiro against his old rivals and don't let Harry Maguire face Robert Lewandowski: How Man Utd can end Barcelona's incredible eight-game winning streak

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Harry Maguire Casemiro Man Utd vs Barcelona
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The Blaugrana are currently the in-form team in Europe, and United need an air-tight gameplan to vanquish them at Camp Nou on Thursday

Will Barcelona ever lose a game of football again? On current form, it's difficult to say. Xavi's rejuvenated side enter their Europa League play-off against Manchester United on a stunning, eight-game winning run in all competitions, with their last defeat coming all the way back in October at the hands of Bayern Munich.

This rampant form has opened up an 11-point lead over bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, with Barca also set to face Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey semi-finals after their European double-header with United is out of the way.

After thoroughly underwhelming in continental competitions since taking over at Camp Nou, Xavi will be desperate to get one over on Erik ten Hag over the two legs, but they will have their work cut out to do so.

Like Barca, United are another former European titan that have gone some way to restoring their mythos this season, with Ten Hag already guiding the Red Devils to a domestic cup final and putting them well in contention to finish in the Premier League top four.

United, for their part, have won five of their last six in all competitions, meaning something has to give in Catalunya on Thursday night.

Here is what GOAL thinks Ten Hag's side need to do if they are to make it into the Europa League last-16:

  1. Get a well-rested Casemiro back in the side
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    Get a well-rested Casemiro back in the side

    At first, it was nigh-on impossible to see the positive side of Casemiro being handed a three-match ban for violent conduct after he grabbed Will Hughes during United's edgy victory over Crystal Palace earlier this month.

    However, just over a week on, United have earned four points from two tricky matches against old adversaries Leeds, and now have the Brazilian well-rested - and available - for their crunch meeting with Barcelona.

    No one in the Red Devils' squad has more experience facing the Blaugrana than Casemiro, who has won nine of his 19 meetings against Barca, and that big-game nous will be vital on Thursday evening.

    The midfield general's main task will be shutting down Pedri and Gavi when they try and pick up space between the defence and midfield - something the pair have done effectively in recent weeks.

    He even has a yellow card to burn too, as he's - rather surprisingly - not made his way into the referee's notebook at all in European competition this season.

  2. Don't let Harry Maguire face Robert Lewandowski

    Don't let Harry Maguire face Robert Lewandowski

    Harry Maguire put in a serviceable, if sometimes shaky display in United's most recent fixture against Leeds.

    In truth, it was to be expected, given Maguire has only been handed patchy playing time this season. As such, a bit of ring rust is entirely understandable.

    Speaking after that game, the club captain gave a thoroughly self-aware interview, confirming that while he was disappointed to not be starting, he understood that the collective must come first.

    "Winning the game is most important, it’s not about myself," he told Sky Sports. “I’m the captain of the team, I put the team miles before myself and playing or not, I want the team to do well and be successful so it’s been a good season up until now."

    Following the logic of his own argument, Maguire should not be anywhere near the starting XI at Camp Nou - even if he has seen some minutes in the Europa League this season.

    He simply isn't match-sharp, and the thought of him facing off against a striker of Robert Lewandowski's quality is a scary thought for anyone of a United persuasion. With Lisandro Martinez suspended, Luke Shaw should be the one to partner Raphael Varane.

  3. Let Marcus Rashford exploit Jules Kounde
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    Let Marcus Rashford exploit Jules Kounde

    Key to Barcelona's incredible recent form has been their stark defensive improvement - typified by the four 1-0 wins they've recorded in their last six games.

    It's not exactly the sort of football many were expecting when Xavi took over and immediately started splurging on forwards, but it's been damn effective.

    Individual defensive performances have contributed significantly to this stinginess, but if there is a 'weak-ish link' in the Barca backline, it would probably be Jules Kounde. The Frenchman has far more experience at centre-back, but a lack of options means he's principally been deployed on the right since the World Cup break.

    This wouldn't be so much of an issue if Marcus Rashford - Kounde's opposite number on Thursday - wasn't in the form of his life. Seven goals in his last eight Premier League games tells its own story, and if United are to cause Barcelona's solid defence problems, continuing to feed Rashford is the key.

  4. Don't allow Frenkie de Jong to play!
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    Don't allow Frenkie de Jong to play!

    When Sergio Busquets limped off during Barca's victory over Sevilla, there was a collective intake of breath inside Camp Nou. He may be well into his thirties, but Busquets remains the metronome that makes this Barcelona team tick.

    In his absence, Xavi needed somebody to step up. Frenkie de Jong has been that player, defying his critics who claim he is ill-suited to a deep-lying midfield role.

    De Jong's resistance to the press, passing and ability to carry the ball through the lines has all been on display in recent weeks, as he continues to show why United pushed so hard to secure his services in the summer.

    With the financial sharks circling, Barcelona could again elbow him towards the exit door at the end of the current campaign, but in the short term, his long-time suitors need to stop him controlling proceedings on Thursday.

    Drafting Fred in for a man-marking job could be an idea.

  5. Use Wout Weghorst to unsettle Barca
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    Use Wout Weghorst to unsettle Barca

    After the initial surprise passed, Wout Weghorst's January arrival at United was widely praised as a pretty smart piece of business.

    The Dutchman has failed to hit the ground running, though, scoring just once in his opening eight games. Despite the goal-shyness, the transfer has not been a complete disaster.

    Weghorst's ability to hold the ball up and occupy central defenders has arguably given the in-form Rashford more freedom to do his thing in the left half-space, while also opening pockets for Bruno Fernandes to create in.

    Andreas Christensen and Ronald Araujo won't be used to coming up against a battering ram like Weghorst and he may hold the key to knitting things together in the final third.

  6. Take inspiration from Bayern Munich
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    Take inspiration from Bayern Munich

    The last team to inflict defeat on Barca was Bayern Munich, all the way back in October.

    It is worth noting that Xavi's side wouldn't have been especially motivated for that one, with their Champions League elimination already confirmed, but there are still lessons that United can learn from the encounter.

    In particular, Ten Hag will be hopeful of replicating Die Roten's opening two goals that evening.

    Each was scored as a result of Bayern's rapid offensive transitions catching an unset Barcelona defence off guard, with Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting both being afforded simple finishes.

    The chances of Barca repeating this defensive disaster-class are pretty remote - Hector Bellerin played that night and Marcos Alonso was shoehorned in at centre-back - but it still suggests that the Blaugrana can be got at if Ten Hag's charges are quick enough on the counter.