Erik ten Hag believes the fact Manchester United and Barcelona are meeting in the Europa League is proof both clubs “needed a reset”.
The Red Devils and Barca have won eight European Cups between them – three for United and five for the Catalan giants – but are currently battling it out in UEFA’s secondary competition.
Both sides have taken big strides forward this season, though, with the Blaugrana top of LaLiga under Xavi and United third in the Premier League with an EFL Cup final on the horizon.
United travel to Camp Nou for the first leg of their play-off tie on Thursday, and Ten Hag says United and Barca must accept their current predicament.
“I think both clubs have the ambition to be in the Champions League and to have an impact in it,” he said at Wednesday’s pre-match press conference.
“To make the semi-finals and even win it, but the reality is we’re in the Europa League, which shows both clubs needed a reset.
“I think it’s exciting to face each other tomorrow night because it will help both clubs. With such tests, you get better.”
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United have won 12 of their 15 matches since the World Cup break, losing just one of those, while Barca have won 11 games in a row.
Xavi’s side have already lifted the Supercopa de Espana this year and are 11 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.
“It’s clear when you see the stats of Barcelona, it’s impressive,” Ten Hag said. “They defend well, but I think their biggest skill is they have so much possession.
“Barca is a difficult club to manage, but they are playing their best football for several years. You can see [Johan] Cruyff’s influence here.”
United have lost their past four meetings with Barcelona – not since losing five in a row against Liverpool between 2000 and 2002 have they been on a worse run against a club.
The Red Devils travel to Catalonia without injured trio Antony, Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay, while Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek are long-term absentees.
Marcel Sabitzer and Lisandro Martinez are suspended, meanwhile, meaning Luke Shaw may be asked to play at centre-back once again.
“We have many options I think to sort it out,” Ten Hag said of Martinez’s absence. “We can use Luke as a full-back and centre-back.
“We saw at the weekend [against Leeds United] he did both. We can choose by game what we prefer.”
Midfield enforcer Casemiro will be available, having been banned for their past two games.
Versatile defender Shaw says United missed the Brazil international in their back-to-back league meetings with Leeds, which they drew 2-2 and won 2-0.
“I think it’s obvious to see how important he is to the team,” Shaw said. “For us as defenders, it gives us a feeling of security. He loves to win the ball back and tackle.
“We joke he likes to give the ball away, so he can win it back. I’m very happy to have him back tomorrow night because he’s been a big miss for us.”