Manchester United and Barcelona needed a reboot but are now in a good position to make each other better, United coach Erik Ten Hag said ahead of the first leg of their Europa League knockout-round clash on Thursday.
The teams have met regularly in the Champions League over the years and Ten Hag does not see much difference in the level of play between his side and the Spanish LaLiga leaders.
“Both clubs have the ambition to be in the Champions League and to have an impact in it, but the reality is, we’re in the Europa League, which shows both clubs needed a reset,” Ten Hag told reporters on Wednesday.
“I think it’s exciting to face each other tomorrow night because it will help both clubs. We both are in the right direction, is a good taste for both teams, from challenges you get better.”
The Dutch coach praised Xavi Hernandez’s team, who lead Real Madrid by 11 points and have conceded only seven goals in 21 league games with a playing style made famous by former Dutch great Johan Cruyff.
“Barca is very difficult, they are playing their best football in many years, you see their way of playing and the influence of Johan Cruyff,” said Ten Hag.
“When you see their stats it is impressive, they defend well, but their biggest skill is the possession.”
United will be hampered by the absences of Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer due to suspension, as well as Antony, Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay who are injured.
Ten Hag said they were on course to return to action ahead of the League Cup final against Newcastle United on Feb. 26 when Manchester United will bid to win their first major trophy since 2017.