Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde is expecting big things from Lionel Messi in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Manchester United.
The LaLiga leaders head to Old Trafford for the first leg of their quarter-final tie looking for a result that will keep their treble challenge alive.
Messi has scored 22 Champions League goals against English teams – more than any other player in the history of the competition – but he has not managed a single goal in any of his last 11 quarter-final outings.
However, Valverde is confident Messi will be primed to impress against a team he has twice scored against in the final of this competition, in 2009 and 2011.
“Messi is the player he is. I understand that all managers and players look for a way to stop him,” Valverde told a news conference on Tuesday.
“We know sometimes there are ways to neutralise players. We’ll see if it’s possible. We expect a lot from Leo and he normally delivers.”
Messi could be under particular pressure to perform given there are still doubts over the fitness of Ousmane Dembele, who has not yet been given the medical all-clear following a hamstring injury suffered in the last-16 second-leg win over Lyon.
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“I don’t know. We’ll see how he is in this evening’s training,” Valverde said when asked if Dembele is ready to play.
“Regardless, it’s not the same situation as Lyon, it’s not the second leg. We have to be aware that, in that last game, we maybe forced it a little. We won’t run that risk this time.
“We’ll see tomorrow. We won’t rush into any decisions. We don’t know what the opponents will do. I feel both teams will continue to play in the way they have been recently.”
United had been on a resurgent run of form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until suffering three defeats in their last four matches in all competitions.
But Valverde thinks their dramatic 3-1 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain in their last Champions League outing – a result which sent them into the quarter-finals on away goals – shows how dangerous they can be.
“Manchester United are a team who have many more things than set-pieces,” he said.
“We know they’re very strong in that aspect, but they’re an opponent who have been gaining strength in what they’ve been doing. They come into this game with high morale, wanting to show what they can do, and wanting to go through. We have to be careful with set-pieces, counter-attacks, and the impact the fans can have.
“When we got United in the draw, they had just knocked out PSG. I think that was a strong signal. We thought they would be a tough opponent.
“What do I expect? When they play at home, press high, they’re a strong team. Possibly, they will do that because their fans will them to do it. But you can’t always push high, and you can’t always drop back. You have to find alternative ways to play.”
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