They’re two members of European football’s aristocracy who, not so long ago, were meeting in the Champions League finals.
Now Barcelona and Manchester United are going headto-head in the unlikely confines of a Europa League playoff match.
Not that they are playing like also-rans of the continent.
“At the end of the day, we don’t deserve to be in the Champions League and neither do they. But the level is still very high,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said on Wednesday.
Indeed, the clubs with two of the biggest followings in world football are in a good place on the field, especially considering the plight they have found themselves in recent years.
Barcelona are emerging, very slowly, from a crippling financial crisis that cost the club Lionel Messi and plenty more.
Their economic situation is still grave — Barcelona’s latest accounts show the club is more than $650 million in debt — but the team is performing so well that they have an 11- point lead in the La Liga.
United, meanwhile, are rising up the Premier League and could win their first trophy in six years when meeting Newcastle in the final of the League Cup later this month.
In that sense, both teams have reason to believe they will be back competing at the top of European football soon.
In the meantime, their presence in the Europa League adds glamour to a competition that is widely viewed as the Champions League’s little brother.
The only disappointment for fans is that the meeting comes so early.
“I think Barcelona and (us) as well (would) have preferred to play in the final,” United manager Erik ten Hag said.
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