You won’t find a bigger brand name match-up in the UEFA Europa League than FC Barcelona versus Manchester United. Two of the three biggest branded clubs and richest football franchises (Real Madrid is the other one in this rarified air) will meet in UEFA’s junior varsity competition on Feb. 16 and Feb 23. The first of the two legs will be at the Camp Nou, with the second transpiring at Old Trafford.
Obviously, this isn’t what either club wants, as they both have plenty of football to play right now as it is. The World Cup selling out to a place where it cannot be played during the summer meant it had to be shifted to the fall/in the midst of the club regular season. That’s caused a serious amount of fixture congestion and scheduling overload, thus far this season, and it isn’t going to be any better after the WC.
Man United couldn’t win their UEL group and FC Barcelona couldn’t avoid relegation from the UEFA Champions League for the second straight season. In their defense, United only lost their Europa opener and Barca was in the UCL Group of Death.
“The draw has given us the most difficult opponent once again,” said Xavi, manager of Barcelona.
“But we will look forward to it and we will compete. They are a historic side, they have grown a lot with the arrival of Ten Hag, they have great players. It’s the worst draw we could have got. Once again. No luck. Sometimes it’s a plus to play against the best sides. Maybe it will bring the best out of us here and at Old Trafford. It’s a challenge.”
The last time that these two sides faced each other was the Champions League quarterfinal in 2018-19. Barcelona swept that two match set, progressing 4-0 on aggregate. And honestly, that tie wasn’t even that close. Barca dominated throughout.
Getting back to the topic of that insane fixture congestion, the phenomena that is wreaking havoc on all of us right now…This list, as posted on ESPN, shows how congested the schedule will be in 2023, with only three vacant midweeks built in through to the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday, May 28.
Jan. 10 – Carabao Cup QF
Jan. 17 – FA Cup R3 replays
Jan. 24 – Carabao Cup SF L1
Jan. 31 – Carabao Cup SF L2
Feb. 7 – FA Cup R4 replays
Feb. 14 – European competition knockouts
Feb. 21 – European competition knockouts
Feb. 28 – FA Cup R5
March 7 – European competition knockouts
March 14 – European competition knockouts
March 21 – International break
March 28 – International break
April 4 – vacant midweek
April 11 – European competition QF
April 18 – European competition QF
April 25 – Premier League fixtures
May 2 – vacant midweek
May 9 – European competition SF
May 16 – European competition SF
May 23 – vacant midweek
For the first time ever, we’ll enjoy an international break! Typically, we all get bored to tears during the internationals, but with such an insane overload like this, the time off will be refreshing.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”