Sergi Roberto accepts Barcelona "have a problem in midfield" ahead of their return leg at Manchester United due to Pedri and Gavi being ruled out.

The sides played out a thrilling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou on Thursday to leave their Europa League play-off tie in the balance heading into next week's second leg.

Barca rallied from behind, having earlier let slip a lead of their own, but it came at a cost as Pedri limped off with a hamstring injury that is expected to rule him out for a month.

Meanwhile, fellow central midfielder Gavi received a yellow card, with that his third in Europe this season, resulting in an automatic suspension for the game at Old Trafford.

Xavi's options are further limited as Sergio Busquets is also nursing an injury, but versatile defender Sergi Roberto is happy to fill the void if called upon.

"We hope that Pedri's injury won't be too serious, so he can be back on the pitch as soon as possible," Sergi Roberto said.

"But it's true that we have a problem in midfield now, especially in the Europa League, because Gavi can't play. We don't know yet if Pedri can. 

"I will be willing to play in any position the coach wants me to. Either in the midfield or as winger. The coach knows I am at his disposal for wherever he needs me."

Pedri in particular has been hugely influential for Barca this season, with no player in LaLiga winning more points for their side (10 points with six goals).

The youngster left the field against United with the game still goalless, but Marcos Alonso opened the scoring for Barca early in the second half.

Marcus Rashford's 22nd goal of the season – equalling his career-best tally in the 2019-20 campaign – and a Jules Kounde own goal had United in front nine minutes later.

But Raphinha levelled for the hosts in rather fortuitous circumstances in the 76th minute to leave the tie delicately poised ahead of the return match in Manchester.

"A win wasn't to be, so to draw is better than losing," Sergi Roberto said. "My team really competed right until the end. 

"It's true that when you have a win in the bag, the second leg looks better. It was a night when both teams had lots of chances. Next week we'll have to improve.

"United are a team who love having the ball and that's made it a very interesting match. What a shame we couldn't win it."

LaLiga leaders Barcelona are now unbeaten in all six of their home games against United (W3 D3).

Massimiliano Allegri warned Juventus cannot afford "to feel sorry for ourselves" after the Bianconeri were denied a late penalty and failed to make their dominance pay against Nantes.

Juve were held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Europa League play-off tie on Thursday after Ludovic Blas' second-half strike cancelled out a simple Dusan Vlahovic opener.

Allegri's side dominated for large parts at Allianz Stadium and were left aggrieved after seeing a late penalty appeal turned down when Andrei Girotto appeared to handle inside the area.

The VAR sent referee Joao Pinheiro to the touchline monitor in the final minutes, but he instead awarded a free-kick for a Bremer push on the Nantes defender, much to Allegri's annoyance.

"I saw it now. Needless to say it was a hand, a penalty, it should have been a second yellow card," the Juve coach told Sky Sport Italia.

While Juve were left furious with the late decision, the Bianconeri should have sealed the play-off advantage earlier after pinning their visitors back throughout.

Allegri's side managed 64.2 per cent possession in the second half, registered double their opponents' seven shots over the full game and hit the target with six of those compared to Nantes' one.

The stalemate left it all to play for at Beaujoire Stadium on February 23 as Allegri was left to rue a missed chance.

"We could have done better with our ball speed. After 1-0 we stopped, we played too much in slow motion," the Italian added.

"It went to 1-1 and then we got back to playing, we had the chance to go 2-1 up on several occasions. We have to carry on [when on top], especially in these matches where you need to score more goals.

"It's useless to feel sorry for ourselves, we have to secure qualification in France. But now we have to think about Spezia [on Sunday]."

Allegri was also left frustrated with the nature of Blas' equaliser after Nantes raced away on a counterattack that started on the edge of their own area, with Mostafa Mohamed playing through his strike partner to equalise.

He continued: "[Angel] Di Maria could shoot, he tried to dribble, it can happen. You can't let a counterattack happen from the other end of the pitch and not make a foul.

"It happened because at that moment we were a bit out of the game."

Juventus are "not afraid" of being hit with a ban from European competition despite their Serie A points deduction.

That was the defiant message from Juve's chief football officer Francesco Calvo, who was appointed in January just days after the Bianconeri were hit with a 15-point punishment.

Those charges for the Turin side followed investigations into financial violations from past transfer dealings, with former Juve president Andrea Agnelli and ex-sporting director Fabio Paratici handed bans.

While Massimiliano Allegri's side aim to battle back on the pitch, there are suggestions a second investigation by UEFA could result in Juve being banned from playing in Europe.

But Calvo insisted Juve have no reason for concern with European football's governing body.

"We are not afraid that what's happening in Italy will have consequences in Europe," CalcioMercato quoted Calvo as saying before Juve's 1-1 draw with Nantes in the Europa League on Thursday.

"We are in constant contact with UEFA, we are not afraid, and the proceedings in Italy aren't over yet."

Allegri's men face an uphill battle to qualify for the Champions League next season, trailing fourth-placed Roma by 12 points after the punishment last month.

Matters have not been made easier by the absence of Paul Pogba, who is yet to make his second debut for Juve after re-joining from Manchester United ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The France international was first sidelined by knee surgery, with Allegri suggesting on Saturday Pogba could be three weeks away from returning after further fitness issues.

Calvo remains content to wait for the return of Pogba, who was not considered by Juve to just be a quick fix.

"He is a long-term investment. We are waiting for him and I am sure he will return soon," Calvo added. "Massimiliano Allegri is a reference point in such a difficult season.

"Our ideas are in line, also regarding the future. As a team, we've always been united."

Juventus dominated throughout but were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Nantes after Ludovic Blas scored a priceless equaliser in the Europa League play-off.

Massimiliano Allegri's side fell into this competition after a dire Champions League campaign, finishing third in Group H, but looked good value for their early first-leg lead on Thursday.

Dusan Vlahovic tapped home after 13 minutes at Allianz Stadium, only for Blas to finish a flowing counter-attack in the second half before Juve were left aggrieved after a late VAR check deemed Andrei Girotto had not handled for a penalty in the dying minutes.

That left it all to play for in the return meeting at Beaujoire Stadium on February 23 after a wasteful Juve offered Nantes the chance for a memorable European night at home.

Angel Di Maria stung the palms of Alban Lafont with an early drive and Nantes did not heed the opening warning signs from Argentina's World Cup winner.

A delicate Di Maria chipped pass found Federico Chiesa to selflessly nod across for Vlahovic to convert from point-blank range.

Lafont parried another ferocious Di Maria long-range effort as a tepid Nantes were fortunate to head in at half-time just a goal down.

A clinical counter-attack drew Nantes level on the hour as Blas capitalised on Bremer's slip to race onto Mostafa Mohamed's pass and fire past Wojciech Szczesny.

Chiesa rattled the crossbar and Lafont's left post with a venomous left-footed strike that somehow bounced off the line and away from goal as Juve looked to respond.

Danilo blazed over on the volley before Girotto was deemed not to have handled when challenging a late Bremer headed chance, with the referee awarding a free-kick for a push on Girotto instead, leaving it all to play for in France next week.

What does it mean? Juve falter in rare Europa League appearance

Juve had played their last 84 matches in European competition in the Champions League, as has been their dominance in recent years on the continent.

On their first appearance in the Europa League since reaching the 2013-14 semi-finals, Allegri's side failed to make their superiority count and were punished for a profligate outing.

Any hopes in Serie A have diminished due to their points deduction, therefore Juve need to recover in the return leg as a run in Europe or April's Coppa Italia semi-final against Inter could be their only hope of salvaging a positive season.

Chiesa and Vlahovic finally link-up again

Star Juve attackers Chiesa and Vlahovic have rarely played together due to injuries hampering the pair this season, but Allegri will be delighted to see them together once more.

The duo linked up in ruthless fashion for the opening strike, just their second combination together for a goal – the other coming in August 2019 when Vlahovic assisted Chiesa for former side Fiorentina.

Lafont leads the way

Lafont produced a captain's performance as Nantes battled with their backs against the wall to keep their hopes alive in this two-legged affair.

While the majority were far from eye-catching, the France goalkeeper made six saves in a vital performance to stave off Juve's prolonged periods of pressure.

What's next?

Juventus return to Serie A action at Spezia on Sunday, when Nantes travel to Lens in Ligue 1.

Erik ten Hag was left furious with the referee's decision to not give Manchester United a free-kick for an apparent foul on Marcus Rashford during their 2-2 draw with Barcelona at Camp Nou in their Europa League knockout round play-off first leg.

Rashford was a thorn in Barca's side throughout and appeared to be taken out by Jules Kounde when through on goal just outside the penalty area with United leading 2-1, but referee Maurizio Mariani allowed play to continue.

The England international equalised Marcos Alonso's opener earlier in the second half before forcing a Kounde own goal to give United the lead, though Raphinha levelled with 14 minutes remaining.

Despite the generally positive performance and result, Ten Hag felt a need to focus on the incident involving Kounde's tackle on Rashford, as the Frenchman would likely have been dismissed if a foul was given.

Ten Hag told BT Sport: "I think the referee had a big influence on this game. It was a foul on Rashy.

"You can discuss if it was in or outside the box, but then [either way] it is a red card because [Rashford] was one-on-one with the keeper. 

"So it's a big influence, not just for this game, in this round. It can't be, referees can't much such mistakes."

Rashford himself was similarly baffled by Mariani's decision.

"It's a massive moment in the game," he said. "I've not watched it back but in the moment I don't understand why the linesman thinks I'm going down there.

"I've touched it past him and my foot's in front of the ball, [Kounde] hits my leg and it's clear contact. It's not a penalty but it's 100 per cent a foul for me."

Nevertheless, Ten Hag acknowledged the overall quality of the thrilling encounter and was impressed with the amount of chances United created.

"I think we dictated the game," Ten Hag continued. "Apart from maybe 15 minutes in the first half we had some difficulties, but for the rest we dictated the game.

"We had so many chances, so I was a little disappointed at half-time it was 0-0, we should have scored, and the opportunities they had we created by ourselves.

"But I think it was a great game, two attacking teams, I think it was really Champions League [quality], so I really enjoyed the game... in the end 2-2, we have to finish it at Old Trafford."

Rashford, who has now equalled his best ever goals return (22) for a single season, seemed a bit more frustrated than his manager.

"It feels like a loss," he added. "I think we did well to get back into the game. The first half was a little bit in favour of them, but we stayed calm and composed and tried to create chances when we could.

"The second half we scored two goals in quick succession and felt in control of the outcome, but they're a good team with top players and they got an equaliser."

The two European giants will do it all again at Old Trafford next Thursday.

Barcelona head coach Xavi feels his side were denied a "very clear" penalty late on in their action-packed 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

The sides played out a thriller at Camp Nou on Thursday to leave their Europa League knockout play-off round tie in the balance heading into next week's return leg.

Marcos Alonso opened the scoring for Barca early in the second half, but United were in front nine minutes later through a Marcus Rashford strike and Jules Kounde's own goal.

Raphinha equalised for the hosts in rather fortuitous circumstances in the 76th minute, the winger's cross going right through without a touch, and Barca went all out for a winner.

A scramble in the box culminated in Casemiro hitting his own post, before Ansu Fati was brilliantly denied by David de Gea – the United keeper's sixth save of the game.

Amid the end-to-end drama in the closing stages, Xavi is adamant his side should have been awarded a spot-kick for a shot that struck Fred on the arm.

"For me, the penalty is very clear," he told Movistar+. "I went over to tell the referee that at the end. It was clear. That's my opinion and I know that won't change anything.

"The referee said the ball was too close to [Fred's] body, but for me it's not. It's a clear penalty."

Barcelona finished the game with an expected goals (xG) return of 1.26 compared to 2.13 for their opponents, suggesting the Red Devils did more to win the contest.

Raphinha's goal ultimately salvaged a draw for the LaLiga leaders, with the former Leeds United player having now been involved in five goals in his four games against United. 

He also played in the corner for Alonso's opener, meaning he has scored and assisted in the same game four times this term – the most of any LaLiga player in all competitions.

The Brazil international reacted angrily to being substituted for Ferran Torres soon after scoring, but head coach Xavi says that is entirely understandable. 

"I have to do it for the good of the team," Xavi said. "I perfectly understand the anger shown by players. I was also angry.

"He has come to apologise to me, but he didn't have to. We wanted to find a way to win the game and we almost did at the end."

Barcelona are now unbeaten in their past 16 matches, but one big negative for the Catalan giants was losing influential midfielder Pedri to a first-half injury.

The 20-year-old sustained muscle discomfort in the quadriceps of his right leg, which initial reports suggest will rule him out for up to a month – and thus next week's second leg.

Asked for an update on Pedri's injury, Xavi simply said: "He noticed some discomfort in the quadriceps. We'll have to see."

Gavi will also miss the return fixture at Old Trafford next Thursday after picking up a yellow card in the second half.

Despite the initial air of frustration, Xavi was happy with his side's performance against a United side that have now lost just once in 16 games since the World Cup break.

"It was a very even match. We played well against a great team," Xavi said. "We had to work hard. We had the feeling we could have scored a winning goal.

"Old Trafford will now decide it. We go to Manchester with the aim to advance."

Marcus Rashford's heroics were not enough for Manchester United as Raphinha's fortuitous goal rescued Barcelona a 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League knockout round play-off.

In-form Rashford scored his 22nd goal of the season – matching his best tally for a single campaign – to cancel out Marcos Alonso's opener in Thursday's thrilling clash at Camp Nou.

United were ahead nine minutes after falling behind thanks to more good work from Rashford, whose quick thinking from a short corner culminated in Jules Kounde putting into his own net.

But Barca, who lost influential midfielder Pedri to a first-half injury, hit back against the run of play in the 76th minute when Raphinha's cross went right the way through to keep things finely poised ahead of next week's return leg.

 

World Cup winner Paulo Dybala says he has no clue about his future at Roma ahead of their European League tie with RB Salzburg.

The 29-year-old Argentinian forward left Juventus on a free transfer for Roma on a three-year deal last year, but has been linked with Manchester United recently.

Dybala has impressed at the Giallorossi this term, netting 11 goals and providing seven assists in 21 appearances.

However, he reportedly has a €12m (£10.7m) release clause in his contract which could be triggered by clubs outside of Serie A, with Dybala not hosing down the United speculation.

"When it comes to my release clause, as I said before it's something between my agent and the club," Dybala told reporters. "I can't know what's going to happen at the end of the year."

Roma boss Jose Mourinho has also been the topic of speculation lately despite being under contract until 2024.

Dybala hopes Mourinho will remain with the club and is keen to win a trophy under a coach who he calls 'one of the best managers in the world'.

"I don't know what's in my future so you think I have any clue on the manager's future? You need to ask him," Dybala said.

"I can say that I would like to be coached by him because for me he is one of the best managers in the world. I want to win something with him.

"Right now I only think about tomorrow's game. We have to do well because there are still plenty of games to play. As I always said I want to lift a trophy with Roma.

"We have two competitions mathematically to play but realistically maybe just this one to win something. We want to win it and let Roma playing in Champions League next season."

Mourinho downplayed Roma's chances of lifting the trophy, saying it will be tough with Arsenal, Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus all involved.

"When I talked about sharks coming from the Champions League I referred to teams built to win Champions League but have ended up playing in Europa League," the Portuguese said.

"It's clear that for a team with ambitions to win the Champions League when they find themselves in this competition, they have a lot of pressure on their shoulders.

"Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus... these teams were not built to win the Europa League but to win the Champions League.

"Obviously, all the pressure is on them. Just like it was last season in the Conference League where we felt the pressure to be one of the most successful teams in the competition. Now they are in this position. Arsenal, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, they are the favourites."

Jose Mourinho insists Roma "know what they can expect from me" amid speculation surrounding his future with the club.

The 60-year-old is under contract with the Giallorossi until 2024 and recently revealed he turned down the opportunity to replace Fernando Santos as Portugal head coach after the World Cup.

Roma are fourth in Serie A - level on points with third-place Atalanta and fifth-place Milan - and have suffered just a single defeat in nine league games.

However, Mourinho came under scrutiny following his side's surprise Coppa Italia quarter-final exit at the hands of relegation-threatened Cremonese.

There have also been suggestions Mourinho is seeking assurances there will be sufficient investment in the playing squad for next season before committing to stay.

The Portuguese addressed his future ahead of Roma's Europa League clash with Salzburg, hinting he would like the matter to be resolved sooner rather than later.

"It's mid-February, do you think the club will talk to me in June? I guess it would be too late," he told Sky Sport Italia on the eve of Thursday's game.

"I don't expect anything, they know what they can expect from me. Nobody works more than me in Trigoria.

"I had the chance to leave, but I decided not to, and the story ended.

"Tomorrow's game is the most important. We want to win and we can't look beyond the next match. There are still 24 clubs in the competition, we are far from the end."

Xavi warned Barcelona they must deal with "one of the most dangerous players in Europe" in Marcus Rashford when they host Manchester United on Thursday.

The two European heavyweights will face off in the Europa League at Camp Nou in the first leg as the pair bid for a place in the last 16.

Runaway LaLiga leaders Barca have been in fine form, winning 11 straight games in all competitions since the start of 2023 ahead of the high-profile clash in UEFA's secondary club competition.

But the Blaugrana will have to deal with the in-form Rashford, who has scored 13 times in 15 games since the World Cup, and Xavi acknowledged the danger the England international will pose.

"In the transition he is very, very dangerous, so we need to take care of all of them but especially Rashford," the Barca coach said on Wednesday at his pre-match press conference.

"He's one of the most dangerous players now in Europe."

While Barca will be tasked with coping against the resurgent Rashford, United will get a taste of what could have had when they face Frenkie de Jong.

Erik ten Hag's side tried and failed to sign the Netherlands international in the transfer window ahead of the 2022-23 season, with the Dutchman subsequently emerging as a key cog in Xavi's midfield.

"Frenkie is an incredible player and for every club in the whole world he will strengthen the squad because he has a unique quality," said Ten Hag, who managed De Jong during his time as Ajax coach.

"If you can get him in the squad your team will be stronger. In Spain, he became even better.

"He's a fantastic player, plays out from the back, he always has time and it was a pleasure to work with him."

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."

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."

Xavi never doubted Frenkie de Jong's commitment to Barcelona amid speculation linking the midfielder with a move to Manchester United last year.

United identified De Jong, who came through at Ajax under Erik ten Hag, as a priority target ahead of their new manager's first season in charge.

A move never materialised, with United instead buying Casemiro from Real Madrid.

Casemiro has gone on to solidify himself as one of the most impressive midfielders in the Premier League, but ahead of Thursday's Europa League encounter between United and Barca, Xavi said De Jong never wanted to leave the Blaugrana.

"I think he was really clear to me: he wanted to stay with us. So there was no doubt," Xavi said at a press conference.

"Now he's our player, I’m really happy and satisfied with his performances, his leadership. He's in a very good moment, like all the team.

"I think Frenkie is enjoying on the pitch and this is the most important thing."

De Jong has played 26 games for Barca this season, starting 20 and scoring twice.

Xavi's version of events tallies with reports from the time that suggested Barca were attempting to push the midfielder towards a transfer, rather than the other way around, in order to ease their financial issues.

Thursday's encounter with United at Camp Nou has been overshadowed by allegations of Barca having paid €1.4million to a company part-owned by former LaLiga referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira between 2016 and 2018.

Barca president Joan Laporta vowed to "defend the honour and interests of Barcelona", saying it was "no coincidence" the allegations had come out with the Blaugrana sitting 11 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

Jude Bellingham would be a "perfect" signing for Manchester United, according to former Red Devils goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.

Bellingham has played 161 times for Borussia Dortmund and Birmingham City, and is one of Europe's hottest prospects after an impressive World Cup with England.

The 19-year-old starred for the Three Lions in Qatar, becoming the only teenager behind Michael Owen in 1998 to start a knockout game at the tournament in the 3-0 round-of-16 victory over Senegal.

He marked it with a sensational performance too, playing a big role in all three goals and providing an assist, making him the youngest England player to do so in a World Cup game since 1966.

Bellingham has also played a key role for Dortmund at club level, scoring a team-high 10 goals in 27 appearances this season while ranking second for assists (six) and third in chances created (28).

That incredible form at such a young age has predictably garnered much interest in securing his services. Real Madrid are reported to be interested, while Liverpool and Manchester City are also rumoured to be keen on the midfielder.

However, Schmeichel believes it could be United who beat their rivals to Bellingham's signature, but only if they are to finish in the Champions League places this season.

Schmeichel also feels Liverpool's increasingly unlikely chances of finishing in the top four, as well as the Premier League charging City with financial breaches, could help United's chances of bringing Bellingham to Old Trafford.

"He would be perfect for us," Schmeichel told Goal. "But we're not attractive enough [right now] because we're not in that position.

"But you can imagine a situation where Liverpool aren't in the Champions League and Manchester United are, then all of a sudden we might be more attractive.

"And of course with the situation of Man City as well, we might be that club, so it's very important for us now to keep on track steadily."

United sit third in the Premier League, holding a seven-point lead over fifth-placed Tottenham as they bid to secure Champions League qualification for next season.

The Red Devils travel to face Barcelona on Thursday in the Europa League looking to reach the last 16, and Schmeichel believes a good performance in Europe can evidence United's resurgence after finishing with their lowest-ever Premier League points tally last season.

"Of course, we want to do well in Europe," Schmeichel added. "We want to do well in Europe because we want to show the footballing world that Manchester United, we're on our way back.

"It's taken a long time. We're on our way back. We're not rushing, but we are on our way back and we are an attractive place for the greatest footballers of this world to come and play for us."

Massimiliano Allegri emphasised the importance of the Europa League, particularly as it may be Juventus' only potential route into next season's Champions League.

Juve were recently hit with a 15-point deduction in Serie A related to financial irregularities from past transfer dealings, and sit 12 points off the top four with 16 games remaining.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of their Europa League playoff first leg against Ligue 1 side Nantes, Allegri said the competition is an "important objective".

"Tomorrow the Europa League begins, which also becomes an important objective as a gateway to next season's Champions League," he told reporters. "We want to get through the knockouts to reach the round of 16 and then go all the way.

"We know it won't be easy, French teams are difficult to face. Nantes are doing well and have quality and technical players up front. This fixture is played over 180 minutes, we will have to lay the foundations to go to Nantes with a good advantage."

Allegri confirmed Juan Cuadrado and Leonardo Bonucci are back in contention, and injured duo Paul Pogba and Kaio Jorge are the only players unavailable to him on Thursday.

After switching between three and four in defence this season, the 55-year-old admitted he still is not sure which he will use against Nantes, and that several factors will come into consideration.

"I haven't decided on the formation yet, I have to evaluate everyone's conditions, also taking into consideration that we play Spezia on Sunday," he said. "The future? Now we are focused on the present, continuing to work and improve."

Centre-back Gleison Bremer also addressed the media on Wednesday, and insisted he does not mind whether he plays in a three or a four.

"Defence in three or four? I'm available for the team, there's no problem" he said. "I'm happy with what I've done personally so far, I have to keep growing. We have shown our value as a team, we know what we are worth."

Allegri also offered words of condolence to Cameroonian striker Ignatius Ganago, who will not play against Juve following the death of his five-year-old daughter.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to send a big hug to Ganago," Allegri said.

Xavi urged his Barcelona side to show they can compete against an elite European side when they face Manchester United in a "spectacular" tie on Thursday.

Barca and United will do battle at Camp Nou in the first leg of a blockbuster Europa League play-off, with the return fixture to come at Old Trafford a week later.

Xavi's side are unbeaten in 16 games since they were consigned to a 3-0 Champions League defeat at home to Bayern Munich on October and they have reeled off 11 consecutive victories.

The Red Devils have also been resurgent under Erik ten Hag, losing only one of their past 15 matches and sitting third in the Premier League table.

Barca failed to make it out of their Champions League group, but head coach Xavi is relishing the opportunity to show the strides they have made as they go in search of a place in the Europa League round of 16. 

He said: "Tomorrow is a great match. It's a spectacular tie. Both teams arrived at the best moment of the season. Ten Hag has changed the face of the team. It's been hard for them, but they're doing a great job.

"I expect a game with a lot of intensity and rhythm. It's Europe and we want to show that we can compete against a top-level European rival."

Xavi does not believe the Blaugrana are favourites to advance.

The former Spain international said: "A lot will be decided at Old Trafford. I see two very close matches. The pity is that we won't play the second leg at home.

"I don't think we are favourites. There are very good teams in this competition, it's a very tough competition."

Xavi added: "United is a great club. They are not in the best moment in their history, but there are players who are in a great moment. In recent weeks they have been good and it will be very hard to win the game.

"We want to show that we are at a high level and that we all work hard and are aggressive. Tomorrow is an important test to compete in Europe."

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