Manchester United may have to play a weaker team against Barcelona in the Europa League, says former Red Devils centre-back Rio Ferdinand.

The twenty-time league champions are the only remaining English side to still be competing in four competitions this season.

Following yesterday’s crushing 3-2 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates, talk of a brief title charge has vanished following the defeat to Mikel Arteta’s Gunners.

But with the Reds facing Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup semi-finals and being fourth in the Premier League table, as well as still being in the FA Cup and Europa League, the Busby Babes can still make it a memorable maiden campaign under the former Ajax manager.

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Rio Ferdinand explains why Manchester United might have to play a weaker team against Barcelona

Arsenal FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Photo by Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Alongside United’s remaining 18 top-flight matches, Ten Hag’s side could play up to another 34 games this season if the 52-year-old’s team go all the way in the three cup competitions.

United’s squad is likely to tested and stretched during the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign.

Ten Hag’s side, who sit fourth in the table and occupy the final Champions League spot, are six points ahead of Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur.

But speaking on his VIBE with Five podcast, Ferdinand believes that Ten Hag may have to take the difficult decision of rotating his squad for the blockbuster Europa League tie against Barcelona with qualifying for next season’s Champions League by finishing in the top four taking priority.

Ferdinand said: “I think we have to prioritise. You’ve got the Carabao Cup that is the one where there is really good potential to win – go for it.

“[Qualifying] for the Champions League has to be the priority and you pick your team according to prioritising that, and if that means fielding a weaker team in the Europa and other competitions, I think you’ve got to do it because the priority is the Champions League.

“Getting in the top four, show the Premier League, show the country that you’re up for it and can stand the course of the season.

“Then hit the ground running next season. I think if we miss out on the top four this season it would be catastrophic for the players confidence and the management.”

United travel to the Nou Camp to take on Xavi’s Barcelona, who sit top of La Liga, in the Europa League play-off first leg on February 16 with the return leg at Old Trafford taking place the following Thursday.

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