"Bring on Lionel Messi," says Chris Smalling
"When we saw it was Barcelona in the draw we were smiling because it was another challenge and we will go head on."
On the eve of the game, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his trusted lieutenant, Chris Smalling, were clearly not perturbed about the prospect of facing FC Barcelona in a crunch quarter-final tie in UEFA Champions League.
Manchester United come into the game on the back of a heroic comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16 where they overturned a two-goal home deficit to win 3-1 at the Parc des Princes. The confidence generated by the earlier victory was clearly on display in the way Solskjaer echoed the feelings inside the dressing room. The Norwegian said:
"Confidence is high. The result and what we did against PSG and how we have climbed the table, clawing back points. I think the players have given themselves and the supporters' great belief. We lose games, we should have won. Wolves in the FA Cup we are disappointed with."
"I can feel the tension, the excitement., I felt the mood ahead of PSG home game was different. We have learnt from that PSG game, how we got dragged into making fouls. European football, you have to be more patient in your tackles. Some of these players will have tricks up their sleeves."
Moreover, the Red Devils camp didn't seem overawed by the potential clash against the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
"This season we played against Ronaldo and Mbappe and had Hazard for Chelsea and Suarez and Coutinho and Messi will keep our defenders on their toes, let’s see how we manage tomorrow."
On being asked if Manchester United had prepared any specific plans for Messi, Solskjaer replied:
"What kind of plan can you have to stop one of the best in the world".
Smalling too talked about relishing the chance of facing off against the Argentine. The defender said:
"Something to relish, this season lucky enough to face Ronaldo and Mbappe and now Messi, they’re challenges I relish, I say bring it on."
On possible absences from the first leg, Solskjaer shed light on the injuries plaguing his team.
"Uhmm, we still hope that maybe Nemanja can be ready. And Ander probably out. Antonio and Eric definitely out."
When specifically quizzed about Marcus Rashford, the Red Devils' manager replied:
"Rashford needed the extra warm up, hopefully he won’t get a reaction, he couldn’t join the boxes which is the fun part of training, let’s see tomorrow, hopefully he will be ready."
However, despite all the positive energy running through United's veins, Soskjaer did admit that to get the better of Barcelona, the Red Devils would have to be at the top of their game.
"Every game is the biggest game. Of course, when you get Barcelona, with the quality of their team, we know we need to step up our game. We know we need to perform to our best levels."