Barcelona beat United 1-0 in an unspectacular but solid display
Barcelona beat Manchester United 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League at Old Trafford last night. It was a crucial away win for the Catalan giants, who have an away goal now and would fancy their chances of qualifying for the semi-final. United, on the other hand, would need another miracle to overturn this deficit, after having done it once against PSG.
Barcelona were the dominant team last night with almost 67% ball possession. United were wary of Barca’s attack, and played a cautious game in order to minimize the damage. However, they would have to exceed themselves in the second leg in order to qualify at Barca’s expense.
Luke Shaw’s own goal in the 12th minute separated the two sides last night. However, Barca are a very formidable proposition at home, and very few teams have beaten them at Camp Nou in the last few years.
United started with a 5-3-2 formation last night, as Ashley Young and Diego Dalot played as the wide full-backs. Shaw, Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling started as the 3 centre-backs in order to nullify Barca’s attacking threat. An extra man in defence was there to take care of Barca’s much vaunted front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
Still, United could not stop Barca from scoring, as Sergio Busquets played a sublime chipped through ball to Messi inside the United penalty box. The ball was then played to Suarez, who tried to head home, and his header brushed off Shaw’s sleeve to find its way into the goal. The linesman had ruled Suarez off-side, but the goal stayed after the intervention of VAR.
The goal was not awarded to Suarez though, and United tried to come out of their shell after the setback. They tried to play a high defensive line in order to increase numbers in the opposition half, and created some half-chances.
Barca’s usual slick-passing game was something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team hardly come across in the Premier League, and they had difficulty in dealing with that. The likes of Messi, Suarez, Coutinho and Busquets pulled strings at will, and United struggled to have the ball themselves.
Coutinho bothered the United defenders with his speedy runs, and was denied by a brilliant reflex save from David De Gea in the first half. Messi was under constant vigil, but still managed to play his part in the only goal of the match. Suarez swapped position with Messi and Coutinho, and remained a constant threat with his sudden acceleration.
United started with Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Fred in their three-man midfield. Both McTominay and Fred are defensive players primarily, and they were included in the starting eleven in order to add steel to the defence. McTominay impressed with his strong tackles and decent passing. However, United’s attacking game suffered as a result, as they lacked creative ideas in their pursuit of the equalizer.
Dalot came very close in the first half, but failed to head in Marcus Rashford’s cross from inside the Barca penalty box. Pogba and Rashford tried hard, but the latter’s shooting accuracy was not up to the mark last night. Rashford blasted the ball over the bar on a few occasions, as United had 10 attempts at goal without a single on target.
United substituted the hard-working Romelu Lukaku with Anthony Martial and Rashford with Andreas Perreira, but those replacements hardly changed the course of the match. Barca also introduced Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto to strengthen their defence. The Barca defence, meanwhile, put up a solid performance to keep the United forwards at bay.
United would now be hoping for yet another Camp Nou miracle after 20 years, as their current manager had scored the winner in the injury time to win the UEFA Champions League trophy for them in the same ground in 1999.