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Champions League: What's next for Manchester United?

Benny Jacob
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
576   //    12 Apr 2019, 01:42 IST

Manchester United v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg
Manchester United v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg

When the quarter-final draw was made between Manchester United and Barcelona, it was deemed to be the most high-profile fixture in the Round of 8.

At that point, Manchester United were flying high after producing an impossible turnaround in Paris. And Barcelona were Barcelona, winning Laliga without much competition, putting an end to Madrid's season in the span of a week.

Everything pointed to another historic treble for Barcelona. So all in all, at that time it looked like a clash of heavyweights.

Fast forward a month, and Manchester United had lost three games out of the last four, were knocked out of FA Cup, and the Top 4 looked almost impossible now. Barcelona meanwhile had one hand on the LaLiga (after defeating Atletico), and looked sure to be qualifying for the Semifinals.

There were talks about Manchester United possibly parking the bus to take the tie to Camp Nou. But Ole Gunnar Solskjær didn't do that, even though he put out a defensive lineup.

Manchester United initially played 3-5-2 when in possession and also when Barca had possession in their own half. When not in possession they switched to 5-3-2, with Young and Dalot falling back to prevent the dangerous runs of Jordi Alba and Semedo.

Solskjær gave extra protection to the defense on the left-hand side, taking into account Barca's superiority on the right-hand side with Messi, Rakitic and Semedo. That worked fine until Dalot failed to fall back and mark Suarez, resulting in a free header which he converted to put Barca in front.

After the first goal, Manchester United woke up and might have found a plan to win the decisive second leg. Lenglet is not as good as Umiti when it comes to being press resistant. He was the weak link along with Busquets (surprise!), losing possession when Manchester United applied pressure.

Fortunately for Barca, Young found himself in those dangerous positions, only to be let down by his poor crosses. Astonishingly, Young attempted 11 crosses and found 0 teammates. Had he been clinical, United might have had an even scoreline to take to Camp Nou. 

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Out of the Midfield 3, McTominay looked at home and he was the most dangerous of the bunch, creating chances and winning duels while imposing his strength in the middle of the park. Barca couldn't create much after Messi was literally taken out of the game by Smalling (and United's midfield), apart from the poor clearance by Lindelof which almost resulted in Barca's second if not for De Gea's brilliant save. 

When you think of the second leg at Camp Nou, the win against PSG would offer hope. But Pique is having one of his best seasons and was instrumental in the first leg victory (particularly the goal-saving tackle on Martial), and one wouldn't expect Barca to make blunders like PSG's defense.

Football is not a one-man game, but one man can have a big impact. And in this match, it was Ashley Young for the wrong reasons. He is not at the level to start against one of the best teams in a crucial fixture.

In order to overcome the deficit, Solskjær should be bold like he was against PSG and should play Dalot at the RWB and Lingard / Martial in the left. To overcome the deficit, Pogba will have to step up and prove he can be the player around which the team can be built.

If United go through to the semifinals, it would be another famous victory under Solskjær. Only time will tell if they can actually do that though.

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