At the time of writing, all four of the Premier League’s sides are still in the Champions League with at least one guaranteed entry to the semi-finals, but Manchester United face arguably the toughest task of any English side remaining and could find Barcelona too good for them tonight.
It is worth reflecting on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s achievement in managing to reach the quarter-finals thanks to a comeback that has already earned himself a place in United folklore, although when looking back at the second leg in a critical light, it is fair to say United had some deserved luck.
Presnel Kimpembe’s arm was struck by a wild Diogo Dalot shot and previously before that Romelu Lukaku raced straight onto Thilo Kehrer’s blind backpass to finish smartly before Gianluigi Buffon spilt Rashford’s long shot straight into Lukaku’s path for his second.
There was a significant degree of fortune or incompetence for all of United’s three goals, and PSG won the shot count 12-5, the corner count 4-0, and had 72% of possession along with numerous chances which should have produced more than the one goal they scored.
Since then, United have just lost their edge a little, with defeats in three of their last four games including a pair of 2-1 defeats at Wolves, and a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. Their one win, a 2-1 success against Watford, came courtesy of an Anthony Martial goal which was offside when Watford dominated in midfield and won the shot count 14-6 (and the shots on target and corners count to boot).
If that is the case again then there will be much to fear from not only the extraordinary Lionel Messi but also his partner in crime Luis Suarez. Messi’s superhuman form is arguably some of the finest of his career, with 47 goals for the season already, and he and Suarez have scored 34 goals between them in 2019. Suarez has seven in his last nine and the pair scored Barcelona’s two goals against Atletico Madrid, a result which essentially sealed La Liga again.
It is worth saying that United do not have an entirely hopeless task. Last week, Villarreal went at Barcelona with pace and purpose and managed to score 4 against them in one of the games of the season. Anthony Martial needs just one chance to strike a blow and if Solskjaer can get Marcus Rashford back then he will have two major threats, although Romelu Lukaku has improved a great deal since Solskjaer arrived and had a blistering second leg against PSG.
The key to this might be Paul Pogba. When he has ticked, allowed to roam in the middle of the park by the new management, United have been extremely forceful, and an open game against Barcelona should be the ideal stage. However, those chances could be limited; PSG had 55% of the possession in the first leg of their last 16 tie and then 73% in the second, and Barcelona could wreak havoc with the same amount of possession.
Man Utd v Barcelona
UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg
20:00 BT Sport 2 / BT Sport 4K UHD
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches, past 10 years)
MAY 2011 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United
MAY 2009 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United
APR 2008 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona
APR 2008 CHAPIONS LEAGUE Barcelona 0-0 Manchester United
NOV 1998 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Barcelona 3-3 Manchester United
SEP 1998 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE Manchester United 3-3 Barcelona
It’s easy to forget them, but Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets will be running the midfield and they can win the battle in the middle of the park here. Barcelona have failed to win any of their last six knockout away legs in this tournament, most recently drawing a blank in Lyon, but they had 25 shots on target and won the expected goals count 2.0 to 0.6. Failing to take a first-leg lead was a freak result and they can take an advantage back to Spain.
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