MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Apr 11 – Manchester United failed to capitalise on an out-of-sorts display from Lionel Messi and Barcelona on Wednesday as Luke Shaw’s own goal left the La Liga side firmly in charge of their Champions League quarter-final.
Despite a spirited performance at Old Trafford, United rarely threatened after Shaw turned in Luis Suarez’s header in the 12th minute, an away goal that makes Barcelona strong favourites ahead of the second leg at the Camp Nou next week, when they can take a step closer to a first Champions League triumph since 2015.
AFP Sports looks at three things we learned from their 1-0 victory.
Slack Barca far from pomp
Against a team with more craft and firepower than United, Barcelona would surely have been punished for a lacklustre performance that looked little like a team among the favourites to win this competition.
Barca were rarely in control on Wednesday night but escaped with a huge win that was as much about the lack of quality they faced from United’s attack as their own play.
A sloppy display high on misplaced passes and surprisingly low on input from Messi, produced not only a victory, but a crucial away goal to take back to Camp Nou.
Barcelona’s rivals for the trophy this season might feel encouraged, even if United have probably missed their chance.
Messi human after all
Ten goals in his last seven games meant Messi arrived at Old Trafford in scintillating form but the Barca captain endured a mediocre night by his own supremely high standards.
He was far from anonymous and his clipped cross to the back post set up the game’s only goal as Suarez headed in off the unfortunate Shaw.
But this was not the masterclass that bewitched Tottenham at Wembley earlier in the tournament nor even the clinical show of finishing that saw off Lyon in the previous round.
Instead, Messi sauntered through the game, poking passes to his teammates and wearing a black eye after being clattered by Chris Smalling in the first half, offering little of the form that has lit up La Liga in recent weeks.
United short of Europe’s elite
Scott McTominay was United’s best player by some distance on Wednesday, the 22-year-old delivering a barnstorming performance in midfield, but it was clear how short United now are when it comes to players that can turn matches at this level.
Paul Pogba failed to the run the game like Solksjaer insisted he could, while Romelu Lukaku barely threatened up against the excellent Gerard Pique.
United will take heart from a determined display and a close scoreline that could yet give Barca nerves in the return leg.
But this was a far cry from the United of old that could frighten visiting teams with their pace and ruthlessness in the final third. Barcelona were made to feel uncomfortable, and United and Solksjaer have work to do if they are to keep their hopes of an unlikely fourth European Cup alive.