No shots on target! Man Utd need an even bigger miracle than Paris after limp Barcelona defeat
- September 20, 2019
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s second successive home knockout loss leaves them heading to Camp Nou with a massive job to do
If Manchester United are to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League they are going to have to pull off an even bigger miracle comeback than that memorable night in Paris in March.
Their 1-0 home defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday sees them head to Camp Nou next week with a lesser margin to deal with than they faced against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16.
However, the nature and quality of their opponents this time around will surely dictate that it will take an even greater effort to down Lionel Messi and Co. following a limp Old Trafford performance.
Set up with Luke Shaw man-marking Messi on the left of a back three and Diogo Dalot providing extra cover ahead of him, it was clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was looking for his side to hold on early and then take their chances.
But Plan A lasted less than 12 minutes as Shaw’s own-goal from a Luis Suarez header handed the initiative to Barca and United’s failure to even have a shot on target all night simply underlined the fact that they were a distant second best in too many facets of the game.
The stirring atmosphere which greeted the two sides and continued into the early moments of the match didn’t last for long. Sergio Busquets and Messi both showed flashes of brilliance in the build-up before Luis Suarez’s header flicked off Luke Shaw and beat David de Gea.
The offside flag was as late as it was unconvincing, and Gianluca Rocchi eventually awarded the goal after the video referee had confirmed in his ear that Suarez had been in an onside position.
From there, there was a mesmerised murmur where the vociferous roar had been as Barca went about dominating the ball.
At one point around the half-hour mark, they had held the ball for 90 per cent of the time but United started to have a bit of joy as the interval approached, albeit without once testing Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
With the second period there came a renewed verve in the stands and United were buoyed by the raised intensity. There seemed more purpose about their play and a quicker bite in their passing, but still they couldn’t cause Barca any problems in the final third.
In truth, the game was still being played on Barca’s terms. As United’s need for a goal grew, gaps began to appear in the home resistance and the likelihood of the Catalans adding a second increased.
When United got forward they tried to be too deliberate, always taking one touch too many. And it didn’t help that Romelu Lukaku was anonymous for the 67 minutes he played before being replaced by Anthony Martial.
They did well enough in midfield, with Scott McTominay, Fred and to a lesser extent Paul Pogba getting United a foothold in the game in the second half, and it was from a McTominay pass that Martial had to be denied by a desperate Gerard Pique tackle in one of United’s brighter moments.
But they just didn’t threaten enough in truth and they head to Camp Nou with an even more monumental task than the one they completed in Paris five weeks ago.