Solskjaer's tactics against Barcelona raised eyebrows but gave Man United fighting chance

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An 11th-minute own goal from Luke Shaw condemned Manchester United to a 1-0 defeat against Barcelona in their first leg Champions League quarter-final tie.

Luis Suarez’s header across goal from Lionel Messi‘s cross took a deflection off Shaw and wound up in the far corner as the Catalans took the lead at Old Trafford.

Diogo Dalot missed a glorious opportunity in the first half but United failed to create much else. Barca seemed content with their solitary away goal as well, settling for the narrow win.

Here, we analyse Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s tactical input.

BASIC STATS

Shots – 9

Shots on target – 0

Possession – 36%

Key passes – 3

Aerials won – 10

Tackles – 15

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Three at the back

If Solskjaer was going for the element of surprise, he pulled it off not just by fielding a three-man defence but by playing Shaw on the left side of it. The Norwegian had the right idea with his 3-5-2 formation and as the game progressed, United seemed to grow into their set-up.

Apart from a couple of shaky moments in the first half, the back-line was able to cope with Barca’s attack with the likes of Scott McTominay and Fred helping out from midfield.

The hosts were able to keep their shape reasonably well while on the ball, they enjoyed a few good passages of play against the Catalans’ midfield. It was in the final third that they seemed to lack guile and composure to threaten the goal.

GOT RIGHT

Again, the set-up had a lot of good aspects. In midfield, Solskjaer managed to ensure that United were at least equal to Barcelona and that’s a feat in itself. The roles he deployed McTominay and Fred in paid off. The Brazilian’s defensive contributions were plenty as he made 15 recoveries in the game but – despite his faux pas against Wolves – was good at receiving the ball from the defence and helped initiate passages of play.

McTominay on the other hand was completely undaunted by the occasion, arguably the most composed player on the pitch. It’s Paul Pogba who let Solskjaer down again, turning in another underwhelming performance.

GOT WRONG

United boss’ team selection was definitely controversial. Playing Shaw at centre-back proved costly as he was at fault for the goal. A left-back by trade, he actually had a decent game otherwise but could’ve been far more effective at wing-back.

Meanwhile, Diogo Dalot is much better on the right side and playing him there instead of Ashley Young as well would’ve given United two attacking wing-backs to offer more in the final third. Instead, Young was all over the shop with his delivery, attempting 11 crosses all of which failed to pick out a team-mate.

VERDICT

Solskjaer had some good ideas and deserves credit for thinking outside the box. However, he might have been a little too clever playing Shaw at centre-back with Phil Jones available. That said, Shaw was better on the ball that Jones would’ve been so it was always going to be a balancing act. Ultimately, he was let down by his side’s lack of composure and quality in the final third.

Rating 6/10

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