An unfortunate own goal from Luke Shaw handed Barcelona the advantage in their Champions League quarter-final with Manchester United.
The Spaniards did just enough to edge an Old Trafford encounter that failed to live up to its billing.
Lionel Messi was inevitably involved in the 12th-minute opener. A dinked cross to the back post found Luis Suarez, whose downward header hit Shaw on its way into the net.
Philippe Coutinho was denied a second by a superb block from David De Gea, who also saved well from Jordi Alba and Messi’s free kick.
United failed to have a shot on target, with Marcus Rashford sending efforts off target, and will face a tough test in next week’s return leg.
UNITED MAY RUE MISSED OPPORTUNITY
With Shaw deployed in a three-man central defence, it was a move by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that didn’t pay off despite the close result.
It might have helped provide additional defensive protection, but the bullish words of taking Barca on, to fight fire with fire, proved somewhat hollow.
As Messi and Coutinho often went deep and looked to counter, United, at times, had three defenders marking one forward, or five against three, when the visitors were there for the taking.
Through these unnecessary changes, United were also deprived of Shaw’s runs down the left where Diogo Dalot was stationed instead.
With his energy, the impressive Dalot would perhaps have been better suited to the right-back role where Ashley Young was often wasteful with crosses from promising situations.
Another clear area of concern was up front where Romelu Lukaku was too static at centre forward and had just 20 touches, one more than De Gea, which is appalling for a player of his calibre.
Anthony Martial should have been there at the start to provide support for Marcus Rashford and the pace and trickery that could have unnerved the Barca backline a bit more and maybe produced a shot on target.
Their only home goal in this competition this season has come from Marouane Fellaini and that says it all.
You just can’t afford to be so sloppy, nor scared, against a side of this quality and that’s what United were.
They needed to play to their strengths, to perform at their best to overcome Barca. Perhaps this is as much as they can give right now, but they might rue their tactics and a missed opportunity.
BARCA BELOW PAR
This was not the brilliant Barca that had been talked up as Champions League favourites. Far from it.
Confident in their approach, but uncomfortable when pressed and hurried into mistakes.
With Messi strangely muted apart from his assist for the opener – and still yet to score in a quarter final since 2013 – they were frustrating rather than fearsome.
A focus of this was in midfield where Sergio Busquets particularly came under pressure.
Twice he made desperate, and late challenges, to stop United attacks and was fortunate not to see red instead of getting one yellow.
He was exposed, targeted as a weak link, and it is no surprise that Barca have turned to Frenkie de Jong as successor to someone who has been a great servant, but not as good as he once was.
Yes, he plays simple passes, keeps things ticking, but Barca should be looking for more – and will need more if they are to lift the trophy again.
Head coach Ernesto Valverde chose to replace Arthur and Coutinho to bolster this area with Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto, but Busquets could easily have been sacrificed.
Better teams will take greater advantage.
4 - Barcelona's four Champions League victories against Man Utd have all come at different stadiums - Camp Nou, Stadio Olimpico, Wembley and Old Trafford. Variety. #MUNBAR— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 10, 2019
HE’S SCOTT A LOT OF TALENT
With Nemanja Matic injured and Ander Herrera seemingly set for Paris Saint-Germain this summer, this was an opportunity for Scott McTominay and Fred to press their claims for starting spots.
And their performances will offer Solskjaer much to ponder about his transfer strategy for next season.
This is only McTominay’s second Champions League game this season. The first was the remarkable 3-1 win at PSG that got them to this stage.
He may not be a big name, but his ability belies his 22 years and lack of experience on this stage.
He showed confidence, courage and the commitment to curb the threat of world-renowned players in the opposition ranks.
Fred looks to be growing with every game, too. The Brazil midfielder lacked trust and opportunities under Jose Mourinho, but a fresh start under Solskjaer has allowed him to repay the faith and flourish.
With timely tackles to break up play and a positive approach to push forward, he could benefit most from the departure of Herrera and offers similar attributes.
One early pass almost released Rashford clear, but the forward failed to control the ball. There is room for improvement, but also hope for the future.
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has declared that Manchester City are “not there yet” in terms of being considered a big team after Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Though they will fancy their chances of overturning the deficit at home next week, Pep Guardiola’s side looked short of their best on the night, with Tottenham’s energetic pressing throwing them off their stride – a now-familiar occurrence for City during the Spaniard’s management.
Last season, at the same stage, City were caught cold by Liverpool during a 3-0 loss in the first leg, which turned into a 5-1 aggregate defeat after they lost the return leg at home as well. And in the previous campaign, City won a wild first leg at home against Monaco by a score of 5-3, keeping the French side within reach of pulling off an upset which they duly completed with a 3-1 win in France to progress on away goals.
Gundogan, who was part of the Borussia Dortmund team that reached the 2013 final, where he scored in a 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich, says City are guilty of trying too hard in big European games such as Tuesday’s encounter.
“We were not brave enough in the game, there were many simple mistakes,” he told SportBild. “I have the feeling that we are nervous in important Champions League games. We have always made the wrong decisions.
“In such games, we always want to do something special because it means: Champions League semi-finals. Sometimes, less is more.”
The Germany midfielder pointed to Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss in the first half as a pivotal moment, believing that his team would have built on an early goal to put the tie to bed had the Argentine scored from the spot.
“After the missed penalty came the break. Such negative experiences always throw us back too much. If we put the penalty in, we would have taken Tottenham apart. That’s how we got out of the game.
“That must not happen to a big team. That’s why we’re not there yet.”
The midfielder regards Juventus as one of the favourites for the titles and is excited of facing them.
De Jong also admitted that he hopes Cristiano Ronaldo recovers from injury and plays in the quarterfinals as he wants Ajax to face a full strength Juventus team.
“I rate Juventus a little higher than Real Madrid,” De Jong told De Telegraaf, according to Marca.
“Don’t get me wrong, Madrid are a top club, but this season their form is somewhat less [than when they won three consecutive Champions Leagues].
“Juventus are one of the favourites for the trophy. I am curious how we will deal with them. It is a great challenge.
“If we reach our normal level, we can also make it difficult for Juventus.
“I hope that Cristiano Ronaldo has recovered from his injury and plays. He’s a top player and although the chances of us winning are greater [if Juventus] are without him, I want to play against and beat the best players.”