Paul Pogba is confident Manchester United can turn around their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona, despite riding their luck against West Ham.
Two decades on from sealing the treble at the Nou Camp, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will attempt to secure another memorable win at Barca’s home this Tuesday.
United suffered a 1-0 first-leg loss to the Spanish league champions but picked themselves up with a victory on Saturday, although United were sloppy and more than a little fortunate to overcome the Hammers.
Pogba’s brace from the spot sealed a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford and the World Cup winner is now looking to cause a shock in Catalonia.
“I think it’s a really important three points,” the midfielder said.
“We know about that. We wanted to do obviously better and score more goals, but we get the result that maybe we deserve.
“Now what we have to think about the next one, the next game, get some rest and get focused on Barcelona.
“That’s why we play football, to play against those teams, to play those games. A Champions League quarter-final is just beautiful. We just have to enjoy it, give our best and trust ourselves.”
United face an uphill battle at the Nou Camp but Barca certainly looked beatable in the first leg.
Solskjaer’s side have also proven their mettle when the chips are down, having made Champions League history in the previous round against Paris Saint-Germain by becoming the first team to progress after a first-leg home loss by two or more goals.
“The game is not done, it’s not closed,” Pogba said.
“I know it’s Barcelona, we’re playing in their home, but it’s never closed. It’s still 90 minutes.
“The first half is gone, now it’s the second half.”
Pogba missed that remarkable return leg at the Parc des Princes through suspension and will be looking to make his mark after a welcome return to form on Saturday.
One of few players to emerge from the West Ham match with any credit, the 26-year-old took his goal tally for the season to 16 with a pair of spot-kicks that saw him move away from his favoured stuttered run-up.
“Yeah, I can still go back to the old one!” Pogba told MUTV with a laugh.
“I just changed it because I think the keepers, they know how I shoot penalties and I just changed it to make a little difference.
“The most important thing is that the ball goes in and the victory, the three points.”
Pogba struck the killer blow just moments after David De Gea produced his latest moment of magic. Guilty of giving away possession in the build-up to Felipe Anderson’s goal, the United goalkeeper more than made amends with an outstanding stop to claw away Michail Antonio’s header.
“David is David,” Pogba said.
“We know about this. This is not something incredible. We’re used to it. And hopefully we’re going to keep being used to saves like that.
“I told him ‘this is normal for you, so I don’t congratulate you, I just don’t say anything, it’s normal’.
“He’s a top-class goalkeeper and this save showed it again. We’re really lucky that we have him.”
Luck certainly was not on West Ham’s side on Saturday evening, with Anderson seeing a goal wrongly ruled out for offside early in a match that the visitors dominated for large patches.
Versatile Arthur Masuaku said: “We played really well, everyone is frustrated about this game and I don’t even know how we lost this game. We should have won.
“I think everyone is happy about the performance and we need to take the positives and move onto the next one.”
Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku has called his team to show more arrogance towards Barcelona in the Camp Nou on Tuesday.
The Red Devils are goal down and are in need of an inspirational performance to reach the semis of the Champions League.
Lukaku believes his team did not show the arrogance and confidence in the early minutes at Old Trafford and they can’t afford to do the same in the return leg.
“Taking our chances and not conceding a goal, and play with more heart and b****cks.
“We have to believe and have the desire and more quality. Be better on the ball and then you never know what can happen in football.
“I don’t think we played with the same arrogance and confidence on the ball [early on]. Second half we tried and the first 20 minutes of the second half we were there. It’s something we have to do for the whole 90 minutes over there and not concede a goal and score early,” he said according to Goal.
It’s not often that Barcelona have an off day. It’s not often that Lionel Messi has an off day. But on Wednesday, the Catalan giants looked out of sorts after they netted an early goal to take the lead. Manchester United could have just missed a huge opportunity to book their spot in the semi-final after failing to capitalise on their lack of form.
When Barcelona lost 4-0 away against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2016/17 season, they were suffocated and dominated in midfield, forced to play poor passes –often in their own half – and Messi was kept silent throughout the game. Also, unlike his usual self, Sergio Busquets was really lacklustre on the ball.
On Tuesday, United managed to bring out the same version of Barcelona through intense pressing and midfield dominance. Fred and Scott McTominay ran the midfield show and pushed Barcelona deeper and deeper. Busquets – who has looked way off his usual brilliance this entire season – produced one of his worst performances.
The fact that United failed to capitalise on Barcelona’s mistakes could very well turn out to be the turning point of the tie. The Red Devils were handed three golden chances in the opening period, with Busquets’ under-hit passes producing two of those. Marcus Rashford – who was expected be a menace for the Spanish giants – failed to make the best of any of the chances.
Jordi Alba’s poor touch after he received the ball during a set-piece allowed Ashley Young to race down the wing and create a two-on-two opportunity. But the full-back squandered the chance with a poorly hit cross, similar to most of his deliveries on the night.
Despite being on the front foot for the final 25 minutes, United failed to test Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The home side failed to register a single shot on target and that speaks volumes about their attack on the night.
Winning the midfield battle against Barcelona is not easy and once a team manage to do so, they must ensure they finish the job. This has to be the most notable difference between the PSG side that defeated Barcelona 4-0 and the current United side that lost 1-0. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men squandered their chances and the consequence could prove to be more dire than they think.
It’s worth noting that United had a week’s rest before the crucial game whereas Barcelona faced Atletico Madrid only on Saturday. An underwhelming Barcelona playing three days after engaging themselves in the most demanding fixture in the league were bound to be most vulnerable and United should have struck against a fatigued side.
This weekend, Barcelona face bottom-placed Huesca and are hence present the luxury of rotation, especially with one hand on the trophy already. United – on the other hand – are still fighting for a top-four spot and will be under pressure to win against West Ham, a team they failed to beat in the reverse fixture back in September.
Barcelona are a different beast at the Camp Nou, especially in Europe. They currently hold the record for the longest unbeaten streak at home in the Champions League at 30 games. The Spanish giants have not tasted defeat since their 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in 2013.
It would take something extra-terrestrial for United to progress to the last four of the competition. If they don’t, they have their performance in the first leg to blame.
Whether they go down fighting or get hammered at the Camp Nou, failure to punish Barcelona when they were at their most vulnerable will go down as the turning point of the tie.
Things would have been – and it can’t be stressed upon enough – completely different had United punished Barcelona’s mistakes in the first half.