Messi got the breakthrough in the 16th minute to put his side firmly in the driving seat of the quarter-final second leg before a howler from David De Gea handed him a second four minutes later.
Philippe Coutinho’s effort from range on the hour mark sealed progress to the semi-finals for the Catalans with a 4-0 aggregate score.
Here, we analyse Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical input.
Goals – 0
Shots – 9
Shots on target – 3
Goals conceded – 3
Possession – 34%
Dribbles – 4
Tackles – 17
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
United needed to maintain a compact shape away to Barcelona but they also had to pose a threat in attack. Solskjaer had the right idea when he adopted a 4-4-2 diamond system and for the opening 10 minutes or so, Barcelona were second best.
The Catalans struggled to cope with the pace of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial up front while Scott McTominay and Fred had started well, giving United’s midfield plenty of mobility.
After Messi took control – aided by a self-destructive streak from United – Barca settled nicely and began to stretch the away side at will, exposing the narrow back-line.
3 - David de Gea has made three errors leading to opposition goals in all competitions this season - the only Premier League goalkeepers to have made more across all competitions in 2018-19 at club level are Asmir Begovic (5) and Jordan Pickford (4). Agonising. #FCBMUN pic.twitter.com/opnQREo1qK— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 16, 2019
Apart from his initial set-up, Solskjaer made the right call when he changed it entirely early in the second half after Coutinho’s strike put the game firmly beyond United’s reach. He went into damage-limitation mode, switching to a back five and under the circumstances, it was perfectly understandable.
The Norwegian didn’t get carried away by ludicrous hopes of a miraculous four-goal recovery. Even Sir Alex Ferguson was guilty of such misguided thoughts in the past. On one occasion it led to a 6-1 thumping in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. Solskjaer at least spared United’s fans further humiliation.
There was little wrong with Solskjaer’s set-up but perhaps he put a little too much faith in a couple of players, failing to appreciate their limitations. Ashley Young shouldn’t be a United player anymore, let alone starting the Champions League quarter-final away to Barcelona at left-back while sporting the captain’s armband. Diogo Dalot may have been a better option with Luke Shaw suspended.
But that still leaves Victor Lindelof playing at right-back. So there’s not too much for Solskjaer to work with. Four of United’s back five started in Basel when they were knocked out of the group stages in 2011. Eight years on, it’s farcical that the defensive personnel hasn’t been significantly improved. That speaks volumes of the task the United boss has on his hands.
It’s hard to point fingers at Solskjaer, even after such a resounding defeat. You can’t fault the system he went with although there were one or two question marks over his team selection. Individual errors ultimately cost United. What else could Solskjaer have done? Have better players, maybe?
Ajax stunned Juventus to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 comeback win in Turin.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave Juventus the lead after 28 minutes with a record 126th goal in the competition, his ninth in seven meetings against Ajax.
But goals from Donny Van De Beek and Matthijs De Ligt gave Ajax a thoroughly deserved 3-2 aggregate success.
Onana 6: Not much he could have done to prevent Ronaldo’s perfect header. Not tested as much otherwise.
Veltman 7: Had to deal with the threat of both Alex Sandro and Ronaldo. Was pushed to the ground by De Ligt during Ronaldo’s goal, but he should have positioned himself better in the first place.
De Ligt 8: Solid game in defence and scorer of the winner. Was partly at fault for Ronaldo’s goal though, pushing Veltman to the floor.
Blind 6: Didn’t really put a foot wrong, but wasn’t as impressive as the other other defenders on the night.
Mazraoui N/A: Was taken off after 10 minutes due to an injury.
Van de Beek 9: Scored the opener and was a constant threat, probably the best player on the pitch.
Schone 8: Perfect corner for De Ligt to head home the winner, maintained tempo in midfield.
De Jong 7: Far from his heroic performance in the first leg. Did enough to get the job done, though.
Ziyech 8: Always a threat on the break, set up Van de Beek with what was a shot. But does it really matter? Also, he had a goal ruled out as he was marginally off-side.
Tadic 6: Out-performed by his team-mates up-front, some of his link-up play was impressive in patches though.
Neres 6: Promising runs and a constant threat, but also guilty of poor decision-making and a lack of end product.
Sinkgraven 7: Was tasked to fill in at left-back and did well to keep wonder-kid Moise Kean out of the equation.
Magallan N/A: Was only on the pitch for eight minutes, replacing first-half substitute Sinkgraven.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar N/A: Took the field for the last two minutes or so.
Szczesny 7: Two brilliant saves to keep Juventus in the tie until De Ligt headed home.
De Sciglio 4: Didn’t get the memo about the offside trap for Ajax’s first goal, clearly a game-changing moment.
Bonucci 5: Was played around with by Ajax’s attack. Probably should have conceded three more if not for poor conversion by the away side.
Rugani 5: Looked lost at times, especially against an advancing Van de Beek.
Alex Sandro 6: Provided some threat in attack and allowed Ronaldo some freedom, nothing exceptional though.
Emre Can 6: An average game by the German, started attacks well but was insipid in the final third.
Pjanic 7: Best player for the hosts, did everything he could in midfield to keep the tie alive and even produced a crucial block to prevent a third goal.
Matuidi 5: Bursts of productive runs followed by large spells during which he just went missing.
Bernardeschi 4: Looked lost throughout the game and failed to provide Ronaldo much support like he usually does.
Dybala 5: Looked out of touch and was subbed off at half-time due to an injury.
Ronaldo 6: Opened the scoring, but failed to provide anything else, one of those off-nights for the Portuguese.
Kean 5: Not one of those glorious nights for the youngster. Failed to trouble Onana in goal.
Cancelo 6: Provided some threat in the last 30 minutes after he came on, should have started.
Bentancur N/A: Took the field for the last 10 minutes, barely involved.
United will go away wondering what might have been after making a great start and twice coming close to taking the lead, but in the end they were comprehensively outplayed by Barca over the two legs.
Lionel Messi delivered another masterclass to propel his team into the last four, and the Catalan club must be confident about their chances of going all the way.
Let’s look back on all the key action from a topsy-turvy nighty at the Camp Nou.
VALVERDE OPTS FOR CONTROL…AND GETS IT, BELATEDLY
👏 W H A T. A. T E A M.— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) 16 April 2019
😍 Best fans in the world.
🔵🔴 Força Barça! pic.twitter.com/OOBzG7jgmw
The first tactical blow was struck before kick-off when Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde opted to field Philippe Coutinho on the left wing and Sergi Roberto at the right, with Ousmane Dembele and Nelson Semedo restricted to the bench.
In doing so, Valverde was probably expecting a closely contested and cagey opening half, with United getting plenty of men behind the ball, and therefore expecting the more careful skills of Coutinho and Roberto to provide a greater sense of control – with the option of introducing Dembele, in particular, if the game opened up in the second half as United upped their efforts for a goal.
If that was the expectation, though, the reality was very different because United’s start was anything but cagey, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men flying out of the traps with crisp, confident and incisive passing which could have yielded two goals in the first three minutes.
Firstly, Marcus Rashford – lining up on the right with Jesse Lingard surprisingly playing through the middle – raced clear to shoot against the crossbar after 35 seconds, before Scott McTominay failed to control when wide open inside the penalty area.
Barca’s start to the game was woeful and they looked dazed for the opening ten minutes…but then a familiar face stepped up to restore the anticipated state of affairs and the rest of the game was a breeze.
MESSI DOES IT AGAIN
United’s fine early work was undone with a flash of genius from Lionel Messi, who opened the scoring after 15 minutes to give his side total command of the tie: he took advantage of some sloppy work from Ashley Young to win the ball on the right corner of the box, beat Fred with a sublime nutmeg and cut inside to unleash a brilliant strike into the far corner.
Messi pounced again minutes later, although his second strike owed a lot to a terrible error from United keeper David De Gea, who somehow allowed Messi’s half-hit right-footed strike from the edge of the box to squirm through his grasp and roll apologetically over the line.
Having effectively settled the contest, Messi proceeded to torment the visiting defence with a motivated and high-tempo display, with a particular highlight coming just before half-time when he twisted Phil Jones inside-out with a sensational dribble which nearly led to a goal for Roberto.
This must have been the hardest he was worked off the ball in a long time, giving weight to the idea that he is reserving his energies for the competition Barca crave more than any other. With Messi in this mood, they must be favourites.
COUTINHO STATES HIS CASE
Valverde’s decision to start with Coutinho ahead of Dembele will have been badly received by many Barca supporters considering the Brazilian’s ineffectual form during the majority of the campaign, but he responded with an excellent performance capped by a magnificent third goal, thundered into the top right corner from long range.
There has never been any doubt over Coutinho’s talent, but the question of where he fits into the team tactically has been less clear. On this occasion, though, he looked perfectly comfortable on the left of the front three, linking well with Jordi Alba on the overlap and regularly coming inside to team up with Messi and midfield general Arthur.
With the end product of his outstanding goal added in, this was undoubtedly one of Coutinho’s best performances in a Barca shirt and it gives Valverde an interesting and welcome dilemma ahead of the semi-finals.
Dembele is regaining full fitness and was in the team on merit before getting injured, but Coutinho playing like this is also well worth a start – and if Liverpool also advance, he will naturally be desperate to shine against his former club.