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Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona, Champions League: Match Review

Recap from Barcelona’s win against Man U

Manchester United v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg

In a tough, hard fought match at Old Trafford, Barcelona edged Manchester United with a goal from Luke Shaw, who was unlucky enough to redirect the ball into his own goal. Barcelona had a couple other chances as well, while they limited the hosts to the perimeter – Marc-Andre ter Stegen didn’t have to make a single save – but to say United weren’t dangerous would be an understatement.

Ernesto Valverde brought out ten of the eleven players that beat Atletico Madrid on Saturday, with the only change coming at right back where Nelson Semedo replaced Sergi Roberto. The Catalans didn’t waste any time and took control of the ball from the opening whistle, winning two corner kicks less than two minutes after kickoff. Nothing came of them, but it was an early sign that Barcelona were going to press hard for the all-important away goal.

But despite the early push from Barcelona, it were the hosts who fired the first shot, albeit off target. Marcus Rashford stepped up to take a long-range free kick, but his try whistled wide of ter Stegen’s right post by a couple feet. When not in possession, United looked to meet Barcelona high up the pitch, which caused some problems to Barcelona, but the Catalans remained the more dangerous side.

While Barcelona looked to create through possession play, Manchester patiently waited for their chances. The hosts launched a dangerous counter in the 8th minute, but ter Stegen left his area in time to clear the ball away. Barcelona were pressing hard and their efforts bore fruit in the 12th minute. Sergio Busquets made a stunning over the top pass to spring Lionel Messi behind the defense, but his first touch sent him wide, so a cross to the far post remained the only option. There was Luis Suarez who headed the ball into the danger area, destined for a Philippe Coutinho tap-in. But before the ball could reach the Brazilian, it took a slight deflection off Shaw and went into the back of the net. The goal was initially ruled out for offside, but VAR reversed the call and correctly allowed the goal to stand.

Barcelona quickly returned to the offensive, but United would look to threaten next, however, Fred’s free kick hit the wall. A couple minutes later Rashford again fired from distance, though this time from open play, but once again missed the target. The hosts continued with the full-pitch press, but there wasn’t any panic in Barcelona’s play. They made some mistakes in possession, but defensively the Catalans looked solid. The superiority in play from Barcelona in the opening 25 minutes was immense and United seemingly only created anything after sloppiness in Barcelona play – though a surprising amount of that sloppiness came from Busquets.

Just before the half hour mark, Messi was left down and bloodied after a heavy check and a flailing arm from Chris Smalling, who was adamant about having a recipe how to stop the Argentine. The result of the challenge was a cut on the nose and a slightly swollen cheek, but nothing was given to the defender. The hosts were starting to show more life in attack, but they were unable to get anywhere near ter Stegen.

During United’s best stretch, Barcelona threatened again. Clement Lenglet sent a long pass from the back-line that was poorly cleared away. Victor Lindelöf initially and then Smalling both reacted poorly to the deep ball and it left Coutinho with an excellent opportunity, but David de Gea stuck out his left leg to make a brilliant save. But United were enjoying some continued success in Barcelona’s third as their quest for the equalizer continued. A couple silly mistakes in possession from the Catalans also didn’t help matters, but ter Stegen remained unchallenged.

The hosts came out strong after the restart and just three minutes in won their first corner kick of the match, but Barcelona dealt with that as well. United had their best look on goal in the 52nd minute after a ter Stegen punch out didn’t go according to plan, but Rashford half-volley missed badly. The hosts were at times able to pin Barcelona deep in their area where United’s physical play caused plenty of problems. The fact that referee Gianluca Rocchi allowed plenty of physical play also left several Barcelona players frustrated.

Barcelona hadn’t shown much in the second half, but after a long stretch in possession, Semedo excellently found Suarez in space in the 65th minute, but the Uruguayan’s attempt missed the target. Moments later, Valverde made a double substitution, taking off Coutinho and Arthur and replacing them with Arturo Vidal and Roberto. Shortly thereafter Alba had a chance to double Barcelona’s lead, but de Gea made another save.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær reacted three minutes later, bringing on Anthony Martial in place of Romelu Lukaku. In the 74th minute Jesse Lingard replaced Diogo Dalot. With numerous stoppages in play, including the aforementioned substitutions, the pace of play dropped significantly, which played in favor of Barcelona, who were starting to regain control. But even though the Catalans controlled the majority of possession, they could show little for it as the organized United defense allowed very little.

But with time running out the hosts started to open up a bit, mostly on their left side where Roberto enjoyed more space. And in the 82nd minute Roberto and Semedo combined to win a free kick in a dangerous spot. Messi tried to surprise de Gea with a shot under the wall, but the Argentine’s try took just enough of a redirection along the way to lose all power. United countered immediately with Scott McTominay excellently finding Martial making a run into the area, but Gerard Pique made the crucial clearance.

With five minutes left to play Andreas Pereira replaced Rashford. United were pushing, while Barcelona looked confident in defense. The hosts, however, appeared to be running out of steam as their press started to lack intensity. Barcelona on the other hand also didn’t show much urgency, pragmatically choosing to hold to their one goal lead without exposing themselves too much to the counter attack. Three minutes were added on and Barcelona spent just about every second of it in possession.

Carles Alena took Busquets’ place on the pitch with less than a minute left on the clock. Smalling was given a half-chance to tie it up before the final whistle, but Barcelona won the game 1-0. It was far from a vintage showing from the Catalans, and the final result can be viewed as flattering, but Barcelona will hold the advantage going into the second leg which will played on Tuesday, 16 April. Next up, though, is a La Liga clash against Huesca on Saturday.

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