This past Wednesday saw Manchester United take on Barcelona at Old Trafford in the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals. The tie had been highly anticipated by both sets of fans and was seen as an indicator of how far United have come under their recently appointed manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
The game began evenly with Manchester United having the first opportunity of the night. After Barca conceded a free kick 10 yards outside the penalty area, Rashford stepped up to take it. Yet, despite striking well, the United forward’s effort went wide and the game remained goalless.
The deadlock was broken almost immediately after Rashford’s opportunity, as Luke Shaw’s own goal in the 11th minute put Barcelona 1-0 up. This was ultimately a result of a lovely ball from Barcelona’s midfielder, Sergio Busquets, put Lionel Messi into space inside the penalty area. Messi then crossed it to striker, Luis Suárez, whose header from the back post deflected off Shaw, a Manchester United left-back, and past goalkeeper David de Gea into the net. The goal was originally ruled offside but after reviewing it using VAR, the referee, Gianluca Rocchi, overturned his decision and awarded the goal.
After Barca established a point on the board, the game became hotly contested with United’s centre-back, Chris Smalling, clattered into Messi mid-jump, catching the Argentinian forward and leaving him with a bloody nose; however, to the delight of Barcelona fans everywhere, Messi ignored his injury and continue playing. At the same time, Rashford played Scott McTominay through into Barca’s penalty area as his teammate, defender Gerard Piqué, sent him to the ground. Immediately after, Old Trafford erupted with shouts of a penalty, yet the referee saw nothing wrong with Piqué’s challenge and no foul was given angering Manchester United fans everywhere.
After conceding early in the game, United went on the attack with the hope to level the game in their advantage. Firstly, striker Marcus Rashford’s long-range attempt went slightly over the bar, then minutes later Romelu Lukaku came close to scoring when he came on the end of a cross from midfielder Paul Pogba.
Barcelona presented a constant attacking threat with their players’ skills and explosiveness. With 10 minutes to go before halftime, United’s centre back, Chris Smalling, was caught out over the top by a ball from Barcelona’s Clément Lenglet and allowed Suárez to reach the lofted pass and hold it up for Coutinho. The Brazilian then took a powerful shot on goal, forcing a frantic save out of de Gea to keep United’s 0-1 deficit. Soon after de Gea’s save, United defender, Diogo Dalot, had a headed chance from a Marcus Rashford cross. Unfortunately for United fans, the Portuguese full-back failed to take advantage of this opportunity as his header was poorly aimed back across the goal, failing to test the keeper.
Right before half-time, a nice build-up play from Coutinho and Messi gave Suárez a chance, yet his shot was wide and both teams went in at the break with Barcelona still up 1-0.
At the beginning of the second half, United entered in desperate search of an equaliser. Early on, United left-back, Ashley Young’s cross fell to Marcus Rashford after being punched out by Barca’s keeper, Marc-André ter Stegen; but the young Englishman’s shot went wildly off target with Barcelona able to clear the ball.
Barcelona then offered a continual challenge to United’s defence, as they looked to further their advantage 1-0. They came close after defender, Nelson Semedo, played Luis Suárez through into United’s penalty area, but the Uruguayan’s shot went into the side netting. Minutes later, there was a potential penalty as Barcelona player, Sergi Roberto, went down in United’s box after a challenge from Luke Shaw. Despite Barcelona’s protests, the referee saw nothing of it and play continued once more.
As the game went on, United failed to have any real chances. The English side’s best opportunity was a free kick from about 10 yards outside Barcelona’s box. Marcus Rashford stepped up to take it but his shot went high over the crossbar.
Towards the end of the match, Barcelona had a chance to double their advantage in the 82nd minute from a free kick in threatening position. Their star player, Lionel Messi, was the one to take it and his effort deflected off the wall as it made its way menacingly towards United’s goal. Luckily for United, keeper David de Gea was quick to react and saved the shot.
The game fizzled out to a 1-0 Barcelona win without providing the action most fans had looked forward to seeing. This put the Catalonian side in a dominant position with an away goal on their side heading into the second leg at Camp Nou on Tuesday the 16th of April. As for Manchester United, it looks like they will have a tall task to come out the victor in this tie, but after their heroics in Paris during last 16, it would be foolish to write them off going into the second leg.