Barcelona overcame a punchless Manchester United to take the upper hand in their Champions League quarter-final after Luke Shaw’s own goal gave them a 1-0 first-leg victory at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Shaw deflected a Luis Suarez header into his own net after 12 minutes, handing the Catalans a vital away goal that will make them clear favourites in the return leg.
After United’s comeback against Paris St Germain in the previous round, Barca will take nothing for granted, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will struggle to repeat the trick against a side with a fearsome home record.
“We played a good team,” said Solskjaer. “We know you have to defend a lot without the ball and you might be tired when you get the chance yourself. We go there with one thing in my mind, we have to score.”
Barca have not lost at home for 30 games in the Champions League since 2013 and while United can take credit for staying in the tie, they produced little that will overly worry the Spanish side.
Barcelona’s first win at Old Trafford in European competition was relatively comfortable with their keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen not having a single shot to save.
With Paul Pogba failing to impact the game, United were left trying to hit Barca on the break or from set-pieces and too often they lacked the precision to make the most of the few openings that fell their way.
The crucial away goal was well-worked. Sergio Busquets found Lionel Messi with a clever ball into the area and the Argentine carved out space on the left to deliver a lofted cross to former Liverpool striker Suarez at the back post.
The Uruguayan’s header deflected off the shoulder of a scrambling Shaw and beat David De Gea to give the visitors the lead and although the linesman initially flagged for offside, the goal was given after a VAR video review.
DE GEA SAVES
United had De Gea to thank for keeping the difference down to a single goal as he saved superbly with his feet to keep out Philippe Coutinho in the 36th minute.
Then the home side had an appeal for a penalty waved away after Scott McTominay, who had a fine game in midfield, went down under a challenge from Gerard Pique.
United’s best chance of the first half fell to Diogo Dalot but the Portuguese made a mess of a fine Marcus Rashford ball, heading harmlessly across the goal from close-range.
Solskjaer’s team had struggled to get a foothold in the game during the opening 45 minutes, but they were much improved after the break, applying plenty of pressure without creating any clear chances.
Barcelona could have added a second had Suarez not fired into the side-netting from a promising position after a clever through ball from Nelson Semedo and then De Gea did well to foil Jordi Alba’s low drive — again with his legs.
The loss was United’s fourth in their last five games in all competitions.
“We did as well as we could against Messi, kept our shape well. It could have gone both ways,” said Solskjaer.
“I don’t think we hit the target and that’s a disappointment. We go there with work to be done but chances,” he added.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde was pleased with the result, especially given the club’s previous failure to win at Old Trafford in four earlier meetings in European competition.
“Given the atmosphere and the type of team they are and that this is the Champions League it’s very hard to win here, it was a very difficult game and things were complicated for us at a few moments,” he said.
“We had spells of dominance they pressured us very high but we created the clearest chances,” he added.
United boss Solskjaer hoping for PSG repeat against Barcelona
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows all about improbable Champions League comebacks and hopes his side can serve up a repeat of last month’s victory against Paris St Germain at Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium next week.
United, who were beaten 1-0 by Barca at Old Trafford in the quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, lost the home match of the previous round to PSG 2-0 before turning the tie around in the French capital.
That result gives the Norwegian manager the belief that his team are capable of progressing to the semi-finals, despite the fact that Barca are unbeaten in their last 30 Champions League home games going back to 2013.
“The PSG performance gives us hope and belief we can do it, but we are playing against the favourites,” said Solskjaer, who famously netted United’s stoppage-time winner in the 1999 final against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp, one of the competition’s most famous comebacks.
“It will be a bigger achievement winning that one because with the history of Barcelona, they are not used to losing at home but we can do it. No doubt about it,” he said.
Although neither Marcus Rashford nor Romelu Lukaku were able to trouble Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen on Wednesday, Solskjaer believes the United forwards can get opportunities in Spain.
“We are a goal threat, be it Rom or Rash or whoever is playing up there we have to create chances for them.
“We have to take our chances. You have to be very efficient over there. We know we are not going to create loads of chances. We have to take the ones we get.
“We have to soak up the pressure, accept they will want to kill the tie and want to put the sword into us. We have to soak that pressure and break and keep the ball at times better than we did,” he said.
“Away from home we beat Juventus, we beat PSG, we have to go to Barcelona and win that one. We know that we have possibilities in this tie. Now is not the time to think about our home performances. Now we’ve got to look forward to the future.”
Pique praises Barca’s defensive steel
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique praised his side for shutting out Manchester United in Wednesday’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford as the Catalans seized the advantage in their Champions League quarter-final tie.
“We put in an excellent performance defensively, we’re in our best form in defence of the season. The early goal relaxed us and we knew how to cope with the situation, the fact we didn’t concede helps us a lot,” Pique told reporters.
“It’s very difficult to come here, it’s an historical ground, there’s a sensational atmosphere and you get put under a lot of pressure.”
The only goal of the game came from a clever cross by Lionel Messi although Barca’s captain was kept unusually quiet for the remainder, after being left with a bloodied face from a clash with United’s Chris Smalling.
“Messi felt very uncomfortable after the blow to the head, we’ll have to examine him tomorrow to see how he is, it was a strong blow, he has a large bruise,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
Midfielder Sergio Busquets added: “It was a big blow, he has a scar and he bled a lot, it was obviously uncomfortable for him but he put on a brave face and played as best as he could, as he always does.”
United had far more attempts than the runaway La Liga leaders but they could not muster a single shot on target, and visiting goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was never tested.
“We leave here with a good sensation but we know they will give everything away from home,” added Valverde.
Barca have failed to reach the Champions League semi-finals since 2015 yet the win at Old Trafford sets them up well for next Tuesday’s second leg at the Nou Camp, where they are unbeaten in their last 30 matches in Europe’s elite competition.
Pique, however, said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could not be written off after their remarkable turnaround against Paris St Germain in the last-16, in which they overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit by winning 3-1 in the French capital.
“After seeing what they did against PSG there’s no reason at all to believe the tie is over,” Pique said.
“PSG were the clear favourites then, they played far better and look what happened. Anything can happen in football so we’ll have to focus very hard.”