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Talking Points: Did a five-man defence cost Manchester United against Barcelona?

Written by: Waseem Zaidi

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The Red Devils were sloppy at the start and were duly punished within the first 12 minutes of the game.

In a feisty contest played under the lights at Old Trafford, it was FC Barcelona winning over Manchester United, thanks to an early own goal by Luke Shaw in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash. It was a closely contested encounter that is not well described by the eventual scoreline.

Despite a solitary goal separating the two sides, the game had many highlights and provided both sets of fans loads of entertainment. Plenty of talking points emerge after the analysis of the first-leg that handed Blaugrana their first-ever victory at Old Trafford. Here are the key takeaways from the first-leg between MUFC and FCB.

5. Barcelona took advantage of Manchester United’s slow start to the game

In a throwback to the Jose Mourinho era, Manchester United were surprisingly slow to start the match and gave away too much of the possession to the visitors. This in-turn invited a lot of pressure from Ernesto Valverde’s men who were showing great poise over the ball and hardly let the hosts have a look in.

Eventually, the first goal was scored in the 12th minute by a header from Luis Suarez that was deflected into the net by Luke Shaw’s shoulder. This served as a wake-up call for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s men who increased the tempo henceforth. However, the early goal was the telling difference at the end that gave Barcelona the victory. Now, they take an advantage heading into the second-leg.

Post-match analysis and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer interview

4. Manchester United need to change their defensive tactics in the second-leg

The hosts were too slow off the blocks, and the early wait & watch policy backfired on them. In the early phase of the game, Manchester United stayed deep inside their own half and let the Spanish outfit play their game hoping for a counter-attack opportunity, but were unable to hold on to possession after a turnover. This tactic let the visitors control the game which resulted in the early goal.



The following alteration in the defensive tactics where United players started to press higher up the pitch paid off as Barcelona were not able to create clear-cut chances for the rest of the match. The increase in tempo also saw midfielders like Fred and Scott Mctominay win the second balls. The United gaffer soon realised that his team was much better off pressing the opposition and they should ideally stick with this strategy when they travel to Camp Nou for the second-leg.


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3. Is it time to permanently replace Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera with Scott Mctominay and Fred? 

The usual starting lineup that is employed by Ole consists of the trio of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. However, due to Herrera and Matic missing out from the game owing to fitness issues, Mctominay and Fred were called in to replace them and delivered one of their best performances in a United shirt.

Various sets of fans have applauded the young Scotsman for a string of consistent performances and have called for him to be reinstated into the starting lineup as a regular starter, which could result in Matic sitting out. As for Fred, his industry and skill on the ball provide a new dynamic to the United midfield which caused Barcelona many troubles all night and considering Herrera’s injury and contractual complexities in the picture, Fred could be the perfect remedy.

2. FC Barcelona showed signs of a lapse in concentration that could prove fatal if repeated and need Lionel Messi to step-up

There were a few instances in the course of the game that saw Barcelona give away possession cheaply that could have led to a goal if United players were more clinical. One of the incidents came early in the match where Sergio Busquets miscalculated a pass and almost let Pogba in on a direct shot on goal but had to foul the Frenchman and received a yellow card for his actions. Clement Lenglet also had a few shaky moments when in possession of the ball and gave it away cheaply on a couple of occasions which can be fatal in the second-leg if they lead to an away goal.

Match Highlights: Manchester United 0-1 FC Barcelona

Moreover, Lionel Messi had a surprisingly quiet game and has now gone 12 quarter-final matches without scoring a goal in the Champions League. Rattled by Chris Smalling all game, the Argentine ended up with a bleeding nose from one of the clashes. Quickly closed down by the opposition, Messi cut a frustrated figure at times and only had one shot on target from a direct free kick. The captain needs to play a bigger role in the second-leg to see off the opposition.

1. Anxious start, lack of defensive cohesion and poor finishing overshadowed an otherwise impressive performance from Manchester United

In his post-match comments, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that his side started sloppily and only settled on the ball after conceding the crucial away goal. Barcelona looked uneasy for the remainder of the game with a small spell at the end where United players looked like an exhausted bunch due to the constant pressing. The five-man defence had also caused a mix-up of roles where Luke Shaw was playing narrow as a left-sided centre-back. This allowed Suarez free room on the far post as Shaw was caught too narrow which led to the first and the only goal of the match.

Another area where Ole would be disappointed by his players would be in the final third of the pitch. With 10 shots on goal and none of them being on target, it’s certainly a cause for worry for the boss. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was not tested by the opponents and Marcus Rashford, in particular, had a night to forget due to his wayward shooting and lack of accuracy from direct free kicks. Although, the manager remains positive and believe his team has the capability to create chances against any team and score with a little bit more composure.

Published: Thu Apr 11, 2019 03:29 PM IST

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