MAN UNITED 0, BARCELONA 1
He’s no longer in control at the wheel which has well and truly fallen off following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as Manchester United’s permanent manager.
Four defeats in the last five matches is a puncture and far removed to his emotional homecoming when he was in cruise control and transformed the Reds’ fortunes as they could do no wrong.
Barcelona became the latest team to inflict a loss as United have a mountain to climb to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League as they have suddenly gone into reverse.
The Catalans became the third team this season to win in the Champions League at Old Trafford which is no longer a fortress. They followed on from Juventus and Paris St Germain who also secured victories in what has been a wildly erratic campaign in Europe.
In five home Champions League matches they have managed one solitary goal from Marouane Fellaini who is now plying his trade in China. And against Barcelona they didn’t register one on-target goal attempt, the first time they have done this since a 1-0 loss at AC Milan in March 2005.
Yet United on their travels in Europe have been a totally different entity as they have won in Turin against Juve and also triumphed in Paris.
They will need a repeat of those heroics if they are to eliminate a Barcelona side featuring a frontline of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.
United will take believe into the return at the Nou Camp as they restricted Barcelona to few clear-cut chances. Indeed, their one strike eventually debited as a Luke Shaw own goal.
And in another bizarre statistic, this was United’s eighth own goal in the Champions League and no other team has a total so high.
It was a frustrating night for Solskjaer who believes United can cause another upset, but admitted it is a long shot.Embed from Getty Images
He said: “Our win at PSG gives us hope and belief, though we are probably against the favourites for the tournament.
“Going to the Nou Camp will be a challenge and it will be a greater achievement to win there as they are not used to losing at home.
“We can do it, but have to offer a goal threat. We have to hit the target and need to provide more ammunition.”
Solskjaer admitted his side didn’t “get going” until they fell behind.
He said: “We played a good team. 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. We did as well as we could against Messi. Kept our shape well. It could have gone both ways.
“We go there with work to be done, but chances. We’re playing against a great team. It’s a tough one, we’ll go there with the knowledge we can score over there. We’re still in the tie.”
The fit-again Marcus Rashford replaced Jesse Lingard, the one change from the league defeat at Wolves.
With three defeats in the four matches since he was confirmed as permanent manager, this was a supreme test for Solskjaer.
It was also a challenge for the Reds’ often brittle defence against a front three of Messi, Suarez and Coutinho as the two teams met for the first time since the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley.
Barcelona had all the early pressure, but United had the first chance in the fifth minute when Rashford’s 30-yard free kick whistled past the upright.
It was given after Scott McTominay was brought down by Sergio Busquets who was lucky not to be booked.
Barcelona took the lead in the 12th minute in controversial fashion when Suarez’ header which deflected in off Shaw was initially ruled out by an assistant referee for offside only for the decision to be overturned by VAR.
Messi was clearly onside when he received a pass on the left from Busquets and Suarez was played on by Victor Lindelof as he headed across the face of goal with the ball going in off the unfortunate Shaw.
United had a penalty appeal rejected after McTominay went down following a clumsy challenge from Gerard Pique, but the Reds’ midfielder was clearly looking for a spot kick and went to ground too easily.
Messi needed treatment for a bloody nose after he was caught by a flaying hand from Chris Smalling.
Barcelona would have added a second goal in the 36th minute but for a fine save by the legs of David De Gea to deny Coutinho.
United had a second penalty appeal early in the second half when he ball clearly struck the arm of Busquets as he jumped for the ball, but a spot kick was not awarded.
Barcelona had a couple of decent goal attempts to equalise in quick succession as Suarez fired into the side netting and Jordi Alba’s angled drive was kept out by the legs of De Gea.
United made their first change with 22 minutes left as Romelu Lukaku was replaced by Anthony Martial. That was soon followed by Lingard’s introduction for Diego Dalot.
Messi saw a free kick deflect off the defensive wall and force a diving save from De Gea.
United had a great chance to equalise late on when McTominay put Martial clean through only for Pique to save the day with a last-ditch tackle.
Solskjaer made his last change with five minutes left when the tiring Rashford was replaced by Andreas Pereira, but it didn’t make any impact.