Full time: Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
Not so much a footballing exhibition, more of an ordeal for almost everyone involved. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will almost certainly talk up his team's puncher's chance for the away leg next week, but he will have to factor in that Barcelona cannot be as sloppy as they were tonight.
Still, Luis Suarez's squeezed-home, VAR-assisted first-half goal gives Barcelona the clear edge for the return game at the Camp Nou. How spooked they'll be by United's counter-attacking threat will be key to the rest of this tie.
Lionel Messi, wearing that usual confused/annoyed expression, makes his way down the tunnel after a rare 5/10 performance, but he'll be a different proposition on home turf...
82 min - Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
Pogab leaves a foot in on Semedo on the edge of the United box and now Barcelona have an interesting position to exploit from the dead ball. Obviously, it's Messi who will take it - once he's tied his laces up - and...he tries to go under the wall! De Gea wasn't entirely fooled, though, and throws himself on the ball.
59 min - Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
United huffing and puffing, but still yet to aim a blow in the direction of Barcelona's house. Fred thumps one into a Barcelona body from 25 yards, before Pogba runs into a cul-de-sac on the edge of the box. Meanwhile, Messi is having - relatively speaking - a nightmare tonight. Fouls, going to ground too easily, wayward passes, the lot. He also has an assist.
Half time: Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
Barcelona lead, but they are no longer in control of this game. Solskjaer's gameplan has taken its time - and an away goal - to get going, but there are succeeding in one objective: frustrating a team who are used to getting their own way.
Luke Shaw's booking will mean he needs to focus on this leg rather than dwell on missing the second, but otherwise United are not in a terrible place here...
40 min - Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
Solskjaer marches down to the edge of his technical area, from that red-brick terrace for the first time to assess the situation. That appears to have an immediate effect, because Rashford whips in a superb cross to the back post for...Diogo Dalot, who heads rather cluelessly back across goal with Ter Stegen in all sorts of bother!
36 min - Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
Save! David De Gea's feet to the rescue, as is so often the case for United. Coutinho ghosts into some space in the box and pokes the ball goalwards, but De Gea gets his left boot in the way and plenty of distance on it too. Moments later, Busquets steps into Pogba and the crowd are baying for a red card...but the referee stands firm.
27 min - Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1
Pogba tries something expansive to get United going, clipping a deep ball in towards Lukaku from the left, but it's too high for the big man, who applauds the intent anyway. Solskjaer's hope of United dominating the ball and giving Barcelona something to worry about is looking a forlorn one here.
GOAL! Man Utd 0 Barcelona 1 (Suarez, 12 min)
GOOOAAA-no! Barcelona - and Luis Suarez - think they have the lead, but the assistant's flag intervenes! The referee consults VAR, which confirms Suarez was a yard onside as he nodded the ball back across goal and in off Luke Shaw's body! Barcelona do lead!
4 min - Man Utd 0 Barcelona 0
Sergio Busquets goes in high in a desperate attempt to stop Scott McTominay and, despite him escaping a yellow card, United have a promising position 30 yards from goal. Marcus Rashford fancies it...and he thumps one just high and wide! Lovely connection, but an element of hit and hope.
Ashley Young is next to fly into a tackle, catching Coutino - the referee widely gestures that he won't tolerate another.
Ole's pre-match words:
"We need to improve on the first leg [against PSG]. It's down to us to try and dominate the game. If we let them dominate, we're in for a hard night.
Rashford is fine, he's been ill as well, but hopefully he'll last as long as he can...he lives for nights like this.
It's a similar team to [the away leg vs PSG] but I'm confident we'll do well. We've shown we can come back from bad results but hopefully we'll take a great result over there."
'Bring it on'
There was something slightly Ed Miliband-ish ("Hell yeah I'm tough enough!") about Chris Smalling looking forward to the challenge of chasing Messi's shadow tonight.
“It's something to relish, this season I've been lucky enough to face Ronaldo, Mbappe, they're all challenges I relish and the players relish,” Smalling said. “I say bring it on.”
Unfortunately, Barcelona's social media department feel the same:
'I ended up watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger film'
Speaking of that 1991 final, James Ducker spoke exclusively to Clayton Blackmore, a member of that winning team:
“Obviously it was a very big game for Mark [Hughes],” Blackmore explained. “He had his own personal mission to get one over Barcelona because he never got treated well there.
“Anyway, he’s back in his room about six hours before kick-off for his siesta but I’m the opposite to him, I could never sleep the day of the game. So Sparky’s in bed and I’m there, wide awake, wondering what to do. I ended up watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger film - Commando it was - and I’ve got the volume up because I can’t hear what they’re saying and then suddenly all the guns start firing and the noise... it’s fair to say he didn’t get his siesta. And, yeah, he was grumpy!”
It did not work out too badly for Hughes in the end, though. His brace swept United to a 2-1 victory in what was the first season back in Europe for English clubs after a five-year ban in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, when 39 people were killed at the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants his United side to have their wits about them tonight, after PSG led them a merry dance over two legs in the last round before VAR had its say...
“The players have talked about it - how we got dragged into making fouls, how European football is. You’ve got to be more patient in tackles. Some of these Barcelona players will have some tricks up their sleeves, streetwise players. We’ve learned from that game.
“We know we can’t give fouls away. How many goals has Messi scored from free-kicks just outside the box? So, of course, we’ve got to be careful and the referees can’t buy little things.
“We weren’t lucky with the ref against PSG where they should have had a man [Presnel Kimpembe] sent off in the first leg, so we hope for some luck there as well.”
Lionel Messi vs the iPhone
As one landscape-altering, pocket-sized entertainment phenomenon has started to plateau, another has found a way to keep ascending. Please, bear with me here.
There was some delightful symmetry to their unstoppable rise: as Apple hoovered up 73 per cent of the smartphone industry’s profits in 2012, Messi was on his way to his unfathomable 73-goal haul in the 2011/12 season. By the time the iPhone had got round to accommodating a front-facing camera in 2010, Messi had already made a new home for himself in the defence-confounding false nine position, from which his vision and eye-of-the-needle forward passes allowed assists to flow almost as freely as goals.
Discerning Messi’s peak is not an easy task, and certainly not as straightforward as consulting his goalscoring charts. He will never again achieve the startling numbers of 2011/12, but his longevity (not just playing, but playing to such a stratospheric standard) owes much to the fine-tuning of other elements of his game.
Compared to the twisting ball of perpetual motion they faced in the Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011, Manchester United will face the more calculated 2019-edition Messi at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. While Apple are now struggling to find new boundaries to push (quite literally, since 2017’s iPhone X went full-screen and ditched the oddly comforting home button) Messi has begun to specialise.
He has scored seven times from free-kicks this season, equalling his own record with a possible 13 more games to play across three competitions. For the third consecutive season, Messi scored from a set-piece in three successive games. He has scored 20 times from dead-ball situations in the last five seasons (his nearest rival in Europe's top five leagues, Miralem Pjanic of Juventus, has 11).
I ❤ the 90s
Manchester United vs Barcelona? Ajax vs Juventus?! Crack out the Tab Clear, fire up the Sega Mega Drive, actually be able to grasp the concept of affording your own home one day: it's the 1990s all over again!
Unfortunately for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it's looking more 1994 than 1999 tonight: where there was once Romario, there is now Lionel Messi. Where there was once David May, there is now Chris Smalling. In summary, Barcelona - aiming for the treble - should be too good for Solskjaer's stuttering medium-term rebuilding project.
Then again, so should PSG have been. In fact, for about 179 minutes out of 180 over the two legs of the last 16, they were. But, where the 1990s had the three-foreigners rule, the tail-end of the 2010s has VAR. This time, United weren't the ones being screwed over.
So here they are, semi-uninvited but here nonetheless, in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Ole is now permanently at the wheel, but is this the end of the road for United's season?
Maybe not. Barcelona have scored 121 goals this season (so, what's new?) and have lost only four games, but their starting lineup doesn't fill you with quite as much dread as some of its vintage predecessors of the last decade. Perhaps its just a very English thing to think they can be "got at", but...maybe they can.
Team news - or rather, Lionel Messi-and-21-others news - on the way just before 7pm.