If Manchester United are to continue their pursuit of this season’s Champions League trophy, they are going to have to do it the extremely hard way. The Red Devils come into the second leg of their quarter final with Barcelona trailing 1-0, and they’ll need to overturn that deficit on one of the most difficult stages; the Nou Camp, where Barcelona are unbeaten in this competition since 2013. To put it mildly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face a gargantuan task this evening, and few give them any chance of pulling it off.
Of course, it was in this very stadium, twenty years ago, that United pulled off the ultimate comeback. If you’re looking for omens, it was Solskjaer himself who tapped in the winner as United beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the Champions League final, having trailed 1-0 from the sixth minute of the match until the first minute of time added on. That coincidence has been commented on more than once in the media since the first leg – including a few times by the Manchester United manager – but things are different now. This is not a vintage United side, they’re not playing Bayern Munich, and it’s not a neutral ground tonight. Surely, this time, the visitors’ good-luck charm (in the form of a likeable Norwegian manager) can’t do it again?
No, probably not
In 1999, United came up against Carsten Jancker, Alexander Zickler and Mario Basler. Decent professionals all, each of which was capped for the German national side. Not a single one of them, though, could lay claim to being as effective as Leo Messi, Luis Suarez or Ousmane Dembele, the front three that will face United this evening. With Barcelona having already established a lead, the English side will need to go forward with purpose – and do so without leaving themselves exposed at the back.
The major problem there is that, against Barcelona, you’re always exposed at the back. Such are the talents on show for the Catalan side that we just can’t see United keeping a clean sheet. While we would fancy their chances of grabbing a goal or two themselves, United need to outscore a Blaugrana attack with its ears pinned back. Given 888’s odds of 7/10 on Both Teams To Score, we would back that outcome. United are gifted enough on the attack themselves and were at times unlucky not to notch in the first leg – but will it be enough tonight?
Hosts likely to ease through
Barca have had a pretty significant warning about counting their chickens at this stage of the tournament. This time last year, they trounced Roma 4-1 in the first leg of the quarter final and seemed sure of a semi-final place. A 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture, however, saw the Spanish champions swept off the stage. While the 1-0 margin here doesn’t lend itself to complacency, it would be easy for the hosts to think they’ve done the tough part by winning in Manchester. It’s hard to see them being anything other than professional tonight, though.
United’s best hope is to look for an early goal, erasing their hosts’ advantage and possibly instilling some doubts in the colossal Nou Camp crowd. However, the complication of being up against such strong opposition remains. The best way to beat Barcelona is absorbing the pressure they apply, and hitting on the counter-attack – but United don’t really have that as an option here. We would back Barcelona for the win on the night, and odds of 1/3 at Paddy Power are tempting given that so many of the cards are in their favour.
United go down in a blaze of glory?
For much of the time under their last three permanent managers – David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho – United failed to get the results they needed. More than that, though, they had a fairly lumpen journey to their disappointing destination. Part of the reason that fans are so fond of Solskjaer is in the fact that, while they might well lose a game or two, they’ll at least break a sweat in doing so. Glorious failure is much better for a fan than the meek submission they’ve become used to, and OGS has wisely chosen to base his tactical approach on the ears-pinned-back style of the great United sides he played in.
Will that be enough to secure United the result they need this evening? Almost certainly not, no. However, it has a better chance of working than ninety minutes of attempting to shut the door and then hoping to grab a goal or two on the break. Aside from anything else, trying to sit deep with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones has much less chance of working than hitting the front early and often through Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata. You sense Solskjaer knows that, and as a result a high-scoring game is to be expected. Betway have 13/10 on there being more than 3.5 goals in the game, and we’d be inclined to take the over in a match that could get chaotic.
Bets of the Day
: More than 3.5 goals (13/10, Betway); Barcelona to win (1/3, Paddy Power); Both Teams To Score (7/10, 888)