Manchester United made Barcelona work for their 1-0 win in Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side largely stifled their Catalan visitors in a game of few real scoring chances, with only a first half Luke Shaw own goal separating the sides. United have a big mountain to climb at the Camp Nou next week, but the tie certainly isn’t over.
When Barça broke the deadlock with their first chance of the match, United fans would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst. The clock hadn’t even reached the quarter-hour before a dinked cross by Lionel Messi was nodded back across the face of goal by Luis Suárez, whose header was inadvertently diverted beyond David de Gea by the unfortunate Shaw.
United’s response, however, was a good one. Their visitors dominated possession but looked sufficiently sketchy in defence to suggest the tie wasn’t yet over. Only once in the remainder of the opening half was de Gea tested again, with the Spaniard called into action by a vicious Philippe Coutinho snapshot after the half-hour.
The hosts’ best chance came five minutes before the break, when a tantalising Marcus Rashford cross was met by Diogo Dalot at the back post. Alas, the makeshift winger had arrived ahead of the ball, and was unable to make sufficient contact to test Marc-André ter Stegen.
United’s problem was that they were walking a tightrope: conceding a second away goal would likely prove terminal to their hopes of making the next round. Yet Solskjær’s men refused to be cowed, and were on top in an open start to the second half.
That, however, only increased Barça’s threat on the counter, and Suárez should’ve doubled their lead after being slipped in by a slide-rule Nelson Semedo pass. Fortunately he shanked wide from close range. A couple of minutes later Jordi Alba let fly from a tight angle, though was denied by his compatriot de Gea at the near post.
With just over 20 minutes to go, Solskjær rolled the dice, introducing Anthony Martial in place of the largely ineffective Romelu Lukaku. Jesse Lingard soon followed, on for Dalot. But as United flooded forward, so gaps began to open up at the back, and soon the midfield was shored up with the introduction of Andreas Pereira in Rashford’s stead. United managed to withstand the late Barça surge, and the fulltime whistle sounded with the deficit just a single goal.