Manchester United’s Champions League run came to an end Tuesday night after a 3-0 loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou. Two goals from Lionel Messi before the half-hour mark put the Red Devils in jeopardy and a second-half strike from Philippe Coutinho sealed their fate.
From the confusing lineup to the uninspiring performance, there was much left to be desired from the visitors as soon as the opening whistle blew. With this quarter-final match over and done, this ends United’s chances at silverware for the second year in a row. United’s sole goal is to finish the domestic campaign in the top four, as their chances of having a successful summer transfer window depends on their Champions League qualification next year.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 3-0 defeat against Barcelona.
United must rebuild quickly
Considering the disparities in class between United and their Premier League rivals the last several years, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ed Woodward have an unenviable task in trying to find an agreeable solution to address talent gaps. The concerns about United’s inferior roster have turned serious, and will not be rectified until the managerial staff address the lack of depth plaguing this starting lineup.
Solskjaer’s remarks following the defeat seemed to hint at a strong possibility of a summer shakeup.
“We’ve got a rebuilding job. It starts with the coaches, the players, and of course one or two additions,” the 46-year-old said.
United are a club of rich history and have, over the years, been synonymous with vigorous, attacking football. Alex Ferguson developed this reputation but the three managers who succeeded him tainted this team’s character and form. Solskjaer brought this attacking style back in his first couple months in charge, and must close the campaign with that same mentality in order to guarantee a top four finish.
The performances of late do simply not live up to United’s high standards. Anthony Martial has been a reliable force this year but his stunning goals or presence on the pitch has not been enough to single-handedly transform the weakening culture at Old Trafford.
United struggled to hold their own in midfield
There was worry across the offense and defense in Tuesday’s contest, but United’s midfield was the most shocking. Barcelona’s quick counterattacks proved to be too experienced for the Red Devils and the midfield trio struggled to keep afloat. Scott McTominay and Fred were assigned as defensive mids, but became too over reliant on Paul Pogba as the match progressed.
In the first leg, United managed to keep Barcelona at bay for the majority of the match. McTominay was productive in the center mid role and accepted the task of putting the pressure on Barcelona before the defense had a chance to echo his efforts. Tuesday was a different story. The Scottish international’s positioning on the right and Jesse Lingard’s placement as a winger resulted in a lack of proficiency on that side. Most of their attacks were primarily created on the left side of the pitch, as Martial and Ashley Young became desperate over the course of the match to alter the looming final result.
Loss exposed some truth to United’s leadership
United’s shock win against Paris Saint-Germain in the knockout stages appeared to halt any talk of the glaring issues rampant at the club. While United carried that same confidence from the March 6 match into this contest, that simply wasn't enough to challenge the La Liga side. In fact, this loss may have been to United’s benefit. It not only provides a sense of emergency to hire a technical director, but also a permanent skipper assignment on the pitch to recharge the squad when a two-goal deficit prior to halftime erases all desire to continue competing.
Someone has to correct the damage done to this club. Without the motivation and the capabilities to remake this team and to put an end on the exasperating emotions of the last few years, a Champions League quarter-final run could end up being the most memorable part of the Solskjaer reign.
From the front office to the pitch, the time for an extensive reboot is now. It’s clear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can see this, and similar sentiments are felt across the United fanbase. The obvious question is whether anyone above the Norwegian in the leadership hierarchy wants to put in enough work to change that.