Ole’s at the wheel
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ability to inspire Manchester United to a memorable Champions League victory over PSG underlined the Norwegian’s credentials.
The United manager’s decision to deploy Fred and Scott McTominay in central midfield was an attempt to break up Barca’s attack at source whilst simultaneously freeing up Paul Pogba to support Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku.
Yet it was Solskjaer’s two central midfielders who failed to close down Sergio Busquets in the build-up to Barcelona’s opening goal. Another tactical switch, moving Diogo Dalot to an unaccustomed left-back role and Ashley Young to the right failed .
Despite encouraging signs surrounding his appointment, Solskjaer requires quality reinforcements if United are to challenge the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona. Success or failure in the next two transfer windows will decide the former Manchester United striker’s managerial legacy.
Suarez has improved
Luis Suarez’s return to English shores showed the Uruguayan has matured both on and off the pitch following an eight-match ban and £40,000 fine for racially abusing ex-United defender Patrice Evra in 2011.
Since arriving at the Camp Nou, Barcelona’s number nine has relished the opportunity to play alongside Lionel Messi, delivered consistent performances and played an integral role in guiding Ernesto Valverde’s side to the top of the La Liga.
Suarez’s finishing remains the former Liverpool forward’s best trait but it is his movement, work rate off the ball and unselfishness in linking with Messi and Ivan Rakitic that makes Barcelona a better team.
14 trophies and 175 goals later, Luis Suarez has put a turbulent period of his career behind him and is excelling in Catalonia.
A different kind of Barca
A first Champions League meeting between the sides in eight years delivered a quality game in which Manchester United responded positively to the concession of a sloppy early goal.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United are a menacing proposition whenever playing on the front foot and taking the game to their opponents. For all their endeavour, the Premier League side made little headway against an experienced Barcelona eleven that was mature enough to defend their lead and counter-attack whenever an opportunity arose.
A controlled rather than vibrant display saw the Catalans keep their shape and restrict United to long-range attempts. It was one of Lionel Messi’s quieter nights but Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets’s understated efforts coupled with a solid back four showing meant Marc-Andre ter Stegen was rarely troubled.
Ernesto Valverde has been criticised for failing to match the intensity and swift inter-play of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona teams. Yet, the modern-day Barcelona are no less competent when it comes to doing whatever it takes to win important games.
Barcelona demonstrated at Old Trafford that they are capable of remaining patient and digging out a 1-0 win, traits that could yet deliver another European success.