Messi inspires Barca to semis as Solskjaer's Champions League dreams are dashed

SO much for the brave Nou world.

Manchester United were stripped of their dignity, their shortcomings laid bare by the brilliance of Lionel Messi.

The little master was at his spell-binding, shimmering best to take Barcelona into the semi-final of the Champions League.

His run for the first goal was electrifying, jolted into action when Ashley Young inexplicably tried to pull off a Cruyff turn.

Messi’s next, carved out when Fred lost possession for the millionth time, squirmed embarrassingly under David De Gea.

Job done, just 20 minutes into a Champions League quarter-final second leg.

Europe’s top table – the last four of elite level club competition – is no place for United in their current condition.

They were dismantled, with their limitations brutally exposed on one of the biggest nights of the football calendar.


Messi, at his rapturous best, engineered Barca’s third with a drilled 30-yard pass laced with Tiger Woods’ backspin after 61 minutes.

Jordi Alba touched it into the feet of Philippe Coutinho and the former Liverpool forward walloped it beyond De Gea’s reach. United were humiliated.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 24 games into his career as manager, is in danger of getting found out.

This is five defeats in seven, the sort of run that would have people screaming for the Special One’s head to be served up on a platter.

Solskjaer, bless him, is being overwhelmed – the gung-ho approach, this up-and-at-‘em, fastest on the draw football worked out in his first few weeks in charge.

It was all nicey-nicey them, with Ole at the wheel and all that fluff around the place. This was an embarrassment.

There is a naivety about United’s manager, with a mistaken belief that they could pull off another PSG-style miracle.

Barcelona have been refining keep-ball for years, perfecting the art with their historic Champions League victories in 1992, 2006, 2009 and 2011 and 2015.

At this level United will come across smarter brains, sharper minds, and more skilful opponents. Messi belongs in a category above.

For 16 minutes he wandered about, appearing disinterested and disengaged as United pursued their helter-skelter approach.

Marcus Rashford had clipped the top of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s crossbar in the opening minute.

Solskjaer, inevitably, will claim it could have changed everything on a savage night to be a United player. Doubtful.


They survived a penalty – given, then rescinded by German referee Felix Byrch – after Fred challenged Ivan Rakitic 11 minutes in. VAR spared them.

There was no escape five minutes later when Young, squeezed in at left-back because Luke Shaw was suspended, tried to pull off his little party piece.

Rakitic nicked the ball off his toes, passed to Messi and the rest played out in slow-motion.

He left Fred for dead, sent Phil Jones out to A&E, before curling a left-footed effort beyond the reach of De Gea’s right arm.

Four minutes later the GOAT was grazing on another.

Fred the Red, and it may as well have been United’s cuddly mascot, was dispossessed yet again on the edge of the area.

It is at times like this when you look up and feel sorry that it has to be Phil Jones standing in the way of Messi again.

Barca’s captain used the United defender as a sight-line before wrapping his right foot around the effort.

Dave did not save, messing up his angles and misjudging the power and accuracy of the shot.

It will take a few more of these before he is labelled with Gary Sprake’s infamous Careless Hands nickname, but even so.

De Gea will need to have a good look at the third goal as well because he went with the wrong hand when Coutinho unloaded.

He dived to his left and flung up his arm as the Barca forward’s effort whistled past him.


It was only a few weeks ago when DDG was a human shield, keeping out everything in a streaky win at Tottenham.

Here he looked vulnerable, fragile and mentally weak whenever Messi got to work around the box. He was not alone.

It is all well and good for Solskjaer to send Jones out to be a hero wearing a United shirt with a bandage wrapped tightly around his head.

Messi vs Jones, at least in a football stadium, just isn’t a fair fight.

To watch Messi turn him, then nutmeg him in the same movement in the first half just seemed unfair on the fella.

Jones is not up to this level, with or without his dressing.

One day he will be be able to do something none of us will ever be able to do, which is to tell his grandkids he played in the Nou Camp against the Little Master.



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It is the sort of sentence you still have to say two or three times out loud to really believe it happened, though. Happen, it did.

It is mismatches on a scale as grand as this that led to “Ole” being chanted inside the Nou Camp in the second half.

After this savaging, they were definitely not coming from the United end.

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