Football: Barcelona is greater than the sum of its parts, says Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Paul Pogba (left) and Romelu Lukaku, stretching ahead of a training session at Carrington, may be key to Manchester United puncturing the hopes of Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final.
Paul Pogba (left) and Romelu Lukaku, stretching ahead of a training session at Carrington, may be key to Manchester United puncturing the hopes of Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Solskjaer wary of Catalans' other threats as he relishes challenge of shackling forward at Old Trafford

LONDON • Lionel Messi has scored 22 Champions League goals in 30 appearances against English teams - more than any other player in the history of the competition.

But Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has no plans to man-mark the Barcelona talisman in the first leg of their quarter-final tie today, despite admitting he "will go down in history as one of the best ever".

At his pre-match press conference yesterday, he said: "Messi will be difficult to stop but never impossible, it's not like Messi against Manchester United, (there's also Luis) Suarez, (Philippe) Coutinho, (Arturo) Vidal, so many good players. We can't focus on one, we have to focus on (all) 11 of them.

"What kind of plan can you have to stop one of the best in the world? This season we (have already) played against (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Kylian) Mbappe, and now Messi. They're challenges I relish, I say bring it on."

Although this is the first time Solskjaer will face the 31-year-old and his team as a coach, there is someone who has a wealth of experience trying to shackle the Argentina captain and whose experience he has drawn upon - his mentor Alex Ferguson.

Revealing he had tapped the former United managerial great's inside knowledge, he said: "Of course, I've spoken with the gaffer since the draw was made but no details... You look at what you'll do against them and we're ready."

While Solskjaer is fully aware "we have to defend well against them", he also urged the Old Trafford faithful to come out in droves as "we will need the crowd in a game like this".

  • Barcelona v Man United: Epic Champions League battles

  • 2011: FINAL, WEMBLEY

    This was the last time the two European football juggernauts met in a competitive fixture.

    It was, however, far from a tight contest as United were overrun in midfield while Lionel Messi led their defence on a merry run as Barcelona ran out 3-1 winners.

    This was tiki-taka football at its peak, with Pep Guardiola lifting his second European Cup as a manager.


    2009: FINAL, STADIO OLIMPICO

    While United were ultimately outplayed in the 2-0 loss, they departed Rome asking life's cruellest question - what if?

    Despite a blistering start, during which they were on top, they failed to score before their defence gave away a soft opener to Samuel Eto'o.

    The Red Devils could only rue Darren Fletcher's ban that left Michael Carrick isolated in midfield against Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, with the former eventually supplying Messi's headed goal.


    2008: SEMI-FINAL 2ND LEG, OLD TRAFFORD

    Former United manager Alex Ferguson and his assistant Carlos Queiroz were so determined to restrict the away side's "passing carousel" that they went through an unprecedented level of tactical preparation in training.

    The attention to detail worked as they restricted Barcelona to few chances and no goals across the two legs, reaching their first Champions League final since 1999 thanks to Paul Scholes' howitzer on a night of raw emotion.

    It was probably, across both legs, their most negative performance in Ferguson's 26 years at the club, but the end justified the means, with United going on to claim their third European Cup.

    THE GUARDIAN

The Norwegian said: "Hopefully, a bit of rain will make for a special evening. Confidence is high. The result, what we did against Paris Saint-Germain, and how we have climbed the table, clawing back points.

"The players have given themselves and the supporters great belief. I can feel the tension, the excitement. The Champions League is possible and we can go on to win it. There will have to be luck and margins, we must perform at the best."

But even if the Red Devils fail to match the Catalan giants' "quality" at home, the tie - their first meeting since the 2011 Champions League final - is "not going to be decided until we play 90 minutes in the Nou Camp".

Backing midfielder Paul Pogba to "perform tomorrow as his job is to be the creator and to drive us forward", Solskjaer added: "We know we can't give fouls away, look how many goals Messi has scored from free kicks outside the area (seven this season), we have to be careful.

"(But) the Champions League throws up so many strange results, we just have to make sure we perform to our best and have a result to take over to Barcelona."

The 46-year-old also touched on Barcelona defender Gerard Pique's first return to his "second home" of Manchester since leaving the club in 2008, before jokingly drawing a parallel with their age gap.

He said: "Gerard, I used to play with him. He came as a young boy (Pique is now 32), we had a lot of belief in him.

"He was maybe unlucky, he came here when (Nemanja) Vidic and Rio (Ferdinand) played here so he didn't get the chances he probably deserved.

"It will be nice to meet him again. Hopefully, we can make him feel old, and not me young."

United also received a boost after it was revealed forward Marcus Rashford would likely be fit, although midfielder Nemanja Matic remains a doubt.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Barca not just the sum of Messi parts'. Print Edition | Subscribe