Miami, Fla. (Wednesday, April 17, 2019)
Going to Barcelona for a Champions League quarterfinal return leg match at the Estadio Camp Nou against Fútbol Club Barcelona was never going to be an easy task. It proved impossible for Manchester United. with Lionel Messi on a mission, Barça shredded United 3-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate, to advance to the semifinals of Europe’s top competition.
United had arrived at Camp Nou having lost the opening leg at home at Old Trafford 1-0; a game in which it did not have a single shot on target, and hoping for a miraculous victory like the one the club managed to pull off twenty years ago, in the Champions League final, when current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the winning goal in stoppage time against Bayern Munich.
Leo had other ideas, however. In the opening leg, Messi had his nose bloodied by the arm of Chris Smalling in a collision that Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde likened to being “run over by a truck.”
There would be none of that last night. Playing at his best, his first goal was sheer Messi magic, as he ghosted past a defender and bent the ball just inside the upright. His second goal was more of a blunder by Manchester goalkeeper David de Gea, as the ball slipped underneath his body and into the net, but a goal nevertheless.
“The image (we gave) was spectacular. This is who we are,” Messi said. “I was fortunate the first went in, I struck it hard and just inside the post. I needed a little more luck on the second. The important thing is that we achieved our goal. We have taken one more step (to the title).”Leo Messi
Barcelona faced a scare early in the match. The Red Devils looked ready to play at the outset, and Marcus Rashford barely missed scoring, with his shot hitting the crossbar. Then it was Messi time. Instead of shying away from contact, Messi initiated it with his defence to set an example for his teammates after they were caught off-guard.
Messi out-muscled Ashley Young to win the ball near the right touchline. He then brought the home crowd to its feet as he poked the ball through the legs of Fred, sped along the edge of the box, and drove a left-footed strike around a diving De Gea.
Messi got his double soon with more than a little help from De Gea, as the goalkeeper mishandled a tame shot and the ball slipped underneath him into the net.
Messi went close to setting up another goal just before halftime. He made Phil Jones dizzy by changing the direction of his dribble three times. He then played Jordi Alba wide, for the left back to cross the ball to Sergi Roberto arriving at the far post. De Gea made a superb save to block his point-blank effort on the line. The second half saw more Messi, as he nearly scored on an impromptu scissor kick that went slightly wide of the net.
The doblete by Messi were his ninth and tenth goals in the Champions League this season, making him the leader in that category in Champions League play this season.
Philippe Coutinho added the third goal of the soiree with a superb curling strike from long range in the 61st minute to cap arguably the best performance by the former Liverpool player since joining Barcelona just over a year ago. He celebrated that goal by placing his fingers in his ears to mock the critics who have been talking about him all season.
Messi orchestrated the attack that ended in Coutinho’s goal, playing a long ball down the left to Jordi Alba, who knocked it back to the Brazil midfielder who then beat De Gea from distance.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
If you give him space and timing around the goal he will create chances and score.”
“Messi and Cristiano (Ronaldo) have been the best players in the world for the past decade,” Solskjaer said. “And he showed why we think that and why he has won so many titles. If you give him space and timing around the goal he will create chances and score.”
“We started well in the first 15 minutes and I thought, ‘We’ve got something here,'” Solskjaer said. “But then they scored twice in four minutes. … You could see the difference of the teams tonight. The quality of their finishing was absolutely outstanding.”
The goals ended Messi’s bizarre scoring drought in Champions League quarterfinals that had reached 12 matches dating back to 2013. In total “the Goat” has 45 goals in 42 games through all competitions this campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo, however, will not be joining Leo Messi in Europe’s final four. Ajax Amsterdam stunned Ronaldo’s Juventus 2-1 to progress to the semifinals in Tuesday’s other match. Donny van de Beek equalised cancelling out Ronaldo’s opener before Matthijs de Ligt scored the winner as the Dutch visitors eliminated Juve to advance 3-2 on aggregate. A story in its own right, Ajax are in the seminfinals of the Champions League for the first time since 1997.
The fans in Barcelona, whom for so long viewed Ronaldo as the primary nemesis when he was with Real Madrid, celebrated the Ajax goals when they were announced on the video monitor.