Manchester United will have to overturn a 1-0 deficit at the Nou Camp next week after Luke Shaw’s own-goal gave Barcelona a narrow first-leg victory at Old Trafford.
The left-back could do nothing as Luis Suarez’s back-post header hit his shoulder and diverted into the bottom corner with a little more than 10 minutes of the quarter-final gone.
United huffed and puffed and enjoyed good periods of territory either side of half-time, but their failure to register a single shot on target told the story of their attacking output.
AS IT HAPPENED: Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona
Barca strugged to find any rythym going forward, yet David De Gea had to be alert to deny Phillippe Coutinho before half-time and Jordi Alba midway through the second half, while Suarez failed to hit the target when played through one-on-one.
It means United face an uphill struggle in the second leg, with Barca remaining firm favourites to progress to the semi-final. Their final ball will have to improve if they want to cause a shock.
After a feisty start, which saw two of the veterans on each side in Sergio Busquets and Ashley Young get away with poor tackles that would have been clear yellow cards if they happened past the ten-minute mark, Barca took the lead with their first real chance.
Busquets clipped the ball over the top for Messi, his first touch took him wide of the left-hand post and cut off any chance of a shot. But Messi clipped in a ball to Suarez at the back post and his header hit Shaw’s shoulder and nestled in the bottom corner. Replays showed the assistant referee was wrong to put his flag up and after consulting VAR the goal was awarded.
Busquets soon went in the book for holding back Pogba and Shaw followed, meaning he’ll miss the second leg. Barca had enjoyed 87 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes which pointed towards a long night for the hosts.
That didn’t materialise and United came back into the game, but were restricted to efforts from range from Marcus Rashford, Fred and Paul Pogba. De Gea then had to be alert to produce a smart save and stop Coutinho doubling their lead as he drove a low shot at goal from Suarez’s lay off.
The hosts came out pressing Barca at the start of the second half and made life uncomfortable for the Spanish side. Rashford wasted their best chance though, flashing at a volley from inside the box when any sort of connection could have given them the equaliser.
For all their energy and endeavour, United lacked quality and Barca will feel their advantage should be greater ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg.
First right-back Nelson Semedo slipped Suarez in behind Shaw, only for the usually reliable marksman to slash at his shot and fire it into the side-netting. Shortly after Alba fizzed in a low drive from a tight angle De Gea kept out with his feet.
Rashford then wasted his second free-kick of the night firing over, as Anthony Martial was sent on by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United tried to find an equaliser. He almost got his opportunity as the clock ticked down, only for former United defender Gerard Pique to produce a brilliant tackle just before Martial pulled the trigger.
United are far from out of the tie, but they’ll have to produce an even better performance than they managed at PSG in the last-16 if they want to secure unlikely progression.