Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to inspire another miracle at the Nou Camp to keep Manchester United’s Champions League dreams alive after Luke Shaw’s own goal proved the difference in a narrow quarter-final defeat to Barcelona.
As the 20th anniversary of the Norwegian’s treble-sealing triumph against Bayern Munich approaches, the former striker will have to upset the odds at Barca’s home once again if his side are to progress next Tuesday.
Luis Suarez’s header off the back of Shaw was all that separated the sides in the first leg at Old Trafford, with the way United frustrated the swashbuckling LaLiga leaders in a 1-0 loss giving them some hope of turning around their first quarter-final in five years.
Solskjaer’s side will also take encouragement from last month’s jaw-dropping win at Paris St Germain, where United became the first side in Champions League history to overturn a first-leg home defeat of two goals.
Much like that last-16 clash, the tie could have been out of sight ahead of the return fixture. Barca had the hosts chasing shadows for the first 25 minutes, with Shaw – suspended for the second leg – accidentally putting Ernesto Valverde’s side ahead after Suarez met a superb cross from Lionel Messi.
Initially ruled out for offside, Video Assistant Referee Massimiliano Irrati overturned the decision and the former Liverpool striker made the most of his moment in the spotlight.
Philippe Coutinho forced a fine save from David De Gea but Solskjaer’s Reds grew into the game from the mid-point of the first half and at times had Barcelona rattled.
But as much as they frustrated the visitors, they failed to get a shot on target and Solskjaer’s side suffered a fourth loss in five matches to leave them facing an uphill battle in Spain.
United showed the visitors too much time and respect early on, with Barca’s calm, methodical probing bringing a 12th-minute opener after Sergio Busquets sent Messi scampering.
The Argentinian star took the ball in his stride and then impressively managed to clip over a wedged cross on the turn to the far post, where Suarez firmly headed back across the face of goal and wheeled off in celebration after it went in off Shaw’s back.
The linesman’s flag left the former Liverpool striker as perplexed as he was angry, but the VAR intervened to overturn the offside decision. It is fair to say Suarez enjoyed his second celebration in front of the Stretford End.
The goal had been coming and Barcelona continued to look sharp when moving forwards, with Shaw’s foul on Messi leading to a booking that rules him out of next week’s second leg.
Chris Smalling avoided punishment after leaving the mesmeric Barca forward with blood pouring off his nose, while Scott McTominay was perhaps fortunate not to get booked for simulation after going down in the box under minor contact.
United had by now belatedly settled and booked Busquets was walking a red-card tightrope as Barcelona were made to look uncomfortable.
Marcus Rashford, who fizzed an early free-kick wide, was looking United’s biggest attacking threat and his cross was headed well off target by Diogo Dalot in the home side’s best chance of the first half.
Things could have been worse by half-time had it not been for a fine De Gea save with his feet from Coutinho and Suarez snatching at the ball, giving United hope entering the second half.
Pressing with renewed vigour during a bright start, Rashford mishit an attempt from Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s punch and was then just unable to get a touch on a fine Fred pass.
United were struggling to create clear-cut chances and Barca could have put the game to bed in the 65th minute as Suarez raced behind to meet a Nelson Semedo pass, only to fizz into the side-netting.
De Gea denied Jordi Alba at his near post and held onto a deflected Messi free-kick shortly before the impressive McTominay put through substitute Anthony Martial, only for former United defender Gerard Pique to make a timely intervention.
Barcelona dug deep to keep the home side at bay, leaving Solskjaer’s side needing to win at the Nou Camp to reach the semi-finals.
They will need to muster a shot on target to do that, having failed to do so in a Champions League match for the first time since 2005.