Barcelona earned a huge 1-0 victory over Manchester United on Wednesday which gives them a fine chance of overcoming their Champions League quarter-final hoodoo.
The Blaugrana enjoyed plenty of possession in their 1-0 win at Old Trafford but created few chances and needed an own goal to win the game
.The Catalans won’t think the tie is over, though, far from it, after they were pinned back during an increasingly nervy second half at Old Trafford.
In the end, Barca’s backline held firm, with their hosts failing to even register a single shot on target. But that said more about United’s lack of incision, than the visitors’ solidity.
Beaten 2-0 at Atletico Madrid in 2016, 3-0 in Turin by Juventus in 2017 and, most painfully, 3-0 by Roma in the Italian capital last season, miserable away days have cost Barcelona dearly in the Champions League in the past three seasons.
And they could well have been punished for their sloppiness here had they been playing a top-drawer side. It was Barca’s good fortune that they were not.
United threatened on the counter at the start but Barcelona soon settled into their rhythm, seemingly unfazed by their three consecutive quarter-final knock-outs. The Catalans dominated possession, at one point boasting 85 per cent of the ball.
They took the lead with some typically excellent passing, too, Sergio Busquets lofting a brilliant ball into the box for Lionel Messi, who, without looking, pinged it to Luis Suarez at the back post.
The Uruguayan’s header was deflected in by the hapless Luke Shaw, and although Suarez wanted to claim it as his first Champions League strike on the road since September 2015, it went down as an own goal.
Ahead after just 12 minutes, Barcelona had their dream start, but they could not build on it.
Gerard Pique impressed in defence, showing good anticipation and timing, matching Marcus Rashford for pace, but Ernesto Valverde’s were shaky in general.
The goal should have given them confidence. They should have killed United off. Instead, they let them grow into the game.
Although United did not manage to create a clear chance, Barcelona hearts were in their mouths on a couple of occasions.
Diogo Dalot headed wide from a good position and Barcelona’s midfield trio were being outplayed by United’s, with Busquets particularly poor and fortunate to survive the encounter without a red card.
A foul on the excellent Scott McTominay went unpunished due to how early it was in the game, but Busquets was issued a yellow card in the 17th minute for a foul on Paul Pogba.
He followed that up with another trip on the Frenchman and then a handball, with United fans furious that the Catalan escaped dismissal.
After the break United grew and Barca faded further. Rashford slashed badly at a ball when he had more time, skewing it wide off his knee.
McTominay played in Anthony Martial but only a superhuman Pique lunge stole the ball from the Frenchman as he was posed to shoot.
Suarez should have finished off United but fired into the side netting after good work from Nelson Semedo.
In truth, Barcelona weren’t particularly good value for their 1-0 lead and 2-0 would have flattered them.
Valverde will argue that Marc-Andre ter Stegen went untroubled but Messi was left shaking his head at full-time. He knew that they had squandered an opportunity to bury United.
The Argentine barely appeared in the game after taking a whack in the head from Chris Smalling in the first half, which left him bloodied and bruised, and his dazed and confused facial expression at the end spoke volumes.
This was an unconvincing Barcelona performance, but nonetheless yielded an excellent scoreline to take back to Camp Nou for Tuesday’s second leg.
They will be confident of progressing, primarily because they will be confident that there’s no chance they will perform as sloppily as they did here.