Manchester United are out of the Champions League after suffering their heaviest ever two-legged defeat in Europe.
Michael Hincks was at the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona deliver a harsh reminder of the big task facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both in the coming weeks and this summer…
A Barcelona banner read ‘Walking to Glory’ ahead of kick-off at the Nou Camp. Had Marcus Rashford’s first-minute toe-poke crept under the bar instead of onto it, that would not have been the case, but ultimately the hosts strolled into their first semi-final since 2015 with a 3-0 victory on the night and 4-0 on aggregate.
Lionel Messi profited from United mistakes to put Barca 2-0 up after 20 minutes and Philippe Coutinho’s stunner ended the visitors’ hopes of another unlikely comeback on the ground where Solskjaer memorably sealed the treble 20 years ago.
For Messi and co the focus now turns to the final four. But United and Solskjaer, despite their heroics in Turin and Paris earlier in this competition, must now contemplate how they can close what appears to be a huge gap to Europe’s elite.
“We could see the difference between the two teams tonight. The quality of their finishing was absolutely outstanding,” Solskjaer said of Barcelona after the match.
“The attitude was right. We know there is work to be done. We’ve said all along this isn’t going to change overnight and the next few years are going to be massive for us to get to the level Barcelona and those teams are at the moment.”
This was Manchester United’s heaviest ever aggregate defeat (0-4) in a two-legged European tie; their previous heaviest was 2-5 vs Milan in the 1957-58 European Cup semi-final and 1-4 vs Atletico Madrid in the Last 16 of the 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup
There will undoubtedly be changes to come in the summer. A clearout apperas to be in the offing, with as many as six established players possibly leaving Old Trafford, Sky Sports News understands. There is also a feeling United will be prepared to spend big sums to back Solskjaer’s rejuvenation of the squad.
Centre-back, right-back and central midfield are all areas in need of addressing, while the futures of David de Gea and Romelu Lukaku could lead to investment in goal and up front.
Gareth Bale, Paulo Dybala, Jadon Sancho, even Coutinho… United have been linked with some of the most exciting names in European football. But before the transfer window opens, Solskjaer and his current crop have a vital Premier League run-in to tackle.
Securing a top-four finish in the Premier League and a place in next season’s Champions League will have ramifications for United’s summer transfer business and, in turn, the speed of their recovery.
With United currently in sixth, two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and with a tricky set of fixtures to come, that is an uphill battle – but one which they can ill-afford to lose.