The Norwegian capped a remarkable comeback in Catalunya in 1999 but the caretaker manager is now facing his toughest Champions League assignment yet
When Marcus Rashford kept his cool and slammed his penalty past Gianluigi Buffon to take Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the most dramatic of circumstances, comparisons with his manager’s most famous moment were immediate.
And now, thanks to that win over Paris Saint-Germain and Friday’s subsequent draw, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be returned to the scene of his stoppage-time winner in 1999 when United face Barcelona in the last eight.
The Camp Nou awaits for Solskjaer once more. But this time the opponent is not Bayern Munich, it is Barca. Lionel Messi’s Barca!
Whereas against PSG United were facing a club which has an air of nervousness about it in big European moments thanks to their recent track record, in Barcelona they will be coming up against about as big a task as they could have been handed.
Messi was at his brilliant best again in leading the Blaugrana beyond Lyon in the round of 16, scoring twice and teeing up two more in Wednesday’s 5-1 in Catalunya just 24 hours on from a Cristiano Ronaldo show which had had some temporarily forgetting just how magnificent the Argentine can be in this competition.
Make no bones about it, United have one hell of a task ahead of them. Theoretically, a tie with Liverpool or Porto awaits in the semi-final, but Solskjaer’s insistence on addressing one game at a time has real merit when it comes to working out a way to get past Messi and friends.
United have been expressive on the break under the Norwegian, they have been durable, and they have been confident in their abilities. Against Barcelona they will need all that and more.
Messi has a record 22 goals against English clubs in his Champions League career and will back himself to deliver again. Finding a way to quell the threat of perhaps the greatest player ever to play the sport will undoubtedly be the biggest test of Solskjaer’s managerial abilities of his entire career so far.
Not one to really let pressure get to him, he will probably relish the prospect of returning to Camp Nou almost 20 years on from his 93rd-minute winner which crowned Manchester United’s most successful season of all time. The vision of him turning the ball beyond Oliver Kahn will never be far from his mind, now more than ever.
But, realistically, this tie will come as a reminder why United are not among the favourites to win the competition this year. Sat seven points clear in La Liga and awaiting Valencia in the Copa del Rey final, Ernesto Valverde’s side are already being asked about another treble.
And with the likes of Messi, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Arturo Vidal to call upon, there are few more fearsome line-ups in the game.
Memories will be jogged of Paul Scholes’ winner against the same club in the 2008 semi-final, but United have been undone by the five-time European champions in two finals since then and the two giants’ continental fortunes could barely have been more different in the past 11 years.
With 14 wins in 18 under Solskjaer, United will not necessarily go into their two clashes with the Catalans feeling fearful. But they will be left in absolutely no doubt that there were a handful of opponents they would rather have faced in their bid to reach a first semi-final since 2011.
Perhaps that has been the highlight of the caretaker-manager’s reign thus far… That he has taken every task on head-on. This time there will surely be no comeback if United play as poorly in the Old Trafford leg as they did against PSG. A good start is vital. But either way, the second leg will be a massive test of all of their characteristics.
Will Solskjaer lead United to another miracle late win? The Camp Nou stage is set once more.
Source : Goal.com