London: It was more by luck than judgement but 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 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.
East Bengal, FC Barcelona explore possibility of tie-up
Mumbai: East Bengal and Barcelona are exploring to establish and association between India’s premier football club and the LaLiga giants. Senior officials from the two clubs have met at the Quess House in Bengaluru to explore the possibilities of the proposed tie-up. The meeting was facilitated by Rakuten.
Bengaluru-based Quess controls the East Bengal football team,
FC Barcelona’s principal sponsor and global innovation partner, Rakuten is reportedly advising the LaLiga defending champions to expand their market worldwide. India can be one of the priority destinations for the club as LaLiga is already exploring the possibilities in the huge Indian sports market.
East Bengal has a Spanish connection. Coach Alejandro Menendez has been a former Real Madrid youth academy coach and East Bengal has extended his contract for two years. The club is reportedly willing to recruit a few more players from Spain next season.
Association with top international clubs is not unprecedented for Indian football clubs. East Bengal in the past has had a tie-up with Premier League side Leicester City, whereas another I-League team Minerva Punjab have recently signed an MoU with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach. Chennai City FC had also partnered with Swiss club FC Basel.
Quess had announced on Wednesday that they are exploring the possibility of a tie-up FC Barcelona.
East Bengal FC chairman Ajit Isaac said that the city-based team is keen on being part of the Japanese company’s expansion plans via Lionel Messi’s club, adds national daily .
“Senior officials of the Spanish giants, FC Barcelona and Quess East Bengal Football Club team, met to explore the possibility of an association between the two clubs. The meeting facilitated by Rakuten, the global innovation partner and sponsor of FC Barcelona, was held at Quess House in Bengaluru. Rakuten is incidentally advising FCB on expanding its footprint worldwide,” Isaac has stated on East Bengal’s social media platform.
A likely deal between the two clubs will also boost the growth of Indian football.
‘Pogba doesn’t want to be at Man Utd’
London: Paul Pogba does not want to be at Manchester United, claims Gary Neville, with transfer talk and the influence of his agent, Mino Raiola, leading the Real Madrid-linked midfielder to have his head turned.
Questions have been asked of the Frenchman’s future throughout the 2018-19 campaign.
Struggles under Jose Mourinho sparked the exit rumours, with there seemingly no way that both men could continue working together at Old Trafford.
A change in the dugout delivered an initial reversal in fortune for United and Pogba, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reigniting the spark in a talismanic figure.
The 26-year-old has, however, endured another dip and Neville believes his days in England could now be numbered, with his focus shifting amid reports of interest being shown from afar.
“I think he is world class,” former Red Devils defender Neville told Sky Sports.
“I don’t think he wants to be here, that’s his problem.
“I think his agent’s into him.
“I said two, three months ago when he was brilliant, he’s done brilliantly for Ole, by the way, he’s scored I think 11 goals, seven assists, but I honestly thought a couple of months ago we sat in this studio at the Liverpool game and everything was brilliant about Paul Pogba and I said ‘I believe that it will resurface, the issues will resurface’.
“We know his agent, we know the influence he has on him, we know that Pogba has got his head turned by other clubs and he’s playing like somebody who’s had his head turned.
“He’s playing like somebody who doesn’t quite want to be here.
“The problem is if a player doesn’t want to be at a club and he has the influence that I think he has in the dressing room, I think the likes of [Jesse] Lingard, [Marcus] Rashford, [Anthony] Martial, I think they do come off him.
“And I think if he’s not quite at it and not raring to go, then it is a problem, it is a massive problem.”
Pogba is tied to a contract with United through to 2021, with that agreement including a 12-month extension option.
What I am learning from Ponting, Ganguly will use during WC: Dhawan
Mumbai: India opener Shikhar Dhawan has said he is learning a lot from legends like Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly and would appropriately use that knowledge during the 50-over World Cup, starting May 30 in the UK.
Dhawan is currently playing in the IPL for Delhi Capitals, coached by former Australia skipper Ponting while former India captain Ganguly is associated with the franchise as advisor.
“Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly…I am very fortunate that I am working with them now. They both have been great leaders. It is very good to be close to them because I can get their insight, know what was their mindset, what was their approach when they used to play or captain their sides,” explained Dhawan, who has scored 5,355 runs in 128 ODIs.
“I am already learning so many things from them (and) it is helping me. I am grateful (for) that. I am sure those things are helping me in the IPL and I am going to take it to the World Cup,” he added.
Dhawan, meanwhile, also heaped praises on his Delhi Capitals teammate Prithvi Shaw, saying he is the next big thing in Indian cricket. “So Prithvi, I would say it is a very big achievement to play for India at the age of 19, especially India is a dominating country for batsmen (and there are) lots of batsmen, so someone coming in at 19 is a big achievement and he has done very well for the Indian team.
“He is a very talented boy and I am sure he is going to do wonders for our country,” the dashing left-handed batsman said after being roped in as the brand ambassador of lubricants firm–GS Caltex India–at a function here on Wednesday night.
Shaw had shone on his Test debut against the West Indies at Rajkot last year.