Sunday 15 September 2019

Jason Burt: 'United caught trying to cover deep wounds with bandages'

Solskjaer must ask himself, his players and the club some serious questions as he plots future

Lionel Messi shoots past Manchester United’s Phil Jones to score Barcelona’s second goal. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Lionel Messi shoots past Manchester United’s Phil Jones to score Barcelona’s second goal. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Nothing summed it up more than the sight of Lionel Messi beating Phil Jones once, twice and the second time with a nutmeg, to create another chance for Barcelona.

Jones, with his head bandaged, appeared to represent how Manchester United have attempted to cover up the wounds of recent seasons and have to deal now with their brutal shortcomings. Except he recently signed a new four-year contract.

It is cruel, maybe, to single out Jones when any player can be made foolish when confronted with genius, but he was part of a back four, a back five including goalkeeper David De Gea, which had featured when United were knocked out of the Champions League group stages by Basel in 2011.

That is eight seasons and hundreds upon hundreds of millions spent in the transfer market later. And they have gone backwards.

But then nothing summed up the quandary over United's future more than the sight of record signing Paul Pogba being delivered a midfield lesson by Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.

Pogba played a superb pass to release Marcus Rashford in the opening seconds, as the forward clipped the bar.

But that was it. His other most memorable contribution was to dawdle and lose possession and kick out three times at Arthur but somehow avoid a booking.

And this a player who cost United €105 million and whose future appears uncertain - again - with those Real Madrid links resurfacing.

The truth is Pogba owes United and it will be for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager, to decide whether he is worth it, whether he will see through with his previous statement that the team should be built around him, or whether if a genuine offer is received he should use that money as part of his rebuilding programme.

These questions came quickly to mind, and many more, because this tie was over inside 20 minutes.

Forget the spirit of Barcelona and 1999. United were two goals down and needed to summon a response from the semi-final that year, not the final, when they came back from the same scoreline to defeat Juventus away, 3-2.

It was never going to happen here. Not a chance. There was no one to play the Roy Keane role for a start and those Messi goals deflated them; took the wind right out of them.

The jeopardy had gone and their weak response was telling.

What now for United? What now for Solskjaer?

Any team can succumb to Messi's genius, but the opening period was a summary of Solskjaer's reign so far.

Just as he won 14 of his first 17 games to seal the job on a permanent basis, his team started excellently.

But just as Solskjaer's reign has stuttered then so did United, and just as the club has struggled through self-inflicted wounds and terrible mistakes then so were both goals delivered in that way to Barcelona.

Messi's blur of brilliance claimed the first but only after an awful piece of play by Ashley Young who attempted a Cruyff Turn - at Johan Cruyff's spiritual home - with Messi whisking the ball away.

For the second it was a clear error by De Gea and maybe he was distracted by the fact he had already been beaten by Messi with such an accurately whipped shot that he allowed his next effort to squirm beneath him.

The fact is that De Gea has not justified his billing as the world's best goalkeeper of late and it has to be concluded that the uncertainty over his future, his demands for pay parity with the highest-earner, Alexis Sanchez, have been a distraction.

The Norwegian coach clearly understated matters when he claimed Barca were "a couple of levels" above his side over the two legs.

The reality is there is so much out of kilter at United which Solskjaer has to unstitch - or rip apart - as he begins to stamp his authority on the team.

The presence of Sanchez, fit again, but on the bench before he came on when it was all over was the prime indicator of what has to be done.

The ludicrously-remunerated forward has to go for the health of the team as well as United's wage bill.

Alongside Sanchez was Romelu Lukaku who has not scored since those two goals in Paris in the last round and with his new agent already suggesting his client may one day want to play in Serie A. So let him go, also.


"If you want the result you need a performance and we started well and created some decent chances but then he (Messi) hits it in the bottom corner and I've got to say, it's top quality. He was the difference," Solskjaer added.

"If we want to get back to Manchester United's true tradition and level we have got to get to challenge the Barcelonas, and I've got to say they were a couple of levels above us in those 90 minutes and at Old Trafford."

Again there is so much noise around United that is symptomatic of a club that still needs to reset itself; of a regime that needs to take control. And, by the way, is still waiting for that technical director to come in.

The future clearly lies with Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and hopefully De Gea and Pogba but, really, who else? The scale of the task is frightening. As frightening as Messi running at Jones. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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