Barcelona 3-0 Manchester United: Philippe Coutinho, Blaugrana worries, and what else we learnt
Barcelona progressed to their first Champions League semi-final since 2016 thanks to a 3-0 win over Manchester United.
The result left the Premier League side nursing a 4-0 defeat on aggregate as Lionel Messi struck twice and former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho finished them off in style.
But in such a comprehensive victory, with LaLiga all but wrapped up, what did we learn from the Blaugrana’s statement of European intent.
talkSPORT.com’s man in Spain, Lee Roden, gives us the lowdown from the Nou Camp.
1. Valvderde gets last laugh with Coutinho call
Ernesto Valverde has received his fair share of criticism in Barcelona for his persistence with Philippe Coutinho, who has lost much of the club’s fanbase as well as a section of its vocal media, and there was some outrage when Barça’s starting line-up for Tuesday’s match showed the Brazilian and not Ousmane Dembélé to be present.
The Frenchman’s explosive, direct style makes him easy to love, but with United certain to push for the away goal that would have put them back in the tie, his anarchic positioning could also have been a problem.
Starting Coutinho was read by critics as a conservative approach from a coach already seen to be too cautious, but it ultimately proved to be an effective attacking call.
Not only did the Brazilian’s stunning second half strike end any dim hope of a Mancunian resurgence, he also pressed well, while his sharp link up play kept United chasing shadows and frustrated them when the visitors were hoping to draw on pure pride.
When eventually withdrawn for Dembélé late in the second half, Coutinho was awarded a hearty cheer in a moment of poetic justice.
Valvderde is constantly subjected to stick by a certain element of the Blaugrana fanbase for his decisions?, will he get his due credit for this call?
2. A better team would make Barça pay for their poor start
Considering how the rest of the game unfolded, it is difficult to understand just how badly Barça managed to play in the opening 10 minutes.
Marcus Rashford was able to surge into the home area with alarming ease almost from kick-off, only to shoot and hit the bar. Scott McTominay almost found himself clean through soon after but a heavy first touch gave Barça a chance to recover, and in a deceptive role reversal of what would happen later, Ashley Young managed to rob Lionel Messi following a poor touch from the Argentinian, resulting in an early United corner.
Barça were rocked, their nerves summed up by a bizarre mix-up where, with the ball inside Marc-André ter Stegen’s six-yard box and United pressing high, none of the Barcelona defence could take the obvious step of clearing. Eventually the German had to intervene, shaking his head, and hoofing the ball out to the left flank.
There was ultimately no harm done: Barça soon shook themselves out of the semi-slumber, happy to string together a long spell of possession and take the sting out of a game.
Faced with a better opponent than United however, a similar gifting of good chances and lack of defensive assertiveness would surely be punished. The Catalans found out in the quarter-finals against Roma last year that big errors are rarely forgiven at this level. Valverde will hope they finally learned their lesson tonight.
3. With Lionel Messi around, anything is possible
This is not a Barcelona team on par with the years that made the world fall in love with them. Nor is it one on par with the brief but brilliant Luis Enrique team led by a record-shattering forward line. Yet as Barça become less and less spectacular, Lionel Messi only seems to grow more jaw-dropping.
“All season I’ve thought that Barça don’t have the quality of football to win the Champions League. But they have a football player who… it’s difficult to put into words,” insisted Catalunya Radio’s commentator early on. Sure enough, by the end of the night it would prove difficult to find new ways to describe his brilliance.
First was the opener, sparked by some excellent pressure from Ivan Rakitic. The subsequent run showed shades of the Messi who used to start on the right flank and cut inside during his early years. Half a second of hesitation from Young was all it took for the number 10 to spring away, already thinking of his next move by the time the United man had realised who skipped past him.
The finish, curled perfectly away from David de Gea, was impossible to get to, capping off a goal that was the perfect combination of speed of thought, artistry, and calculated, clinically accurate end product. Messi in a nutshell.
Incredibly, it had been six years since he scored in a quarter-final, so Messi wasted only four minutes to score the next. It was Coutinho who pressed the United mistake this time, and after receiving the ball, Messi drove through the middle of the pitch in his old false nine territory before slotting home, courtesy of a piece of goalkeeping admittedly not fitting of someone trying to stop the best in the world.
Perhaps De Gea wasn’t expecting the shot to come from Messi’s right, though these days it’s as dangerous as his left.
The goals stopped there, but the drops of the shoulder, dribbles, twists and turns from the little genius only increased.
One particularly outrageous moment saw the Camp Nou’s artist in residence receive the ball with his back to goal, ride one foul, dribble, ride another, dribble again, then finally see play stopped upon receiving a third from McTominay near the corner flag.
Phil Jones’ ploy of trying to grab the Barça attacker’s shirt to stop him, only to find he was getting a fist full of fresh air, then no-look nutmegged, was a perfect snapshot of the evening experienced by the United defence.
Before kick-off a banner in the Camp Nou read “walking to victory”. With Messi this good, they may well be.
Source: SportsLatest TS