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Barca show their ugly side to leave United on the ropes

AFP  |  Barcelona 

finished with a bloody nose and swollen cheek but left unscathed, with one foot in the semi-finals and United hoping for another miracle.

Chris Smalling's clattering challenge in the first half could mean Messi is spared Barca's visit to Huesca on Saturday, their 11-point lead in affording the luxury of preserving his for next week's second leg.

"He was certainly not comfortable, that's obvious," Valverde said after his team's gritty 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

A fresher and sharper Messi would hardly make United's task any easier. Ole was keen to invoke memories of their comeback against Saint-Germain in the previous round but it will be an altogether different task winning at Camp Nou, where Barca have lost only once in 52 matches and not in the since 2013.

They faced pressure at Old Trafford but few genuine moments of discomfort, demonstrated by United's failure to muster a single shot on target, for the first time in this competition since March 2005.

"Lacking talent on the field, this United team has to resort to faith," wrote Diario Sport.

"The roar of the stadium spurred the players on but it was nothing that could affect Barca."

Their victory was, in part perhaps, due to their opponents' lack of punch but there was merit too in navigating a sloppy performance with both maturity and resilience.

"Neither Messi nor his teammates had their brightest night in Manchester," wrote Mundo Deportivo.

"But Valverde's 11 played with common sense and tactical rigour." Since Solskjaer's arrival, United's greatest threat has been on the counter-attack while have been exposed on the break this season by the likes of Real Betis, and

- 'Crucial' Pique -


Valverde's team limited the danger by sitting deep. "They put us under pressure but we controlled it well," said.

"We were very conscientious," said

"Sometimes you go on the attack and leave the defence open but we sat in more and balanced the game."

Pique endured a chaotic start to the season, his form and focus questioned in the autumn when Barcelona's defence looked leaky. But Pique has got better and better, his performance on his return to perhaps the peak of what has been an impressive few months since the turn of the year.

"We put in an excellent performance defensively, our defence is in the best form of the season," Pique said.

"Gerard has been crucial," said

"Just like always." continued his rich vein of form too, delivering again when it mattered most. After his goal sent to victory over Atletico Madrid last weekend, it was his header that met Messi's cross in the 12th minute and proved this game's decisive moment as well.

Luke Shaw's touch deprived Suarez of his first away goal in the since September 2015, but the satisfaction was evident in the former striker's celebration, performed at the Stretford End in front of the fans that had jeered his every touch.

said of the striker nicknamed, 'El Pistolero': "In England, and even at Old Trafford, the law is set by the gunman."

The question now is whether United can repeat their heroics in and for Barca, avoid a collapse similar to the one that ended in a 3-0 defeat by Roma last year, which knocked them out in the quarter-finals for a third consecutive season.

"We know we didn't go through because we didn't deserve it," Alba said.

"This season we are aware of what happened and we are more cautious."

"After seeing what they did against PSG there's no reason at all to believe the tie is over," added Pique.

But at the halfway point, the Catalans are in charge.

"It was a long night," wrote Diario Sport.

"But at the end of it the Theatre of Dreams belonged to Barca.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, April 11 2019. 20:10 IST