It has been a turbulent season at Old Trafford this season, with the early season form ending Jose Mourinho’s tenure at the theatre of dreams before the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer restored hope and style to the club’s star players. But will the Norwegians revolution take the club into the history books this season? Will he be able to defeat the ghosts of the past and eliminate Messi and company in the next stage?
The answer, in short, is time will tell. The Champions League final on June 1st, in Madrid, could ensure the managerial role for Solskjaer; that is of course if he hasn’t already confirmed his appointment with the clubs excellent second half of the season thus far. The Champions League resumed with United’s hopes hanging in the balance, with fans unsure whether United had the quality to knock out PSG.
What unfolded on that night in Paris for the Red’s second leg success is the reason why United could continue to surprise the leading teams in Europe. The resilience and commitment by the club with ten first-team players missing for one reason or another ensured that the unlikeliest of turn arounds was possible.
United were already missing Paul Pogba after the Frenchman’s sending off in the first leg at Old Trafford, but the performances from Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Fred were coming-of-age showings. The young midfield dealt with everything that the experienced opposition had and still were able to show signs of their quality on the ball.
Further forward, it was the showing from Romelu Lukaku that had fans’ purring. The striker was back to his lethal best and didn’t shy away from the responsibility that he had. The two chances that he put away were the typical goal that the Belgian forward was brought for. He has very often being criticised for not showing up for the big occasions, with his career record of only two goals against the top six teams in the Premier League often looked at with massive disappointment; but this wasn’t the case against the early season favourites to win the European Cup.
He led the line like an experienced striker should and allowed for space in behind for Marcus Rashford; who despite having a poor game, was able to grab all the headlines with his match-winning penalty.
That shows the confidence that the Englishman has, and it wasn’t always the case this season. Solskjaer has installed a belief in the forward, and his trust has been rewarded in the form of goals by the striker. Instead of being placed out wide, the Norwegian was very quick to play him through the middle, just telling him that he is his number one striker. The relationship between the forward players continued to flourish, and it would be hard for football gamblers to bet against the United forward line causing problems for any team in the competition.
However, it is defensively where the team may struggle against the better teams, with a first choice back four still far from settled. In fact, it’s only half of the defensive line that looks set to stay; with Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof enjoying excellent seasons. United will more than likely continue their search for a new central defender in the summer, with Toby Alderweireld again linked with a move to Old Trafford. This is probably the only area that needs to be sorted, as the club will surely be fighting for the title next season if this form can be sustained in the long term.
It does feel that there is an air of fate around United reaching the Champions League final. With the club celebrating ten years since the treble this year while being led by the match-winning hero in the defining game of that success. Solskjaer will take his team to the very arena where this happened in the next round of the competition; the Nou Camp.
Should United get a first leg advantage at Old Trafford, few would be surprised to see another memorable night at Barcelona’s home. Still, it is no shame to claim that we are the dark horse here and so it is likely that United will need to – ironically – play a more Mourinho-like tactical game, to defeat the highly offensive tiki-taka style of Valverde’s Barcelona.
Lionel Messi is one to watch, but also Luis Suarez and Coutinho should not be overlooked. The blaugrana’s weaknesses might come from their fullback’s, either by Nelson Semedo’s inexperience or by Sergi Roberto lack of pace. Pacey players like Rashford, Martial and Lingard might be able to break through that right wing.
Defeating Barcelona would already be a sweet achievement, considering how we started the season and thus it would feel like a revenge of 2011 defeat at Wembley, in the Champions League final. If we go through, we will face Porto or most likely Liverpool. Both opponents who would present interesting challenges, Liverpool for the obvious rivalry and Porto for bringing nostalgic memories over that Cristiano Ronaldo wondergoal away. May the reds keep dreaming and defeating the odds?