Manchester United were put to the sword by Lionel Messi in the Champions League once again on Wednesday evening, but only for the first half-an-hour at Old Trafford – before they discovered the antidote to stopping him from an unexpected source.
In the opening stages of the quarter-final first-leg clash, we looked to be seeing a classic Messi-inspired Barcelona performance, apart from the odd dangerous break from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
“The Magician” was weaving his usual magic and it seemed only a matter of time before he was going to create a goal.
And so the Argentina legend did for the night’s only strike, fooling the home defensive centre-back trio that was tasked to restrict him before floating a perfect cross to the back post.
There waiting was none other than Luis Suarez to get the vital header that trickled into the back of the net off Luke Shaw, an own-goal but one that was masterfully crafted by Messi.
Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to be dangerous immediately after that and could have had more, however, on 31 minutes the visitors lost their creative spark as the famous number ten went missing for the most part, for the rest of the match. What happened to him?
At the aforementioned time, Man United’s centre-back barged into Messi whilst winning a header, one half of his body colliding with the face of the 31-year-old and leaving him in a heap on the “Theatre of Dreams” turf.
It had been a fair challenge according to the referee and a pure show of strength from the much-maligned England international, though his opponent came out of with blood pouring down his face.
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After this, the man considered by many to be the world’s greatest was ineffective, quiet and shy, proving that the perfect way to deal with him is with a classic bit of rough and tumble.
Violence on the football field can never be endorsed but some of the best teams on the planet have always looked for a way to contain Messi, and now Solskjaer knows that if his side are physical with him in the early stages of the second leg they could stop him hurting them for the whole 90 minutes as they try and turn the tie on its head.