Much attention fell on the shoulders of Paul Pogba and Lionel Messi as Manchester United welcomed Barcelona to Old Trafford for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Pogba saw red in his last European match, missing United’s unlikely comeback win at Paris St Germain as a result, while Messi was bidding to continue his scoring run, having bagged 10 goals in his last six matches for Barcelona.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at how each player – seemingly pivotal to their respective side’s chances of progression – fared on Wednesday evening.
There were no surprises from either manager, with Pogba on the left of a midfield three, while Messi was ostensibly on the right of a front trio. However, as is so often the case, the Barcelona captain drifted in-field when required and often to devastating effect, as evidenced by his role in the visitors’ opener. Pogba, though, was no shrinking violet and was often in the thick of the action when United went forward and seemed particularly roused once they had fallen behind in the 12th minute.
Whether finding his team-mates in space to start a United attack or providing a teasing pass or cross, Pogba was very much a useful outlet going forward, though he was unable to make the decisive contribution that Messi left on the tie. The Argentinian’s heavy touch to a ball over the top may have let United off the hook on another day but Barca’s talisman had other ideas, sending an inch-perfect chip to the back post for Luis Suarez to head across goal. The ball took a final touch off Luke Shaw before nestling in the net – the goal being awarded after consultation with the video assistant referee.
Pogba’s lung-bursting run in an attempted counter was ended when he was manhandled by Sergio Busquets, leading to the Spaniard receiving a yellow card. Messi, meanwhile, saw his marker Shaw cautioned – which will consequently rule the full-back out of the second leg – for a cynical tug back. Shaw and the rest of United’s defence were largely able to shackle Messi in front of goal, getting back in numbers to prevent him from getting a shot away. Pogba’s involvement was also restricted to being a valve for his team-mates.
Messi’s only attempt at goal was a free-kick – which deflected off the wall and was saved comfortably by David De Gea – as the game entered its closing stages. However, it was the Barcelona stalwart who was inevitably responsible for the match’s only moment of quality on a night when he was left with a bloodied nose from Chris Smalling’s flailing arm. Pogba, for all his involvement and vigour in attack, was unable to stamp his authority in the way his rival had, as Barcelona left Old Trafford with a 1-0 win that will leave them firm favourites to book their passage to the Champions League semi-finals.