There is no point dwelling on defeat at Barcelona
Exiting a competition is always a gutting experience for everybody associated with Manchester United, from the players and the staff to the supporters, yet there is no time for self-pity with a hugely important Premier League match to play this coming Easter Sunday.
The Champions League, or European Cup as it was formerly known, is an intrinsic part of this club’s history and, if we want to be part of it next season, playing on the biggest stages against the greatest clubs, in the finest stadiums, then the Reds must nail one of the still-contested places in the Premier League's top four.
The race to finish third or fourth continues this weekend when United face Everton away. Travelling to a difficult ground like Goodison Park with anything short of 100 per cent positivity is clearly dangerous and the manager is already conveying that message to the squad. Now is not the time to dwell on defeat.
Of course, the players are devastated about the defeat to Barcelona and that was very much evident when they left the Nou Camp.
Football can be cruel: it gives you hope, and then it throws you back down to earth. That’s what happened in Catalonia as United attempted to channel the spirit of 1999 (and 2019, for that matter) by upsetting the odds on the continent.
But, it just wasn't meant to be.
Sir Alex Ferguson was even among those pictured in the ground before the game, ready to cheer on the lads, enjoying a mini reunion of sorts with members of his Treble-winning squad - Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Wes Brown. It was nice to see and, perhaps naively, it fuelled our belief.
Solskjaer’s men then made a bright start and, just like on that famous night in Paris only weeks ago, nearly took an early lead when Marcus Rashford struck the crossbar with a shot from the left. Scott McTominay almost broke through on goal moments later and Anthony Martial tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a right-footed effort soon after. The signs were looking good.
Back in Barcelona gallery
Sir Alex Ferguson has returned to the scene of his greatest success in management, to cheer on Ole's Reds.
But then Lionel Messi stepped forward, pouncing on a loose ball to claim possession, nutmeg an opponent and guide an unerringly-accurate shot into the bottom corner of the goal. Four minutes later and the mercurial Argentinian was at it again, bursting forward with a flurry of short touches before striking the ball through the clutches of David De Gea to double his tally.
The tie was effectively over, with United needing to score four goals to turn things around.
Philippe Coutinho went on to add a stunning third Barcelona strike in the second half but it was meaningless by that point, with the damage already done by the Catalans’ mesmerising magician up front, Messi.
When the final whistle blew the United players made a concerted effort to applaud the 4,500 travelling supporters who were housed in the very top tier of the Nou Camp, behind a pleixglass wall, before retreating to the away dressing room to hear from Solskjaer and his assistants.
There is no time to wallow or worry. Now is the time to react in a positive manner, as a united team.
The squad’s attention will immediately turn to the Premier League season’s finale and five crucial matches against Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City.
Solskjaer has been the personification of positivity throughout his reign and that sentiment will be invaluable this week, with what could be a season-defining match at Everton in mind.
“We want to play these games again next year,” said Ole after the final whistle, in the bowels of the Nou Camp. “So we have a massive week coming up with Everton, City and Chelsea.
“The players are disappointed but there’s no point dwelling on what could have been.”
With that, Solskjaer strode off into the night, onto the team bus and aboard a flight back to Manchester, ready to start work on preparing the squad for the next big challenge: Everton away.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.