Why United must believe against Barcelona
When Manchester United took on Barcelona for the right to compete in the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, there was a mosaic displayed by the fans at Old Trafford.
Its simple instruction read: ‘Believe’. At the time, this was not a difficult thing to do. Yes, the Catalan club were formidable opponents, with the great Lionel Messi wreaking havoc on a regular basis. But United were closing in on another Premier League title and, in the previous campaign, we had been knocked out in the last four of Europe’s elite competition by AC Milan, only after our exertions the previous weekend in virtually wrapping up another league triumph at Everton.
Fast forward some 11 years and there is no escaping the fact that the overall picture is different. Appearing at this stage of the Champions League is a completely new experience for much of the squad, even somebody like Jesse Lingard.
The 26-year-old may have appeared in a World Cup semi-final for England but the last time United reached the last eight in the premier domestic competition in Europe was back in 2014, during David Moyes’s tenure.
In those ties against Bayern Munich, David De Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia all played a part. Ashley Young came off the bench in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. So, at least, there is some experience at the back.
However, going forward is a different matter. Yes, our successful Europa League run in 2017 should be useful but the truth is even Romelu Lukaku, for all his pedigree of scoring goals at all levels, is completely new to this stage of the competition.
Whether or not that is an issue remains to be seen. There is much to be said about the fearlessness of youth, being able to shut out the intense pressure and writing your own history. Lingard, of course, is no longer a youngster but he is aware this is new territory for him and many of his colleagues.
“I don’t think I have [experienced this] myself,” he told us in an interview that will appear in United Review, the official matchday programme.
“It’s a new experience with more pressure but we’re ready to handle that and ready to relish these big games.
”I think that is where sometimes we might have lacked a little bit – in belief and confidence to think we can win this game. We’ve done it in the past, beaten good teams in the past, so I think, going into every game, we should be 100 per cent confident of winning. We’ve got to believe. We’ve got to have that faith we can go even further and as far as we can in the competition.
“Anything is possible. We’ve got to believe. We have that self-confidence to go out and win games.
”I mean I enjoy the big games. We’re Manchester United so we take these big games and look at them tactically, try to find their weaknesses and go and try to exploit them. Like I’ve said, we take it all in and just enjoy big games and go out to play with a smile on our faces.”
Winning at Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain this season takes some doing. It should fuel anybody’s belief that eliminating the runaway leaders of La Liga, with an older, wiser and even better Messi in their ranks, is not beyond the realms of possibility.
If you take a look at the team that finished the tie at the Parc des Princes, it really was proof that fortune favours the brave. Diogo Dalot, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood all came off the bench and were all teenagers at the time. As crazy as it sounds, Mason hadn’t even begun his teenage years when we faced Bayern in 2014.
Highlights: United 1 Barcelona 0Video
So there must be a sense that this squad can genuinely achieve anything in a knockout tournament that has already had more than its fair share of surprises this season, let alone in previous editions.
Barcelona will be formidable opponents. A Champions League quarter-final has been overdue and is valuable to further the development of our players. But there is no reason why everyone associated with the club should not believe that we can go even further in this year’s competition.
The full interview with Jesse Lingard is featuring in United Review, the official matchday programme.
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