Lionel Messi clearly had an average game against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the first leg of the quarter-final of the Champions League, having recorded a pass success rate of 82 per cent, two dribbles and one key-pass. But to pop up with these numbers and play a massive role in the goal that won the game would be a dream for an average player.
It’s fair to say that United limited Messi’s impact in the first leg. The Argentine was able to register just one shot on target, with David De Gea thwarting the free-kick away. Chris Smalling had a huge role to play in nullifying Messi.
The Englishman’s trailing arm during a challenge caught Messi on the face and caused bleeding on his nose and in his eyes.
In the past few seasons, Messi has been hurt several times in El Clasicos. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has always come out on top in the duel that followed. He was unable to threaten United’s goal after Smalling’s challenge, but you wouldn’t put it past the Barcelona star to have his revenge in the second leg.
That challenge by the United centre-back proved to be the effort that removed Messi out of the equation in the first leg. But the Argentine is favourite to assert himself in the second leg and take Barcelona to the semi-final for the first time since the 2014/15 season.
Scott McTominay was another player who played a massive role in cutting the supply to Messi. Ultimately, this was key in keeping Messi quiet. The United academy product bossed the midfield and suffocated Barcelona’s attacks to ensure that Messi was not as involved as he would have liked to be.
Fred also had a great game in the first leg and at this point it’s fair to say that United’s defence has to step up as a unit to stop Messi, as keeping him quiet at the Camp Nou is no easy task.
Eventually, the focus will be on the battle between Messi and Smalling. The Englishman prevented Messi from scoring but he couldn’t do enough to prevent him from influencing the result of the game.
The second bout of this battle will be interesting. Can Messi decide the fixture or does Smalling have a surprise in store?