As a reward for their travails in Paris, Manchester United have been gifted with yet another unenviable match-up in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League, their opponents now five-time winners Barcelona.
Last month, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sealed the deal to become permanent Red Devils boss with some unprecedented history-making exploits against Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, overturning a 2-0 away-goal deficit for the first time in the competition to stun the hosts with a perfectly necessary 3-1 win at the Parc des Princes.
It is only United’s second win of their last 11 Champions League knockout ties.
On April 10th, Manchester United face Barcelona at Old Trafford in the first-leg of the tie, the first meeting between the two sides since the 2011 final of the competition at Wembley, in which the Blaugrana won 3-1.
Though United have never lost a home European match against Barcelona, they have lost two home Champions League matches so far this season, losing to Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain (before reversing the result away).
They’ve only lost three in one season once previously, doing so during the 1996-97 campaign, with current boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer featuring in all three defeats as a player.
22 years ago, United - under Sir Alex Ferguson - found themselves in a group with Juventus, Fenerbahçe, and Rapid Wien.
Solskjaer scored the opener in their curtain-raiser at home in a 2-0 win against the latter side, but back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Fenerbahçe and the Old Lady followed at the Theatre of Dreams. Mercifully, their away form in Turkey and Austria steered United through to the knockout rounds, breezing past Porto in the Quarter-Finals thanks to an initial 4-0 home win.
United were ultimately vanquished by eventual champions Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals in April, a second-leg strike at Old Trafford by Lars Ricken in just the eighth minute giving United an almighty mountain they failed to conquer. BVB had been buoyed by a René Tretschok goal at Signal Iduna a fortnight earlier to bring to Manchester.
Even more disappointingly, Solskjaer in fact scored in the second-leg past Stefan Klos, only to have the goal disallowed.
The latest in the line of Fergie-successors, full-time gaffer Solskjaer will certainly be wary to avoid repeating that triple-home defeat in Europe he was first hand witness to over two decades, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more difficult challenge as a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona.
Lionel Messi should be ready to break his 11-game streak of failing to score in a quarter-final appearance for Barcelona. The last time that Messi scored at this particular round of the tournament was six years ago, in 2013, in a 1-1 draw with PSG.
The Argentine wizard once again tops the La Liga goalscoring charts, with an insatiable 33-goal haul, 13 more than nearest challenger and teammate Luis Suarez and almost double that of fierce rivals Real Madrid’s main marksmen, Karim Benzema (17).
He has registered a goal or assist every 51 minutes in Spain. Manchester United will now be looking at an extremely long 90.