As Lionel Messi goes for his fifth UEFA Champions League title, it’s worth noting that almost every player hoping to stop him from the crown is chasing their very first title.
(How many others are there, you ask? I’ll answer who later in the post, but there are two).
[ RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]
Messi is the best player left in the tournament, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne, and Paul Pogba all bidding adieu over the past 30 hours, and it’s understandable that the oddsmakers have installed Barca as the favorite to win the tournament (Odds have Barca around 13:8).
The runner-up for favorite status is very close, and we’re sure most of you have guessed it’s not young Ajax (about 5:1 on most boards).
Tottenham Hotspur is on the board at 9:2 after defeating Man City on Wednesday, but it’s Liverpool at about 3:1 who is next in line after Barcelona.
By the way, not including managers and coaching staffs, the answers to the trivia question above are both on Liverpool:
- Daniel Sturridge, by the way, who did not get off the bench in 2012 when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in penalty kicks.
- Xherdan Shaqiri, who was an unused sub when Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Der Klassiker UCL Final
The fairytale ending didn’t materialize for Manchester United, as Lionel Messi and Barcelona thumped their visitors 3-0 on Tuesday at the Camp Nou to win the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal 4-0 on aggregate.
Messi scored twice and Philippe Coutinho also scored as Barca advanced to meet the winner of Liverpool and Porto.
[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]
United controlled the ball off the opening kickoff, and Paul Pogba sent Marcus Rashford on goal only to see the young striker rip a shot over the cross bar.
United had the better of the early chances, but Ivan Rakitic’s charge for a loose ball saw him trip over the outstretched leg of Fred in the box. It wasn’t intentional, and the decision would go to VAR.
Barca went ahead minutes later, as Messi cut in from the right to swerve a sensational strike around the diving De Gea.
[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]
And it was 2-0 before long, 3-0 on aggregate, as Messi’s low drive took a slight turn off Phil Jones but still seemed destined for De Gea’s arms only to squirt underneath the United keeper.
De Gea made a face save before halftime to deny Sergi Roberto and Messi in their bid to ice the contest.
Coutinho put it to bed with just under a half-hour to play, and Liverpool fans have seen this a time or two.
Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer displayed some brutal honesty after Manchester United’s 2-1 win over West Ham, saying his side didn’t deserve to win based on how they played.
“We got away with it, you can put it that way, Solskjaer said, referring to the win. “I know it’s not easy because we played a game on Wednesday and there were a few changes that we had to make. So, we got away with it. They deserved their goal, but then again we’re allowed to have a good goalkeeper.”
Two Paul Pogba penalty kicks were the difference for Man United in the win, but aside from he and Anthony Martial, the Red Devils struggles at times against West Ham. The Irons finished with nearly 58 percent possession four shots on target and a game-high 18 shots in total.
Man United we’re forced to make 25 clearances and 21 tackles to win back possession as well.
Solskjaer admitted that Man United’s luck may be evening out, after strong performances at Arsenal and against Wolverhampton Wanderers ended in defeat.
“Away from home, especially the Wolverhampton and Arsenal games [defeats], I’ve stood here and been pleased with the performances, when we’ve played well and created chances but didn’t get what we deserved,” Solskjaer said. “In the last two games here at home, against Watford and now West Ham, we’ve probably got more than we deserved. But it’ll even itself out over the season. Sometimes you can’t always be on your game and we have to be honest that today and in the Watford game we have been poor. We haven’t performed, we’ve been too open, our shape wasn’t good enough.
- Pogba converts two penalties
- Anderson scores for WHUFC
- United fifth with 64 points
Paul Pogba converted a pair of penalties as Manchester United doubled up West Ham United 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Felipe Anderson scored West Ham’s goal, as the Irons remain 11th.
United is now fifth, two points back of Chelsea and three behind Spurs.
[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]
The Irons had an early goal pulled back for an infraction, and Manchester United soon helped move a wide-open game forward.
Juan Mata won a penalty atop the 18 when his attempted first touch of an Anthony Martial lay-off was clattered into by Robert Snodgrass. Pogba didn’t need a tip-toe run-up here, blasting a shot past Lukasz Fabianski.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]
But wait. West Ham went level in the 49th minute through Anderson, who was on the business end of an awful distribution move from David De Gea.
The keeper collected a low drive from Pablo Zabaleta a few minutes later.
Marcus Rashford subbed into the game and was lively but lacking the finishing touch, forcing into nodding over the goal by a leaping Zabaleta challenge.
Moments after David De Gea made a stunning one-handed stop, Ryan Fredericks chopped down Martial in the box. Pogba laid into his effoert for 2-1.
One way or another, Paul Pogba‘s name has wound up attached to transfer rumors during every transfer window since he returned to Manchester United in August 2016.
[ VIDEO: Eden Hazard slices through West Ham for stunning goal ]
Despite the fact the Frenchman is once again linked with a move to Real Madrid this summer, Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he “cannot see (Pogba) not playing for Manchester United next season.” Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal clash with Barcelona, Solskjaer also said Pogba “can run a game like this” when he is at his very best.
It’s a good thing he can, because United will almost certainly need a superstar performance from Pogba to have any hope of knocking off Lionel Messi and Co.
[ MORE: Sarri says Hazard irreplaceable to Chelsea amid Madrid speculation ]
Madrid will likely be linked with every player who commands a transfer fee of over $100 million, so it’s probably wise to take each rumor with a grain of salt.
Given the change in culture — not to mention the individual performances and team results — at United since Solskjaer took over in December, it’s difficult to see Pogba choosing this summer as the time to leave. He endured and survived a nightmare spell under Jose Mourinho, only to come out the other side with a manager who finally believes in him and gives him the tactical freedom to be the best version of himself.