20 years on, Solskjaer hopes for another Camp Nou comeback
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows all about overturning Champions League deficits at the Camp Nou.
Twenty years after scoring a last-gasp winner there for Manchester United in the final against Bayern Munich, Solskjaer will be back in Barcelona’s stadium on Tuesday looking to mastermind an unlikely comeback for the English team from the touchline.
United arguably has the toughest task of the eight quarterfinalists heading into the second legs, having lost 1-0 to Lionel Messi’s Barcelona at Old Trafford last week.
Yet that was the score line facing United in 1999 after Mario Basler had put Bayern in front in the sixth minute in what proved to be one of the most dramatic soccer matches in a generation.
United engineered the turnaround with two goals in injury time — the first from Teddy Sheringham, and the second from Solskjaer.
During his four months as United manager, the former Norway striker has made a point of reminiscing about the old days at the club, when no deficit felt insurmountable. Comebacks and late goals were a regular thing under his then-manager and mentor, Alex Ferguson.
“The memories from Paris will help the players. It shows we can turn things around,” Solskjaer said on Monday before leading United’s training session at Camp Nou.
“People have said to me that it has to be our year because of 20 years ago, I used to play with the number 20, we are back in Camp Nou … but to go through we have to deserve it. We can’t say we are just going to rely on faith.”
Not helping United’s cause is the six-day turnaround between the two games. While Barcelona fielded a reserve side in the Spanish league on Saturday, Solskjaer couldn’t afford to rest too many of his first-team players for the match against West Ham in the Premier League the same day.
United is still fighting to finish in the top four, while Barcelona is close to wrapping up another Spanish title.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said the thing he “most fears is the spirit” of Solskjaer’s team.
“United has something special in the final minutes,” Valverde said on Monday, while adding that past glories don’t dictate future outcomes.
“We all chose examples from our past that can give us a boost. That is experience. But at the end, I believe that you write your own destiny. It is not given to you. You have to seek it out. And tomorrow we will try to find ours.”
And there is one bizarre statistic that will be giving United fans hope as they make their way to Spain.
Messi, to many the greatest soccer player ever, hasn’t scored in his last 12 games at the quarterfinal stage — stretching back to 2013.
Juventus had the luxury of resting most of its regular players at the weekend. Ajax didn’t, and may have paid a costly price.
For the 2-1 loss at Spal in Serie A on Saturday, Juventus had just two players in its starting lineup that began the 1-1 draw in Amsterdam. Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t even on the bench.
Ahead of Tuesday’s game, Ajax had nine of its starting XI from the first leg in the 6-2 victory over Excelsior. One of them, star midfielder Frenkie de Jong, limped off with a hamstring problem in the first half.
Ronaldo was rested before the second leg of the round of 16. He then scored a hat trick against Atletico Madrid to see Juventus overturn a first-leg deficit.
Is City’s underwhelming record in the Champions League going to continue?
One appearance in the semifinals is a poor return considering the huge investment from the club’s Abu Dhabi ownership since 2008, and City is desperate to get through.
Without an away goal from the first leg, City will be in trouble should Tottenham score in the second leg at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. Tottenham is without the injured Harry Kane, but has still managed to achieve good results whenever the striker has been out in recent seasons.
City could be without holding midfielder Fernandinho, who missed the 3-1 win against Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Sunday through injury.
Tottenham has never reached the semifinals of the Champions League.
PORTO-LIVERPOOL (0-2 on aggregate)
Mohamed Salah looks back to his best after brilliant goals in successive weeks in the Premier League — against Southampton and then against Chelsea on Sunday — but he might count himself fortunate to be playing the second leg against Porto on Wednesday.
Match officials missed Salah’s studs-first lunge on Danilo near the end of the first leg at Anfield, which could easily have resulted in a red card and suspension.
Instead, Liverpool has its front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane intact for the trip to Portugal. The last time the teams met in the Estadio do Dragao, Liverpool won 5-0 in the first leg of the round of 16, with that trio scoring all the goals.
Porto captain Hector Herrera is back from suspension, as is center back Pepe.