Manchester United slipped to a first-leg defeat at Old Trafford but produced a spirited performance to stay in the tie after conceding an early own goal by Luke Shaw.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were behind from the 12th minute when VAR overruled a linesman’s flag, as Luis Suarez’s header went in off Shaw’s arm, to give the champions of Spain a slender lead ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg at the Nou Camp.
It appears it will take another monumental effort by the resilient Reds to overcome Barca, but the venue is of course one that will evoke so many memories for the Reds boss. And United have called on the spirit of 1999 on several occasions already in this European campaign, most notably in the last-16 tie against Paris St-Germain in France.
Lionel Messi was kept relatively quite on the night but the United players will have to engineer more clear-cut chances of their own in the Catalan capital if a place in the last four is to be secured.
The pattern for the game was made very evident from the kick-off with barely a United player touching the ball for a good two or three minutes as Barça settled into their possession-dominating brand of football.
That said, the fact that Marcus Rashford’s pace looked like it could unsettle the Spaniards provided some early encouragement for the Reds. The Mancunian conjured up the first chance of the night, albeit from a free kick, and his power drive careered just over Ter Stegen’s goal.
It wasn’t long before Barcelona got the away goal that gave them a dangerous foothold in the tie.
Unsurprisingly it was a Lionel Messi-Luis Suarez combination that undid United; the pair had scored 20 goals between them in their previous 20 outings together. Messi caught the Reds’ rearguard napping as he raced onto a pass and lobbed a cross to the far post for Suarez to head in off Shaw’s arm.
Initially, the Stretford End celebrated as the former Liverpool striker’s goal was called offside by the referee’s assistant. But it was a premature let-off as Italian official Daniele Orsato indicated that VAR were taking a look at the decision. Seconds later he pointed to the centre circle to confirm Barca had taken a 12th-minute lead.
It took the sting out of the atmosphere at the Theatre of Dreams as the Spanish champions took control. It was hard for United to get back into the match and a 29th-minute penalty appeal, as Scott McTominay went down under a challenge from former Reds defender Gerard Pique, was waved away.
Messi ended up with a bloodied nose when Chris Smalling’s no-nonsense headed clearance also sent the Argentinian tumbling to the ground; however, it was United who almost had another kick in the teeth in the 36th minute. Thankfully, David De Gea produced one of his trademark saves with his left foot to deny Philippe Coutinho.
The Reds did manage to start troubling the visitors but Diogo Dalot wasted a great headed chance. Safe to say a close observer on the touchline, who once famously wore Dalot’s number 20 shirt, would have loved to have had the same opportunity as the Portuguese.
For all Barcelona’s cool technique, when United did press and step up the charge in the second half, the visitors lost some of their previous calmness. Defensively, Ernesto Valverde’s side also seemed to have a self-destruct button in them that also gave the Reds encouragement.
Barca went into another of their possession periods when United just couldn’t get onto the ball and it ended with the Reds opened up but Suarez fired into the side-netting to the relief of the fans in the East Stand behind the goal.
Rashford had shown in spurts that Barcelona could be ruffled if they were back-pedalling and the crowd welcomed the 67th-minute arrival into the action of Anthony Martial for Romelu Lukaku. Rashford did have a chance to test Ter Segen with another free-kick but his effort was lifted high over the bar.
In the 74th minute, Jesse Lingard replaced Dalot but almost his first piece of action saw him pick up a yellow card for a foul on Barcelona sub Arturo Vidal.
In the 83rd minute, a Pogba foul 20 yards from goal handed Messi the free-kick chance United fans had probably feared.
But the little South American genius was a mere mortal as he attempted a daisy-cutter under the Reds’ jumping wall and his shot deflected safely into De Gea’s arms.
Barcelona played the game out looking like they’d felt they’d done enough to make the Champions League semi-finals by taking a 1-0 lead back to Catalonia.
But after the miracle of Paris, who knows what could happen in the second leg.