Manchester United are set to square off against Barcelona at Old Trafford in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie. While many have written United off, defender Chris Smalling feels his side are more than capable of pulling off the victory.
Smalling admitted that challenges like these are ones professional players relish. He also issued a warning to Lionel Messi, claiming he is ready to take on the Argentine.
Can Messi be tamed?
Messi has been nearly unstoppable in all competitions this season. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored 33 goals in LaLiga and 8 in the Champions League already with plenty of matches still to play.
He is comfortable leading the race for the Golden Shoe. However, Smalling believes that Messi can be stopped and even indicated that he had a plan to deal with the maestro.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Smalling said: “It’s something to relish I think. This season, we have been lucky enough to face [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Kylian] Mbappe.they are all challenges that I definitely relish and I think players at this club relish.
“I say bring it on.”
Solskjaer not afraid
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer echoed Smalling’s statements. He also added that the Red Devils cannot simply focus on Messi, but must be aware of all 11 players on the pitch.
“As Chris says, we are looking forward to it. we relish the opportunity. this season, we have played against Juventus with Ronaldo, PSG with Mbappe, we’ve had Chelsea and [Eden] Hazard.
“[Messi] is a fantastic player. And he will go down in history as one of the best individual players ever. I have to say – he will be difficult to stop but it’s never impossible.
“It’s not like it is Messi against Manchester United. [Luis] Suarez, [Philippe] Coutinho, [Ivan] Rakitic, [Arturo] Vidal, there are so many players we cannot just focus on one player. We know we have to play against 11 of them.”
United start the game as massive underdogs, but they pulled off a miracle against PSG in the previous round. They will need the same mentality if they are to get the better of Barcelona on the night.
Roma showed last season that Messi can indeed be neutralised with the right tactics, so it remains to be seen if United can get the better of the little magician.