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Man United Opinion: Fred and McTominay impressed on a disastrous night

Having lost the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals 1-0 to Barcelona at Old Trafford, Man United had a mountain to climb in the second leg away from home but the Red Devils failed to pull the rabbit out of the hat this time around after their comeback heroics in the Round of 16 against PSG.

Lionel Messi took advantage of some sloppy passing from Ashley Young and opened the scoring in the 16th minute, finding the corner of de Gea’s net with a powerful and accurate left-footed shot that spoke of pure class and finesse.

The 31-year-old magician then virtually put the game to bed and made United’s comeback job a near-impossible one, as de Gea’s handling error handed Barcelona a 2-0 lead going into the interval.

Messi was once again in the thick of things and had a big hand in the build-up to Philippe Coutinho’s goal in the second half, finding Jordi Alba on the left with a brilliant cross-field pass, who set up the Brazilian for a thunderous finish.

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As opposed to a 5-3-2 defensive system that Solskjaer played at home last week, the Norwegian fielded an attacking 4-3-3 formation to match Barcelona’s possession-based and disciplined approach, using Fred as the pivot with Pogba on the left and Scott McTominay on the right of a midfield trio.

United showed a lot of purpose and energy in the opening stages of the game with their tireless pressing off the ball and looked like a team on a mission but they found life very difficult once Barcelona started retaining the ball.

On a night where the brilliance and class of Lionel Messi reigned supreme, United were completely outclassed and were clearly the second best in all aspects of the game.

They deserve full marks for showing the desire to compete at the highest level, and the fact that they didn’t throw in the towel even after going 2-0 down within the opening 20 minutes speaks volumes of the character and mettle of the team under Solskjaer.

The difference in quality between the two teams was quite apparent, and while United didn’t bother Barcelona too much, they should take heart from the performances of Fred and Scott McTominay.

While Pogba’s only significant contribution throughout the ninety minutes was the cutting pass to Rashford in the opening seconds, McTominay and Fred did the donkey’s work for United in the midfield and caught the eye with their hunger and desire.

Well aware of Barcelona’s ability to take the game away by dominating possession, Fred and McTominay showcased their uncompromised work rate and used every bit of their energy to try and press the opposition off the ball.

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Barcelona’s slick and crisp passing in the midfield and subtle movement off the ball often got the better of United’s pressing in the midfield but the duo was hardly deterred by the opposition’s quality on the ball.

In fact, Fred and McTominay turned out to be United’s lone warriors on a night where Paul Pogba looked rather pedestrian. Both the midfielders managed to break up the play on several occasions with crucial tackles and interceptions, though United were not able to capitalise on those and hit the opposition on the break.

They did end up committing quite a lot of fouls but it would be harsh to criticize them for that given that Barcelona completely bossed the midfield.

Operating in a No.6 role, Fred looked not only added a lot of energy to a pedestrian looking midfield but he also managed to move the ball around with some accurate passing. Agreed, none of his passes was particularly defence-splitting but he did a good job in holding things together and played some really nice long balls.

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McTominay is one player who has really come of age this season and the 22-year-old Scotsman once again did a fine job on the right of a midfield three.

Up against Barcelona’s daunting left-axis of Jordi Alba, Coutinho and Arthur, McTominay did a good job defensively and helped out Victor Lindelof, who was playing at right-back, to some extent.

He showed good composure in possession and always looked to close the opposition down, while also making runs forward whenever the opportunity presented itself.

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McTominay registered 40 passes with an accuracy percentage of 92.5, including 4 tackles, 1 shot and 2 dribbles.

Fred, on the other hand, managed a total of 72 passes with an accuracy rate of 88.9, including 5 successful long balls, 4 tackles, 3 interceptions and 1 dribble.

Those stats clearly show that both the midfielders did a pretty good job against a top-quality opposition on a night where United had very little to cheer about.

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