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Another Man Utd glory night? Why Barcelona visit plays to Solskjaer strengths

COMMENT: Spies. Drones. And everything inbetween. Ernesto Valverde and his staff didn't need any of that over the past week. To know how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was planning for his Manchester United to tackle Barcelona on Tuesday night, they only need to listen to the man himself...

Solskjaer has a plan. By his own admission a "decent plan". But tactics will be secondary on Tuesday night. If his players are to stun the world - again - this second-leg will be played to the manager's strengths.

Positivity. Enthusiasm. Whatever you want to brand it. It's worked. Solskjaer's approach to this group of players. At this time. Has brought the best out of them. It's been about rebuilding confidence. Even courage. And the Norwegian's manner, more than any system or tactical change, has transformed United's season.

Passion. Drive. And most importantly, belief. Solskjaer spelt it all out over the weekend. The Norwegian letting us all in on what has been the mantra at Carrington since Wednesday's first-leg defeat. They've been in this position before. They've been written off before. And they've emerged from it victors.

“We've had some great away performances," insists Solskjaer, "we beat Arsenal and Chelsea in the Cup, we won at Tottenham and we've done it at PSG and Juventus in Europe."

You've done it before. That's the message. And you've done it against better teams. PSG? Juve? On their day they're more than a match for Barca. Yet United have won at both their stadiums. And late. They know. The players know. This team can score in the stoppages. They can find a way. Just as they did at Juve - and famously at PSG.

Says the manager: “Barcelona will know we carry a goal threat. We like to run at people and take them on. We like to frighten people."

Again, the players will draw on their away successes this season. They don't just win by the odd goal. Since Solskjaer's arrival, there's been no shutting up shop. Defending a one goal lead. It's all about going for the second. Then the third.

And they'll know. Again, they'll know. Solskjaer will make sure they're aware that this Barca defence will concede. And heavily. Four went past Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Villarreal a fortnight ago. Another four - at home - were conceded in defeat to Real Betis earlier this season. They have previous. This Barca defence can be rattled. "Frightened", as Solskjaer says.

"Away from home it can suit us because we're a team of pace, power and the humility to know that we have to defend well and play on the counter," insists the manager.

And that's it. There'll be no reinventing wheel. Maybe the odd tweak here and there. But no grand tactical plan. Just a purist's approach. A United purist's approach. Pace. Power. And some desperate defending. It's what Solskjaer has been pushing from day one.

"We've got the best goalkeeper in the world. We've got blistering pace...," he declared in January after victory at Wembley over Tottenham. Just as Sir Alex and Big Ron would often declare before him. Go for broke - and back your keeper to earn his wage.

And Solskjaer will be delighted David de Gea returns to Spain on the back of that save against West Ham. On home turf, the Spaniard will touch down with a point to prove. Those World Cup critics amongst the Spanish press an unintended United ally in new contract negotiations.

And they'll need a big performance from their goalkeeper if lightening is to strike twice. Lionel Messi will make sure of that. But again, United's players will know. They'll know they've kept him quiet once. They found a way. Scott McTominay. The back of Chris Smalling's hand. However it was sliced. United did find a way to lessen the Argentine's influence.

But if they are to overturn that one goal deficit, Tuesday will transcend even the presence of Messi. This, as Solskjaer says, is another opportunity for his players to write themselves into folklore. Just as they did at the Parc des Princes, here's another shot at history.

"If we can do it against Barcelona then it will be one of THE biggest and legendary performances in this club's history," says the Treble winner. “We tell the players that what they sign up for when you come here – the chance to be a hero and a legend. You must rise to the occasion."

And that's it. That's the message. You've done it before. Go and - even if it takes until the 95th minute - do it again. Simple. Straightforward. It worked in Paris. Why not again?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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