20 Years On, Solskjaer Hopes for Another Camp Nou Comeback

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Saturday, April 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

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.”

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi reacts during the Champions League quarterfinal, first leg, soccer match between Manchester United and FC Barcelona at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

United has beaten Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain away this season, but Solskjaer said after the first-leg loss that getting past Barcelona would be a “greater achievement.”

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.

By: Steve Douglas, AP Sports Writer

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