Manchester United defender Chris Smalling insists that his strong challenge on Lionel Messi, that left the Barcelona star with a bloodied nose, was “an accident”.
Smalling was involved in a brutal clash with Messi mid-way into the first half of United’s 1-0 first-leg defeat to Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final clash at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Messi was left with a bloodied nose and eye afterwards and required medical attention, with Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde revealing that his star player suffered “a significant bruise” at the end of the match.
But Smalling maintains it was a mere accident and adds there is no animosity whatsoever between himself and Messi.
“We spoke afterwards. We had a brief chat and shook hands,” Smalling told BBC.
“He knew it was an accident. I didn’t realise at the time that I’d actually caught him like that.”
“[Luis] Suarez [came up to me] after the game as well. We had a good tussle and he just shook my hands afterwards and said ‘good luck’.
“It’s nice when you can have that battle on the pitch and then there’s respect after the game because, ultimately, you are just trying to do your best.”
After Luke Shaw’s own goal sealed Barcelona a critical advantage, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side now have it all to do at Camp Nou next Tuesday.
United pulled off a miracle comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round by bouncing back from a 2-0 home first-leg defeat to win the return fixture in France 3-1 to progress on away goals.
“We know it can be done,” said Smalling.
“If we can carry on from the second-half performance when we were really on the front foot, brought intensity to the game and caused them a few problems, that’s what we need to go there and do.
“We knew that we couldn’t go completely gung-ho in that second half because there is another leg.
“We’ve got to make sure we go there with no regrets and leave everything there to give ourselves the best possible chance.”