Man Utd fight back to knock out Barca and reach Europa League last 16

Manchester United came from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate to win their Europa League play-off at Old Trafford.

Robert Lewandowski’s early penalty had left Erik ten Hag’s team with work to do but his half-time change turned the game with second-half goals from Fred and substitute Antony enough to take United through to the round of 16 at the expense of Xavi’s Barca.

It was a comeback that had not looked likely at the interval but instead made it a night to remember, a huge moment for Antony and for Ten Hag’s improving team. They go into Sunday’s Carabao Cup final still chasing glory in four different competitions.

Player ratings

Man Utd: De Gea (7), Wan-Bissaka (7), Varane (7), Martinez (8), Shaw (7), Casemiro (7), Fred (7), Fernandes (7), Weghorst (5), Sancho (6), Rashford (7).

Subs: Antony (7), Dalot (7), Garnacho (7), McTominay (n/a).

Barcelona: Ter Stegen (7), Kounde (6), Araujo (6), Christensen (6), Balde (7), De Jong (7), Busquets (7), Kessie (6), Raphinha (5), Roberto (5), Lewandowski (6).

Subs: Torres (6), Fati (6), Alonso (6).

Player of the match: Lisandro Martinez.

How Man Utd turned the tie around

The atmosphere had been raucous before kick-off, that sense of the potential for an occasion to savour up against fellow European heavyweights. But for all the excitement, for all the noise inside Old Trafford, it was Barcelona who landed the first blow.

Bruno had the opening chance of the game, finding himself free on the right but only able to fire his shot into the feet of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal. But that was a minor failing compared to the costly error that was to follow at the other end.

Alejandro Balde was running away from goal in the corner of the penalty box when the United captain tugged at his arm. It was foolish and though David de Gea got a touch to Lewandowski’s penalty he could only palm the ball into the top corner of the net.

Team news

  • Erik ten Hag made one change from last week’s first leg in Barcelona. Tyrell Malacia dropped to the bench, with Lisandro Martinez coming into the defence.
  • Barcelona made four changes from last Thursday’s draw. Marcos Alonso dropped to the bench alongside Jordi Alba, while Gavi and Pedri missed out through injury.

Marcus Rashford, coming into this having scored 16 goals in 17 games since the World Cup, looked threatening and Old Trafford was abuzz whenever he had the ball. But once in front Barcelona gained a measure of control through Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong.

The 2-2 draw in the Camp Nou one week ago had ebbed and it had flowed, the strengths and weaknesses of both teams on show. But there was a contrast for 45 minutes this time. Ter Stegen appeared calm. De Gea’s kick almost gifted a second goal to Barcelona.

“We have improved a lot already as a team and the next stage is to beat teams like Barcelona,” Raphael Varane had said before the game. The onus was on Erik ten Hag, fresh from his midweek lunch with Sir Alex Ferguson, to find a solution to the problem.

The United boss did so with the withdrawal of the ineffective Wout Weghorst, rejigging his forward line with the introduction of Antony. The reward was instant, Fernandes squaring for Fred and the Brazilian firing beyond Ter Stegen with his weaker right foot.

Manchester United's Fred celebrates with his team-mates after scoring vs Barcelona
Manchester United’s Fred celebrates with his team-mates after scoring

De Gea still had to save superbly to deny Jules Kounde at the other end but the momentum was with United and they took the lead in the tie soon after. Good work from Luke Shaw and Fernandes in the corner eventually led to Antony’s composed finish on the angle.

Old Trafford erupted in joy, the moment they had been waiting for – the team they had been waiting for. Barca boss Xavi tried to turn the tie from the bench but he could not repeat the trick of Ten Hag. The Dutchman’s revival of this famous club continues.

What’s next?

Manchester United now switch their attentions to Wembley, where they take on Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 4.30pm. Erik ten Hag’s side then host West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday; kick-off 7.45pm.

Sunday 26th February 3:00pm

Kick off 4:30pm

Sky Sports Football HD
Sky Sports Football HD

Barcelona return to LaLiga action on Sunday at Almeria; kick-off 5.30pm. The league leaders then travel to bitter rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Thursday; kick-off 8pm. – ChatGPT autoblogging and content curation plugin for WordPress