Barca edge Real Madrid in ill-tempered Copa semi-final first leg

A tenacious Barcelona frustrated Real Madrid to secure a 1-0 win over their bitter rivals in an ill-tempered Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu on Thursday.

The visitors defended superbly after Madrid centre-back Eder Militao scored an own goal in the first half, managing to overcome the loss of key players Robert Lewandowski, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, who all missed the game due to injuries.

It was a much-needed win for Barca after arriving in the Spanish capital under pressure, having been knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United and then losing at lowly Almeria to halt a seven-game winning streak in LaLiga.

“We would have liked to have the ball more, to control de game a little more but we fought hard and competed in a high level. They had the ball but didnt create many chances. We got the advantage for the second leg and that’s really important,” Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets told TVE.

Real Madrid started better and dominated the first 15 minutes, but Barcelona started to turn things around as they took control of the midfield and their defensive game plan worked brilliantly.

Barca centre back Ronald Araujo did a great job at right-back to neutralise the threat of the dangerous Vinicius Jr. and Karim Benzema was left alone up front.

Real Madrid's Eder Militao puts the ball into his own net during the Bernabeu meeting
Real Madrid’s Eder Militao puts the ball into his own net during the Bernabeu meeting

Madrid became frustrated and tempers flared before the hosts made the crucial mistake which gave Barca what turned out to be the winner.

Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga gifted a back pass to Ferran Torres, who reacted quickly to slide the ball to Franck Kessie.

His point-blank strike was saved by Thibault Courtois, but the rebound bounced off Militao and into the net.

The assistant referee signalled offside but the VAR replay showed Kessie was fractionally onside and the goal stood.

Barcelona players celebrate after going ahead
Barcelona players celebrate after going ahead

Barcelona locked Real Madrid into an even tighter situation during the second half and although the hosts dominated possession, they rarely threatened to equalise.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side did not record a single shot on target despite having almost 70 per cent of possession in the second half and Barca should have extended their lead in the 71st minute when a Kessie shot that beat Courtois was blocked by team-mate Ansu Fati.

Substitute Rodrygo had Madrid’s best chance with a late long-range strike that flew narrowly wide of the post.

The teams meet again in Barcelona on April 5 with the winners to face Athletic Bilbao or Osasuna in the final. – ChatGPT autoblogging and content curation plugin for WordPress

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

Barcelona salvage draw after Rashford inspires Man Utd in Nou Camp thriller

Marcus Rashford’s inspirational second-half performance was not quite enough for Manchester United as Barcelona fought back to claim a 2-2 draw in their Europa League knockout round play-off first leg.

Rashford arrived at the Nou Camp with pre-match praise from both Erik ten Hag and Xavi ringing in his ears and the forward backed up the managers’ words by drawing Man Utd level, smashing a shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen two minutes after Marcos Alonso had headed Barcelona into a 50th-minute lead.

Rashford helped to complete the turnaround seven minutes later when he skipped to the byline before drilling a tempting cross along the six-yard box that Jules Kounde could only chest into his own goal.

Man Utd looked set to claim another famous win at the Nou Camp – the scene of their 1999 Champions League success – but Raphinha dashed those hopes when his inswinging cross found its way inside David de Gea’s far post to set up a tantalising second leg at Old Trafford next week.

Stunning second half leaves tie finely poised

Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring for Man Utd vs Barcelona
Rashford had a hand in both of Man Utd’s goals in the Nou Camp

Barcelona and Man Utd have met twice in Champions League finals and the two teams served up a thrilling encounter that was worthy of gracing Europe’s greatest club competition.

But for the time being, both sides must scrap for a place in the Europa League knockouts and they will each feel they had the chances to take a win into the second leg.

Robert Lewandowski – playing against Man Utd for the first time – was the first to go close, pouncing on some hesitation in the visitors’ defence to claim the ball before forcing a solid save from De Gea at his near post.

Pedri then volleyed over after a scooped pass from Gavi, but Man Utd grew into the contest and should have taken the lead when Wout Weghorst latched onto Bruno Fernandes’ through ball, but he shot straight at Ter Stegen.

Jadon Sancho then scuffed the first of two good chances wide before Ter Stegen stretched out an arm to tip away Rashford’s curling effort to ensure the first-half ended goalless.

But there was no danger of the second period going the same way with both sides intent on claiming a valuable victory and, after Raphinha and Sancho went close, it was Alonso who opened the scoring, with the former Chelsea defender being handed far too much space by Fred to head in a corner at the far post.

Barcelona's Marcos Alonso celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal vs Manchester United
Marcos Alonso celebrates after scoring Barcelona’s opener

Rashford, the scorer of 13 goals in 15 games since the World Cup, took that as his cue and almost instantly levelled with a rasping drive from Fred’s pass that Ter Stegen perhaps should have handled more convincingly at his near post.

Kounde then bundled Rashford’s cross into his own net and should have seen red five minutes later when he brought down the England international on the edge of the area with a professional foul.

However, referee Maurizio Mariani waved away the incident – as did VAR – before booking Ten Hag for the Man Utd boss’ protests.

There was more frustration for Ten Hag in the 76th minute when former Leeds winger Raphinha bent in a cross that evaded everyone on its way into the far corner.

There was still time for Rashford to slice a promising chance wide and Casemiro to hit his own post with a shanked clearance, with the pulsating encounter no doubt leaving fans wanting more ahead of the rematch in seven days’ time.

Ten Hag: We should have won

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag reacts after being shown a yellow card by referee Maurizio Mariani during the UEFA Europa League play-off first leg match at Spotify Camp Nou, Barcelona. Picture date: Thursday February 16, 2023.
Erik ten Hag is booked after reacting furiously to the decision not to send off Jules Kounde

Ten Hag described the encounter as Champions League quality, but admitted his side missed the opportunity to take a lead into the second leg.

“I think we dictated the game, apart from maybe 15 minutes in the first half,” the Man Utd boss told BT Sport. “We had so many chances so I was a little bit disappointed that at half-time it was 0-0. The opportunities they had, we created by ourselves.

“But it was a great game – two attacking teams. It was Champions League – maybe even more than that. I really enjoyed the game.

“In the end it’s 2-2 and we have to finish it at Old Trafford.”

Ten Hag did not hold back in his assessment of referee Mariani’s display, saying the Italian official had to send off Kounde for his challenge on Rashford in the second half.

“The refereeing had a big influence in this game,” said Ten Hag. “It was a clear foul on Rashy.

“You can discuss if it’s in or out of the box. [If it’s out then] it’s a red card because he was one on one with the ‘keeper. It’s a big influence, not only on this game but in this round.

“It can’t be. The referee can’t make this mistake. We should have won this game.”

Xavi: Man Utd are coming back

Xavi with Erik ten Hag
Xavi praised the work Erik ten Hag is doing at Old Trafford

Xavi revealed he congratulated Ten Hag after the game for the work he is doing at Man Utd, saying his counterpart is helping to bring the club back to their best.

“It was a really tough game with a lot of intensity, passion, rhythm,” said the Barcelona boss. “We have to be proud because we competed really well until the end.

“We could have won with the last two chances, but we played today against a top team in Europe. I think Manchester [United] is coming back and today they showed their best version and now we have to compete well in Old Trafford.

“I think both teams are more or less in the same moment, in the same position. I said to Ten Hag ‘congratulations’ because he’s doing very well.

“They are Manchester United so this could be a final, semi-final, quarter-final of Champions League. But now we are in Europa League and it was a very good performance from both teams.”

What’s next?

Manchester United now turn their attentions back to the Premier League, with Leicester visiting Old Trafford on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm.

Sunday 19th February 1:00pm

Kick off 2:00pm

Sky Sports Premier League HD
Sky Sports Premier League HD

Erik ten Hag’s side then host Barcelona in the second leg of their Europa League play-off on Thursday; kick-off 8pm.

Barcelona return to La Liga action on Sunday, with Cadiz visiting the Nou Camp; kick-off 8pm. – ChatGPT autoblogging and content curation plugin for WordPress