Manchester United 2 Barcelona 1
Manchester United are in the last 16 of the Europa League following a magnificent 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Old Trafford.
The Reds hit back immediately after the restart, with Fred’s quick-fire strike on the edge of the area beating Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. With just shy of 20 minutes to go, a handful of blocked shots in front of the away goal saw the ball ultimately fall to Antony, who guided his finish wonderfully into the far corner to give the Reds the lead.
A night to remember for Ten Hag and United, delivering another memorable European occasion at an electric Old Trafford to keep our Europa League hopes alive.
The players were welcomed onto the bright green Old Trafford turf with a roar from our fans inside the Theatre of Dreams, and both teams rose to the occasion from the off.
Within the first three minutes, the Reds carved out an excellent opportunity to take an early lead. Casemiro pinged a brilliant ball behind the Barcelona back line and into the path of Bruno Fernandes, whose eventual effort was blocked by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Raphinha responded to our early efforts with his own attempt, but his long-range curling strike went wide of the post.
A breathless, end-to-end opening 15 minutes came to a crashing halt when the referee pointed to the penalty spot in favour of the visitors. Fernandes was deemed to have pulled Balde down just inside the area, giving Xavi’s side a direct route into pole position. Barcelona’s no.9, Lewandowski, stepped up to convert the spot-kick, despite De Gea managing to get a glove on it.
Ten Hag’s side refused to be fazed, though, and immediately went in search of an equaliser. Lisandro Martinez’s ball over the top fell kindly to Fernandes, but our captain on the night couldn’t quite get control it and his half-volley was gathered comfortably by Ter Stegen.
Barcelona came close to adding a second to their tally in the closing minutes of the opening 45, as David De Gea’s stray pass was intercepted by Sergi Roberto on the edge of the area. Casemiro made a vital intervention to prevent the Spaniard from getting a shot off, before putting his body on the line once again to deny Kessie and keep the score at 1-0 for the half-time whistle.
The Reds came out for the second half in need of a goal, with Ten Hag opting to switch things up top including bringing Antony on for Weghorst at half-time. Within two minutes of the restart, we were level through Fred. United won possession high up the pitch and Fernandes was quick to pass to the Brazilian midfielder who took one touch before firing beyond Ter Stegen.
Moments later, Antony was played in behind the Barcelona defence but was challenged by Andreas Christensen before he could play in the onrushing Rashford. An infectious restart from Ten Hag’s men was mirrored by the fans, who were in full voice all evening.
Just after the hour mark, despite dominating large spells of the second 45, it looked as though we were about to be caught out against the run of play but for the heroics of David De Gea. Balde whipped an excellent cross to the far post which was met by Jules Kounde, but our shot-stopper was at full stretch to tip the headed effort over the bar. De Gea was equal to Kessie’s long-range effort seconds later from the resulting corner kick.
Fernandes regained possession close to the area before playing it to Garnacho and when efforts from the young Argentinian and then Fred were both blocked, the ball fell to our Brazilian winger. Antony just guided it into the bottom corner and beyond Ter Stegen in front of a buoyant Stretford End.
In a tie of this calibre, late drama was almost guaranteed at the death. Lewandowski looked set to send the game into extra-time with a last-gasp attempt but an unbelievable block on the line from Raphael Varane helped us see out the game - although the 'equaliser' could have been ruled out had the effort gone in.
While the Reds are now in the hat for Friday's round-of-16 draw, attention will quickly turn to Sunday when we’re Wembley-bound for the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka (Dalot 67), Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Fred, Casemiro; Fernandes, Sancho (Garnacho 67), Rashford (McTominay 88); Weghorst (Antony 45).
Unused substitutes: Heaton, Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia, Sabitzer, Mainoo, Elanga, Pellistri.
Goals: Fred 47, Antony 73.
Booked: Fernandes 60; Casemiro 86.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Balde, Christensen, Araujo (Alonso 82), Kounde; De Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Roberto (Torres 70), Lewandowski, Raphinha (Fati 75).
Unused substitutes: Tenas, Torre, Casado, Sotorres, Garcia, Alba.
Goal: Lewandowski (p) 18.
Booked: Roberto 60, Lewandowski 71, Busquets 83.
Here's what the Reds are saying about tonight's enthralling encounter under the Old Trafford lights...
What a night for the team! Next stop Wembley. pic.twitter.com/MdU2RNLrKV— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) February 23, 2023
What a magical night. What an incredible energy. This is United! Thanks God! pic.twitter.com/P1BPR1w1MA— Fred Rodrigues (@Fred08oficial) February 23, 2023