Cor that was good wasn’t it? Manchester United and Barcelona played out a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp as both teams went hell for leather at each other. The Europa League play-off to get into the last 16 has never seen such drama.
The fixture usually reserved for the latter stages of the Champions League had a very different feel in this Europa League tie. It’s clearly a period of transition for both clubs and this season has felt like a regrowth for both.
Erik ten Hag has Manchester United, although he won’t admit it, fighting on all fronts. They are now just five points from the top of the Premier League and have a Carabao Cup final to look ahead to later this month. A season that started with turmoil, in the form of Crisitano Ronaldo and that hammering at Brentford has now turned into one of incredible promise and United look stronger than they have at any point in recent years.
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They will surely end their mini trophy drought this year one way or another, and under the Dutch boss, are evidently making major progress.
For Barcelona, Xavi has got them playing the way Barcelona should play and with a reliance on young midfielders Gavi and Pedri, the future looks brighter than it did 12 months ago, although they still face financial issues. On the pitch, we saw a side looking to recreate the style of play Xavi himself was integral too, albeit in a less dominant manner.
They were confident on the ball, intent on playing from the back and with Lewandowski up front had a threatening focal point. The pole was playing against Man Utd for the first time in his career stung the hands of David De Gea early on as Barcelona dominated possession and dictated the pace of the match.
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However, United were able to offer a threat of their own. Wout Weghorst, in the number ten role to the bewilderment of Robbie Savage, was played in wonderfully by Bruno Fernandes but he could only fire his shot right at Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. The German made another good save from Marcus Rashford as United carried the bigger threat, happy to play on the break.
In the second half Raphinha fired one just past the post before Sancho wasted an opportunity for the away side. Then, just four minutes into the second half, Marcos Alonso snuck around the back post from a corner to head home an emotional goal that made his eyes fill with tears. Just last Thursday he lost his father, a player who also played for Barceona, and in his first appearance since his death, he bagged a vital goal.
Moments later United showed their fighting spirit as Marcus Rashford levelled things up. Somehow, he squeezed the ball past Ter Stegen at the near post to continue the best form of his entire career. More Rashford magic led to the next goal. He skinned his man on the wing before Jules Kounde put it into his own net.
The tie swang again as Raphinha whipped in a delightful ball that went all the way into the back of the net and suddenly United were pinned back again, just as they looked in full control. Somehow Barca didn’t take the lead as Casemiro hit the ball onto his own post before De Gea denied Ansu Fati.
In the end it finished all square. A fair result for both sides on their road to recovery, and we can’t wait til they do it all again next Thursday.