Manchester United produced a famous Old Trafford comeback to beat Barcelona 2-1 (4-3 on aggregate) in their Europa League play-off tie.
It was largely one-way traffic in the first half as Barcelona passed the ball around with delicate care and recycled possession meticulously. Bruno Fernandes’ rare march forward early on saw him have an opportunity to break the deadlock, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen was equal to his effort.
He then had another moment to forget in his own box as he pulled Alejandro Balde to the ground and conceded a penalty. It looked soft, and Fernandes’ haranguing of referee Clement Turpin certainly reflected a man who felt an injustice had just occurred, but his protests ultimately fell on deaf ears and Robert Lewandowski converted from 12 yards.
The complexion changed completely in the second half as the hosts came out champing at the bit and with a very different motive. Like the Camp Nou a week prior, Erik ten Hag’s men battled from behind and channeled the energy of the crowd to turn the game on its head. Fred restored parity two minutes after the restart, before Antony bagged the winner 17 minutes from time.
It was a frantic European night, a famous one from a Red Devil perspective — and here’s how the players rated in at Old Trafford:
David de Gea – 6 – Unlucky with the penalty and nearly gifted Barcelona an opener after a slack pass out from the back, but he redeemed his performance in the second half with a world class save from Kounde’s header.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka – 7 – Heavily involved in every phase of play, the transformed full-back certainly held his own in this clash of titans and kept the Balde-Roberto combo contained well down his side of the pitch.
Raphael Varane – 8 – Imposing against Lewandowski and slick with his distribution, Varane formed a strong centre-back partnership with Martinez to keep a fairly watertight backline. And let’s not forget about that goal-line clearance at the death on Lewandowski (even if the referee blew up retrospectively).
Lisandro Martinez – 8 – Immense. Absolutely immense. The Argentine was crunching into challenges with the precision of a knife-wielding surgeon and putting his body on the line. He typified the fight and spirit of Man Utd’s comeback, never shirking a one-v-one or pulling out of a tackle.
Luke Shaw – 7 – A bit like Wan-Bissaka, the England international was ever willing for surge up the pitch and offer an out-ball for his team-mates. Strong in the challenge too to keep Raphinha quiet. Spare a thought for his backheel to Fernandes for Man Utd’s equaliser.
Casemiro – 8 – That double block in the first half was simply outrageous, match-winning as it turned out. The Brazilian was actually one of the few players to come out of that first half with his head held high, notably playing an immense pass to Fernandes for his early chance. A supreme midfield showing.
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Fred – 8 – The redemption arc was legendary. He looked like a fish out of water in the first half, completely outclassed and outmatched. But wow, what a second half. Not only did the Brazilian score the vital equaliser to inspire the comeback, but his defensive play was simply incredible. Tenacious, industrious and hungry, Fred neutralised Barca’s rhythm and thwarted plenty of attacks.
Jadon Sancho – 5 – Not his finest showing, Sancho really struggled to let loose in the first half, but did come alive a bit after the restart. Ultimately though, not enough to really mark the occasion and get his name up in lights.
Bruno Fernandes – 6 – A stupid penalty to concede in the first half. However soft you feel it was, there was no need to give the referee something to think about. But, the skipper certainly redeemed himself, first with his assist to Fred for Man Utd’s equaliser, and then with his lion-hearted aggression to galvanise the terraces, and his troops.
Marcus Rashford – 6 – The architect of Man Utd’s frictionless attacking energy in the first leg, the England international didn’t quite influence the scoreline in his typical fashion, but he certainly gave the Barca backline a good tussle and had a few moments of success.
Wout Weghorst – 4 – Struggled immensely to get into the game in the first half. The towering Dutchman ran around a lot and looked to link play, but the confined space made it difficult for him to stamp his authority. Ten Hag hauled him off at the break for a more fluid frontline.
Antony (for Weghorst 45′) – 7 – A game-changer, the Brazilian came on at half-time and changed Man Utd’s attacking perspective. His finish was perfectly tucked home as well.
Diogo Dalot (for Wan-Bissaka 67′) – 6 – A solid showing from the Portuguese to pick up from the good work produced by Wan-Bissaka.
Alejandro Garnacho (for Sancho 67′) – 6 – The mercurial wonderkid had his moments of joy and showcased his repertoire of tricks and skills to keep Barca on their toes.
Scott McTominay (for Rashford 88′) – N/A – Came on for the final few minutes.
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Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6 – Solid enough between the sticks, the German could do little of Man Utd’s two goals, but can hold his head high for his early save on Fernandes.
Jules Kounde – 6 – Heavily involved in this contest, the Frenchman looked more assured at right-back and had a good battle with Shaw, Rashford and later Garnacho.
Ronald Araujo – 6.5 – Solid as ever, the Uruguayan made some crunching challenges on Rashford and produced a range of blocks to shut out the opposition attack for much of the match.
Andreas Christensen – 6 – Strong in some moments, weak in others. It was a mixed bag for the Danish centre-back, who made some excellent challenges, but got caught a few times.
Alejandro Balde – 7 – The buccaneering full-back was always willing to surge forward and instigate attacking moves for Barca. It really did feel like Jordi Alba was on the pitch. Also bonus marks for winning the penalty.
Sergio Busquets – 7 – Exceptional first half, ponderous second. But the Barca legend really was at the peak of his powers in that opening 45 minutes.
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Frenkie de Jong – 7 – An understated assurance, the Dutchman controlled that first half with his passing precision and quiet sweeping. Like the rest of this midfield, he waned in the second half, but the initial phase of play was a joy to watch from Barca.
Franck Kessie – 7 – Another who dominated the first half, but fell as the contest went on. Kessie was nevertheless at the heart of every good Barca did produce tonight.
Sergi Roberto – 5 – The Barca attack was simply non-existent at times, and Roberto was part of the problem. A few good moments in the first half as he linked play and got stuck in, but he drifted too often and couldn’t find that decisive ball.
Raphinha – 4 – Two blazed shots in the first half pretty much summed up the former Leeds winger’s showing. Too erratic, too error-prone to form a consistent link with Lewandowski and keep Barca’s attack purring.
Robert Lewandowski – 6 – Scored the goal and played with his back-to-goal influence well at times, but Martinez and Varane worked well to nullify his supreme potency.
Ferran Torres (for Roberto 70′) – 6 – Some energy was injected into the side upon his introduction, but it was a case of too little too late.
Ansu Fati (for Raphinha 75′) – 5 – Same as the above, although not as effective.
Marcos Alonso (for Araujo 88′) – N/A – Came on for the final few minutes.
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