Manchester United advanced to the last 16 of the Europa League after a 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Old Trafford. Erik ten Hag’s men were forced to come from behind after Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half, just as we did in the first leg.
The Reds Immediately responded, with Fred’s quick-fire strike on the edge of the area beating Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. With just under 20 minutes remaining, a series of blocked shots in front of the away goal allowed the ball to fall to Antony, who guided his finish beautifully into the far corner to give United the lead.
Ten Hag and United delivered another memorable European occasion at an electrifying Old Trafford to keep our Europa League hopes alive. Our fans inside the Theatre of Dreams welcomed the players onto the bright green Old Trafford turf with a roar, and both teams rose to the occasion right away.
The Reds created an excellent opportunity to take an early lead within the first three minutes. Casemiro played a brilliant ball behind the Barcelona defence into the path of Bruno Fernandes, whose eventual effort was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Raphinha responded to our early efforts with his own, but his long-range curling strike missed the post.
A tense, end-to-end first 15 minutes came to an end when the referee pointed to the penalty spot in favour of the visitors. Fernandes was judged to have pulled Balde down just inside the area, giving Xavi’s team a clear path to the lead. Despite De Gea’s glove, Barcelona’s no.9, Lewandowski, stepped up to convert the penalty kick.
Ten Hag’s team, however, were unfazed and immediately went in search of an equaliser. Lisandro Martinez’s over-the-top ball fell kindly to Fernandes, but our captain couldn’t quite get control of it, and his half-volley was comfortably gathered by Ter Stegen.
In the final minutes of the first half, Sergi Roberto intercepted David De Gea’s stray pass on the edge of the area, denying Barcelona a second goal. Casemiro made a crucial intervention to prevent the Spaniard from shooting, before putting his body on the line again to deny Kessie and keep the score at 1-0 at halftime.
The Reds came out for the second half in desperate need of a goal, with Ten Hag opting to change things up at the top, including bringing Antony on for Weghorst at halftime. We were level through Fred within two minutes of restarting. United won possession high up the field, and Fernandes quickly passed to the Brazilian midfielder, who took one touch before firing past Ter Stegen.
Antony was then played in behind the Barcelona defence, but he was stopped by Andreas Christensen before he could play in the onrushing Rashford. Ten Hag’s men’s infectious restart was mirrored by the fans, who were ecstatic all evening.
We looked like we were about to be caught out against the run of play just after the hour mark, despite dominating large stretches of the second half. Jules Kounde met Balde’s excellent cross to the far post, 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 from the resulting corner kick seconds later.
That save proved crucial, as the Reds went ahead 10 minutes later thanks to a fantastic strike from second-half substitute Antony. When efforts from the young Argentinian and then Fred were both blocked, the ball fell to our Brazilian winger. Antony simply guided it into the bottom corner, past Ter Stegen, and in front of a jubilant Stretford End.
THE PORTUGUESE GUY. pic.twitter.com/UKITc0eRMF
— Manchester United (@ManUtd_Es) February 23, 2023
Late drama was almost guaranteed at the death in a tie of this calibre. Lewandowski appeared to be on the verge of sending the game into overtime, but an incredible block on the line from Raphael Varane kept us in the game.
While the Reds are now in the running for the round-of-16 draw on Friday, the focus will quickly shift to Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley.