This isn’t a contest that necessarily belongs in the second tier of European Football, as these two sides have a combined eight Champions League / European Cup titles. However, the Camp Nou played host to Thursday night football, as United made the trip to Catalunya in the first-leg of a Europa League knockout tie.
Xavi named two changes to his Barcelona side, with Jordi Alba and Marcos Alonso replacing Balde and Christiansen in the starting lineup. Erik Ten Hag’s United side welcomed the return of Casemiro, who took Marcel Sabitzer’s place in midfield. Wan-Bissaka and Varane replaced Dalot and Maguire in defence.
BAR: Ter Stegen (GK); Alba (C), Alonso, Kounde, Araujo; Kessie, De Jong; Gavi, Pedri, Raphinha; Lewandowski
MUN: De Gea (GK); Malacia, Shaw, Varane, Wan-Bissaka; Casemiro; Sancho, Fred, Weghorst, Fernandes (C); Rashford
United started strongly, with Bruno Fernandes surging down the right flank in the first minute before firing a ball across the face of goal – but it was a few inches in front of Fred who wasn’t able to slot home. Raphinha soon countered, taking a second to cut the ball back into the box but there were no Barcelona shirts there to meet it.
Wan-Bissaka found Weghorst six minutes in to the contest, but the Dutchman’s heavy touch let him down and he was dispossessed. United’s spirited midfield soon won the ball back, and continued their search for an early opener.
Lewandowski forced a save from De Gea after working his way through the United defence, but the Spanish keeper was able to deny the Polish striker with ease. Pedri also had a chance to open the scoring, but his shot was blocked and he sent the rebound over the crossbar!
Robert Lewandowski was kept onside by Luke Shaw as he received the ball to send him through on goal, but a good recovery from ex-Real Madrid defender Varane kept the game goalless. Wout Weghorst should have scored at the other end, but Marc-Andre Ter Steven made the save to deny the Dutchman.
The teams headed into the break level, as the game somehow remained goalless despite a number of high-quality chances for both sides in the first half.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka fired a cross into the box shortly after the interval, and it was back heeled across goal by Wout Weghorst – eventually finding the feet of Jadon Sancho, who sent his shot wide! The game wouldn’t remain goalless for long though, as Marcos Alonso was left unmarked by Fred at a corner, allowing him to head home the opener!
United responded quickly, and Fred soon made up for his error when he played in Rashford, who then drilled the ball home from a tight angle to level the scores! It certainly increased the tempo of the fixture once again, as both sides continued to push to reclaim the lead.
It was Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United side that would find the next goal, as Jules Kounde slotted the ball into his own net following Rashford’s cross into the box! United were in dreamland, but Barcelona continued to apply the pressure and the visitors couldn’t afford to take their feet off the gas just yet.
United appealed for a penalty after Rashford was dragged down – but replays showed that he was brought down just outside the area. Erik Ten Hag and Casemiro received yellow cards for their protests, and Barcelona had chance to level the scores with a free-kick at the other end of the pitch – but Lewandowski blazed it over the bar.
Raphinha would finally bring his side level in the 76th minute, curling in a strike from long-range that looked to have taken a deflection off Lewandowski as it headed goal-bound – but replays showed that the Brazilian’s effort made it into the back of the net without further assistance!
Marcus Rashford nearly found his second goal a few minutes later, but the English striker fluffed his shot – and Raphinha sought to punish United on the counter, attempting to dink it over De Gea on the counter but the Spaniard was able to push it wide.
Casemiro nearly cost his side immensely as the game reached the dying minutes, as his attempted clearance ricocheted off his own post. Xavi’s side clearly felt they had a winner in them, and they continued to apply an immense pressure as the game headed into four minutes of injury time – but their efforts were matched by a resilient United defence. Tyrell Malacia blocked a header from Ronald Araujo in the final minute to keep the scores level, and the final whistle soon followed – meaning these two sides will head to Old Trafford next Thursday with the scores level.
As a reminder, the away goals rule is no longer in force – so both teams will be fighting for a win next week. That’s unlike past years, when a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford would see United progress to the next round!