Manchester United reach Europa League last 16 with comeback win over Barcelona
Supersub Antony fired Manchester United to a thrilling statement victory against Barcelona as Erik ten Hag’s improving side progressed from this breathless Europa League knockout play-off clash.
A week on from the absorbing, chaotic 2-2 first leg draw in Catalunya, these football heavyweights locked horns once again seeking progress to the last 16 under the Old Trafford lights.
Robert Lewandowski’s penalty had United facing an all-too-familiar European exit to Spanish opposition, only for Fred to fire home and Antony to superbly seal a memorable 2-1 comeback win and 4-3 aggregate success.
What a finish 💫#UEL pic.twitter.com/10WZ89ht4y
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) February 23, 2023
This victory will be remembered with their 1984 and 2008 second-leg Old Trafford triumphs against Barca and sets Ten Hag’s men up nicely for Sunday’s shot at Carabao Cup glory against Newcastle at Wembley.
Ten Hag had called for his side’s best but their first half display was a pale imitation of their promising performance at the Nou Camp and Lewandowski punished them with an early penalty.
Bruno Fernandes could not believe his pull on Alejandro Balde was punished but the skipper helped made amends by setting up Fred to strike the Red Devils level just 85 seconds after half-time.
United returned from the break a different beast and Antony secured a huge victory by showing supreme technique to fire home in front of the Stretford End.
Smoke from the away end filled the air as play got under way, with excitement among home fans turning to expectancy when Fernandes raced through on goal three minutes in.
Casemiro’s excellent whipped ball put through the United skipper, who steadied himself before seeing his strike from a narrow angle stopped by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Former Leeds winger Raphinha, who ensured last week’s first leg ended level, had Barca’s first shot of the evening and the visitors’ second put them into an 18th minute lead.
A seemingly innocuous moment ended in referee Clement Turpin pointing to the spot for a Fernandes pull on Balde.
It was silly by the skipper but a soft-looking decision that led to angry remonstrations, with Lewandowski just managing to convert the penalty after David De Gea took it on to the post with a glove.
Fernandes could not make clean contact on a volley over the shoulder and the hosts found a response hard as they were frustrated by Barca – and some officiating.
Fred saw a cross-shot temporarily panic Ter Stegen before it landed on the roof of the net but United were struggling, with the atmosphere becoming flat and the play predictable.
De Gea was breathing a sigh of relief after Casemiro came to the rescue after his poor pass out was intercepted in stoppage-time.
Antony replaced ineffective Wout Weghorst at the break and it was another Brazilian who would strike within a minute of the resumption.
Barca were clumsy in their attempts to deal with a throw-in and Jadon Sancho passed to Fernandes, whose ball on was met by a quality touch and finish by Fred in front of the Stretford End.
It was just the response United needed and took the volume up several notches, with Antony seeing an effort held before tempers frayed after Fernandes booted the ball into Frenkie de Jong’s midriff.
United had improved markedly from the first half but De Gea had to come to the rescue in the 64th minute as Sancho lost Jules Kounde, whose close-range header was denied by a fine fingertip save.
It was a save that gave United the platform to win this pulsating second leg.
Luke Shaw kept a Lisandro Martinez long ball alive with a great backheel at the byline and Fernandes passed on for substitute Alejandro Garnacho to get away a first-time effort. That was blocked, so too was Fred’s follow-up, but Antony showed excellent quality to strike the loose ball low beyond Ter Stegen and into the far corner.
In-form Marcus Rashford fired into the side-netting and Ten Hag rang the changes to shore things up, with United breaking up the play as Barca sought to take the match to extra-time.
Four minutes into time added on Varane got back to clear a Lewandowski shot off the line, unaware offside had been called. That was celebrated wildly, but it was not a patch on the outpouring of joy which greeted the final whistle.