October 3, 2023

An entertaining clash between Barcelona and Man United ended 2-2 at Camp Nou on Thursday to set up a tantalising second leg in their Europa League knockout playoff.

A burst of goals at the beginning of the second half saw Barcelona first go ahead through Marcos Alonso, but a quick retort from Marcus Rashford and Jules Kounde’s own goal put the Red Devils in front.

Raphinha’s fizzed cross sailed through the far post to drag Barça level in the 76th minute. Casemiro booted the ball against his own post late on but a winner couldn’t be found in what will go down as a modern Europa League classic.

Both teams made a bright start to the game, with Barça carving out the first chance less than 10 minutes in when Robert Lewandowski ran across Luke Shaw and fiercely fired at goal with his left foot. It needed strong hands from David de Gea to parry the ball to safety.

As Barça started to probe more and more, Pedri might have thought he should have done a little better by his high standards when an opportunistic volley sailed over.

United were starting to look a little sloppy but created their own decent opening when Aaron Wan-Bissaka burst forward down the right and pulled back to Jadon Sancho, whose shot was deflected but also lacked conviction. Moments later, Wout Weghorst, deployed in a deeper ‘number 10’ role, brought a top save out of Marc-Andre ter Stegen when making a run behind.

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German stopper Ter Stegen was required soon after denying Weghorst. Sancho won the ball and sent in Marcus Rashford, who left Marcos Alonso in his dust but saw his curled effort palmed away by the springing Ter Stegen.

Towards half-time, Wan-Bissaka was almost punished for a sloppy moment in possession, but a combination of his saving tackle and De Gea stopped Jordi Alba from capitalising.

Barça suffered a huge blow just before halftime when Pedri went down holding his knee. The young Spaniard couldn’t continue and was substituted off for Sergi Roberto.

There was no slowing up at the start of the second half. Raphinha sent a fierce drive fizzing past the post before Sancho passed up a gilt-edged opportunity – placing wide after Ronald Araujo made a hash of a clearance – which he was made to pay for.

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Considering the frenetic pace of the first half, the fact the goal came from a simplistic corner almost came as a surprise. Marcos Alonso attacked the ball at the back post, losing Fred to head past De Gea at the near post.

There would be only three minutes between Alonso’s opener and Man Utd’s reply. Fred atoned for his lack of spacial awareness by slipping in a perfect pass for Rashford, who took the ball close to the byline and beat Ter Stegen – again at the near post – with a powerful shot.

Having been a goal down in the 50th minute, Man Utd turned the tables and struck again to take the lead just before the hour mark. The electric Rashford burned past Raphinha from a short corner and smashed into the six-yard box, where a deflection off Jules Kounde bobbled in to put United ahead.

The game’s pace did slow midway through the second half, though Barcelona suffered another blow in midfield when Gavi was booked for pulling back Fred on the counterattack. He will be suspended for the second leg.

However, just when some modicum of calm seemed to be settling in, Barça struck back. Man Utd gave away possession carelessly and a wicked ball from Raphinha missed the crowd of bodies in the box to creep in past De Gea.

Casemiro hit his own post under pressure and De Gea had to deny sub Ansu Fati and Barça a late winner, setting up a fascinating showdown at Old Trafford in the second leg next week.

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