Manchester United and Barcelona played out a breathless and pulsating 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League playoff at the Camp Nou.
It was a lively start from Manchester United in which they had a couple of decent openings in the first 10 minutes, though Barcelona started to settle into some of their trademark possession-based football.
Both sides had a number of presentable opportunities in the first half, Robert Lewandowski seeing an effort saved by David de Gea, while Wout Weghorst and Marcus Rashford each saw big chances saved by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
It would however be Barcelona who took the lead early in the second half, former Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso ghosting in at the back post to meet an inswinging Raphinha corner before nodding past De Gea.
The hosts’ lead lasted just three minutes though, the energetic Fred slipping the ball in behind the Barcelona defence to pick out Marcus Rashford before the in-form England international drilled home past Ter Stegen from a narrow angle.
The Red Devils then got themselves in front before the hour mark, some fantastic work by Rashford following a short corner saw the United number 10 beat his man and drill the ball across goal, before Bruno Fernandes’ attempted flick was turned into his own goal by Jules Kounde.
With 14 minutes left to play, there would be yet another twist, United giving the ball away in their own half, with former Leeds winger Raphinha putting in a whipped delivery from the right that evaded everyone and flew past De Gea.
IT'S MARCUS RASHFORD AGAIN! 🔥
The finish is a thing of beauty 🤌#UEL pic.twitter.com/Y2tUmaafx4
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 16, 2023
Speaking after the game, a beaming Erik ten Hag said he felt his side dictated the play for the majority of the game but felt his side should have scored more.
“I think we dictated the game,” he told BT Sport. “Apart from 15 minutes in the first half when we had some difficulties, we dictated. We outplayed so many chances, so I was a little bit disappointed at half time that it was 0-0, because we should have scored, and the opportunities that they had we created ourselves.
“But I think it was a great game. Two attacking teams. I think it was Champions League [standard]. I really enjoyed the game. In the end, 2-2, we have to finish it at Old Trafford.
“We have a lot of character in this team. The belief that we had to score the first goal and the meaning of the first goal is so important, and that is what we didn’t do, but we turnaround when we were down.”
The Dutchman was however frustrated by the referee’s decision not to give United a free-kick and send Jules Kounde off after he brought down Marcus Rashford while bearing down on goal.
“The refereeing had a big influence in this game. Clear foul on Rashy. You can discuss if it’s in or outside the box.
“[If it’s outside] then it’s a red card because he was one-on-one with the ‘keeper. It’s a big influence, not only on this game but on this round. It can’t be. Referees can’t make such mistakes.”
Rashford’s strike was his 22nd of the campaign, already equalling his best ever tally for a single season despite it only being February.
22 – Marcus Rashford has scored 22 goals for Man Utd in all competitions this season, equalling his best return in a single campaign (also 22 in 2019-20). Electric. pic.twitter.com/zkV7aU0AUE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 16, 2023
“He is [in incredible form]” Ten Hag said. “Of course I will congratulate Rashford because he is in great form, but the whole team did well. I think it was a really good team performance.”
The Dutchman explained his decision to play Wout Weghorst in the number 10 role behind Rashford, with Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes in more wide roles.
“It’s not only about Wout, but he did well in that position, but he gives us a lot of variation, but also I wanted Jadon [Sancho] and Bruno [Fernandes] coming into the half spaces, get them on the ball, make runs from deep with the full-backs joining in…I think we had a lot of variation and opportunities and we should win this game.”
The two sides lock horns again next Thursday for a place in the last 16.
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