The first leg of Barcelona and Manchester United’s Europa League round of 32 matches ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou on Thursday, producing a match fit for the elite of the Champions League.
After falling behind early in the second half to Marcos Alonso’s header from a corner, Marcus Rashford appeared to have inspired a memorable Man United victory as he scored and then forced an own goal from Jules Kounde within nine minutes.
However, the home team fought back in the dying minutes to tie the game thanks to a wicked inswinging cross from Raphinha that went in. In the waning seconds of a breathless second half, Casemiro nearly added more late drama when he turned the ball against his post.
There was a lot of evidence that both heavyweights were on the right track in a match between two of the best players on the continent.
Barcelona proved why they are eight points clear at the top of LaLiga and in position to win the league for the first time in four years despite turmoil off the field and elimination from the Champions League at the group stage.
Meanwhile, Man United still seems revitalized under Erik ten Hag. And Rashford, who had already received high praise from Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez before the game, led them once more. The English forward has scored 13 goals since the World Cup, three more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, and his season total of 22 goals across all competitions is now equal to his best-ever total.
While it was to be expected that Barcelona controlled the game in the first half, the visitors had the best opportunity.
In the 30th minute, Bruno Fernandes played Wout Weghorst into a clear position behind the Barca defense while he was applying for an unfamiliar advanced midfield role. However, Weghorst lacked confidence in his shot and fired it straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
A few minutes later, in recent weeks, Rashford, United’s top scorer, had a similar opportunity and improvised a shot with the outside of his right boot. Still, Ter Stegen once again matched it with a diving save. David de Gea made early and late saves in the first half from Robert Lewandowski and Jordi Alba at the other end.
The second saw a strong penalty appeal from Barcelona denied after Aaron Wan-Bissaka, whose error had created the opportunity in the first place, took Alba to the ground with a sliding challenge after the ball had gone.
In the second half, the action picked up another notch. Jadon Sancho missed another golden opportunity for Manchester United shortly before Barcelona took the lead in 50 minutes. Former Chelsea defender Alonso rose at the back post to head Raphinha’s delivery down and in.
Three minutes later, Rashford equalized after a counter-attack down the right, slotting a smart low finish between Ter Stegen and the near post.
Rashford also set up United’s second goal, sprinting into the box from a short corner and delivering a low cross into a crowded six-yard box, where the ball was deflected in off Kounde.
United players and Ten Hag were outraged after what appeared to be a clear foul by last-man Kounde on Rashford just outside the box, but officials chose not to show Kounde a red card.
However, Barcelona dug deep to equalize, and errors by United’s defence gifted the ball on the edge of their box to Raphinha, whose cross eluded De Gea and went into the net.
Barca made a late push for a big win and had a chance to score when Ansu Fati’s close-range strike was denied, and Casemiro’s mishit clearance came off the crossbar.