Manchester United secured their place in the Europa League round of 16 after a historic 2-1 victory against Barcelona at Old Trafford.
73,021 fans saw Fred take the game by the scruff of the neck and lead United to victory.
Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring before second half goals from Fred and Antony lit up the ‘theatre of dreams.’
This result will further booster the United squad’s confidence ahead of their Carabao Cup final on Sunday.
Best Combined XI
- Marc-Andre Ter Stegan
- Joules Kounde
- Ronald Araujo
- Raphael Varane
- Luke Shaw
- Frenkie de Jong
- Bruno Fernandes
- Marcus Rashford
- Robert Lewandowski
Despite David De Gea’s phenomenal shot stopping ability, in the modern game, Ter Stegan’s ability to play out the back makes him a stronger fit to play in a possession based system.
Kounde just edges past Aaron wan Bissaka. The Frenchman is a little more comfortable on the ball, and provides increased versatility with his ability to play at right back and centre half.
The two centre halves were the most difficult to choose from. Both Araujo and Varane are phenomenal defenders, but the exclusion of Lisandro Martinez seems criminal. However, with the Argentinian’s warrior like attitude, strong ball playing quality, and great ability to make last ditch tackles, an argument for Martinez needing to be in the combined 11 is respectable.
Although the young fullback Alex Balde could have a bright future, at the moment, English international Luke Shaw is the guaranteed pick. Shaw brings defensive stability, which is combined with great offensive qualities particularly in his ability to drive with the ball.
With Sergio Busquets past his best, Casemiro is the clear option for the defensive midfielder slot. The Brazilians ability to read the play, and shield the backline, combined with his quality passing range, makes the five time Champions League winner an easy pick.
Despite Fred’s consistent fitness and tenacity, De Jong provides that quality on the ball which the Brazilian doesn’t. The Dutch international can pick any pass out, helping progress the team forward.
With the injury to Pedri and the suspension of Gavi, Fernandes inclusion is guaranteed. Fernandes workhorse mentality and phenomenal vision and passing range makes him a brilliant offensive midfielder.
Rashford’s post world cup form makes him one of the first names on the team sheet. The Englishman’s explosive pace and power which he’s recently combined with final product makes him a nightmare to defend. With Ousmane Dembele’s injury there’s no real competition.
Wout Weghorst provides consistent pressing and work off the ball which in recent years United have lacked. However, Lewandowski’s world class ability sets him apart from the Dutch striker. Lewandowski has a phenomenal goal scoring record wherever he goes, and is arguably the best centre forward in the world, potentially second to Karim Benzema.
Raphinha, despite struggling since his arrival at Barcelona, takes the edge over Sancho due to the Englishman’s major inconsistencies since joining the Premier League. If Antony was fully fit, he’d likely take the spot though.
United conquered their Spanish Curse
Since 2017, United have been knocked out of Europe by a Spanish side every year. Thus, a bogey team like feeling was being established, just rather than one side in particular, it was all Spanish sides.
However, tonight it all changed.
United started brighter, immediately creating a big chance after Casemiro successfully battled for the ball in the midfield, before setting Fernandes away in behind the Barcelona defence. The Portuguese struck low and hard, but Ter Stegan was able to get down and deflect it away.
Like in the Camp Nou, Barca then began to control the early stages of the game, picking up controlled possession.
In the 15th minute, controversy struck when the referee pointed to the spot after Fernandes was deemed to have fouled Balde through a tug on his arm. As it wasn’t a clear and obvious error, VAR didn’t intervene.
In trademark Lewandowski fashion, the Polish international scored to put Barcelona 1-0 up.
Barcelona’s early goal stunned United as they struggled to find any rhythm after this.
In the 36th minute, Fred came close to scoring a peculiar goal when his first time cross almost looped under the goal, but travelled just far enough to hit the roof of the net.
Just before half time, United goalkeeper De Gea almost made a decisive mistake after sloppily giving the ball away to Sergi Roberto. However, Casemiro saved the Spanish goalkeeper by sliding in to block Roberto’s shot, and then making a reaction time adjustment to block Franck Kessie’s followed up effort, keeping United in the game.
Thus, Barcelona went into half time 1-0 up.
After a mediocre first half, Manchester manager Erik ten Hag decided to take Weghorst off, bringing former Ajax winger Antony on.
Two minutes later, Fred equalised for United. Sancho picked up the ball of the left flank, cutely finding Fernandes who drilled a ball into Fred’s path, before the Brazilian brilliantly finished into the bottom right corner.
Just minutes after, Varane floated in a delightful pass over the Barcelona defence to set Antony away. Antony took the ball wide, and attempted to whip the ball into Rashford, but his cross had too much venom and the chance went begging.
In the 64th minute, De Jong crafted a perfect pass for Kounde, who rose above Sancho to head at goal. However, De Gea was able to react quick enough to flick the Frenchman’s effort over the bar.
From the subsequent corner, Barcelona had a half chance, but Kessie’s long ranged effort was easily swallowed up by De Gea.
In the 67th minute, Alejandro Garnacho replaced Sancho and Diogo Dalot replaced Wan-Bissaka.
In the 73rd minute, Shaw chased a ball destined to go out for a goal kick. The fullback reached the stray ball, and backheeled his pass to Fernandes, who shrugged off Raphinha, before laying of Garnacho. The Argentinian’s effort was blocked. Fred from the rebound then had a go. His deflected effort fell to Antony, who on the half volley smashed United ahead.
In the 94th minute, Barcelona found themselves on the counter attack. Ferran Torres slotted Lewandowski behind the United defence. De Gea came rushing out to close down the angle, but the former Bayern Munich striker’s effort beat the Spanish goalkeeper. However, on the line, Raphael Varane made a game winning block to stop the Polish international from levelling the tie. However, it wouldn’t have counted as there was an offside in the build up.
This secured United the 2-1 victory over Barcelona to go through 4-3 on aggregate.
How United turned the game around
After a lacklustre and slow first half, United trailed the Catalan side. However, Fred’s second half performance, combined with Ten Hag’s adaptations changed the game.
In the first half, United really didn’t get going. Ten Hag’s men failed to progress the ball well, struggling to make any chances, often accepting Barcelona pressure. However, after half time this changed. With the game being quite open, this suited Fred who was able to use his energy to breakdown everything in midfield.
As a result, this gave United more control in the game. The Brazilian isn’t known for his attacking prowess, but managed to slot a brilliant finish past Ter Stegan to get United right back into the game after half time. Ultimately, Fred was a huge reason as to how United turned the game around. Ten Hag was the other.
At half time, the Dutch coach’s team talk revolutionised the side. United came out with far greater energy and intent in the 2nd half. Then the substitution of Weghorst for Antony was the crucial factor in the match winning goal.
- David De Gea – 6
- Aaron Wan Bissaka – 6 / Diogo Dalot – 6
- Raphael Varane – 8
- Lisandro Martinez – 8
- Luke Shaw – 7
- Casemiro – 7
- Fred – 9
- Bruno Fernandes – 8
- Marcus Rashford – 6 / Scott McTominay – 6
- Wout Weghorst – 5 / Antony – 7
- Jadon Sancho – 6 / Alejandro Garnacho – 6
- Marc-Andre Ter Stegan – 6
- Jules Kounde – 6
- Ronald Araujo – 7 / Marcos Alonso – 6
- Andreas Christensen – 7
- Alex Balde – 6
- Franck Kessie – 6
- Sergio Busquets – 6
- Frenkie de Jong – 7
- Sergi Roberto – 5
- Robert Lewandowski – 7
- Raphinha – 6