The Manchester United fans high up in the cavernous Nou Camp were singing tribute songs to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer long after this brilliant, breathless game was over, and it certainly felt like old times.
‘A bit of a throwback,’ said Paul Scholes on BT Sport. It certainly was.
Not only a throwback to Solskjaer’s unforgettable winner in the 1999 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich here, but to the days when United and Barcelona were slugging it out for Europe’s biggest prize.
These two clubs don’t do boring, not even in the Europa League. One of the greatest match-ups in football produced a spectacle befitting its top billing at a packed Nou Camp last night.
Marcus Rashford lit up the old place. He was practically unplayable for periods in the second half. Rashford scored one – his 14th goal in the last 16 games – to bring United level in the second half and created another.
Marcos Alonso got the hosts off to a strong start in the second period opening the scoring in the 50th minute of the match
Marcus Rashford scored his fourth in as many games just two minutes later to draw the visitors back level
An own goal from Jules Kounde then allowed the Red Devils to take the lead just nine minutes after having gone behind
Raphinha equalised to make it 2-2 on 76 minutes to deny the visitors a crucial first leg win in the Europa League play-off
On the eve of this game, Barca boss Xavi had described Rashford as one of Europe’s most dangerous strikers and he looked like it, playing in a central role that isn’t meant to bring out the best in him. Who says?
He put United within 14 minutes of beating Barca for the first time ever here. Who knows how this game would have turned out had referee Maurizio Mariani sent off Jules Kounde for a challenge on Rashford when United were still 2-1 up?
Contact was made outside the box so no penalty, but Kounde can count himself a lucky boy that the Italian official took no action at all.
Having gone ahead through former Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso, Barcelona levelled with a goal from another player familiar to the Premier League, Raphinha, to leave this tie all square going into next week’s second leg at Old Trafford.
What a first leg it was. End to end, blow for blow. Two of Europe’s greats going at it like there was a Champions League final at stake, not a place in the Europa League last 16. The 94,000 fans in the Nou Camp loved it.
United will feel as though they should have headed home with an advantage over what is, to be fair, far from the greatest Barcelona team of all time. But by the end of a pulsating game, it was the Catalans who were looking more likely to score.
United came here planning to attack, even though an unfamiliar 4-1-4-1 formation didn’t necessarily look like it. Erik ten Hag’s side had Bruno Fernandes on the right and Jadon Sancho switching to the left with, even more strangely, 6ft 6in striker Wout Weghorst playing in midfield.
‘Tactical’, was Ten Hag’s explanation and it worked for the most part with Weghorst able to help stifle Frenkie de Jong and Franck Kessie in the middle.
The in-form England star equalised for his side in the 52nd minute of the game to continue his own rich purple patch
David de Gea was rooted to the spot anticipating a touch from start striker Robert Lewandowski from Raphinha’s cross in
The sun had barely dipped below the towering banks of the Nou Camp when we got underway, but you quickly forgot that this was a Europa League tie kicking off at 5.45pm in the UK.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
BARCELONA (4-3-3): Ter Stegen 6; Kounde 5, Araujo 6, Alonso 7 (Christensen 67), Alba 6.5 (Balde 67, 6); Pedri 6.5 (Roberto 41, 7), De Jong 7, Kessie 6.5 (Fati 67, 6); Raphinha 7 (F Torres 83), Lewandowski 6.5, Gavi 7.5.
Subs: Garcia, Sotorres, Casado, Torre, Tenas, Alarcon.
Scorers: Alonso 50, Raphinha 76
Booked: Alba, Gavi
Manager: Xavi Hernandez 7
MAN UTD (4-1-4-1): De Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 6.5, Varane 6.5, Shaw 7, Malacia 6 ; Casemiro 6; Fernandes 6.5, Weghorst 5.5, Fred 7, Sancho 5 (Garnacho 82); Rashford 8.
Subs: Lindelof, Maguire, Dalot, Heaton, Pellistri, Butland, Elanga, Garnacho, Iqbal, Mainoo.
Scorers: Rashford 52, Kounde og 59
Booked: Varane, Casemiro, Malacia
Manager: Erik ten Hag 7
Referee: Maurizio Mariani (Italy) 7
Fred was inches away from getting on the end of Fernandes’ cross in the opening 20 seconds and that set the tone.
Barcelona responded as David de Gea beat away an effort from Robert Lewandowski, and Alonso and Jordi Alba both fired over.
United created the best chances before half-time, however, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen denying Weghorst and Rashford.
If the first half was entertaining, the second was a belter. Barca went ahead in the 50th minute when former Leeds favourite Raphinha swung a corner towards the back post where Alonso had already taken up position after peeling away from Fred.
The United midfielder had got his body shape all wrong and was facing the wrong way entirely by the time Alonso rose to plant a downward header past inside De Gea’s near post.
United roared straight back and equalised just two minutes later. Fred atoned by slipping a pass in between Alba and Alonso, the latter chasing Rashford as he broke into the box.
United’s in-form striker looked to have taken the ball too wide with his first touch, and a cross seemed like the better option. But Rashford is playing with so much confidence at the moment that he fancied his chances, and rifled a shot past Ter Stegen at his near post.
The England man was instrumental again when United took the lead seven minutes later. Luke Shaw played a short corner to Rashford and, again, the easier option seemed to be to take the ball to the left, away from Raphinha.
Instead, Rashford suddenly dipped to the right where there was almost no space and beat his man before racing along the byeline. He crossed to the edge of the six-yard box where Fernandes helped the ball on and Kounde bundled the ball over his own goal line.
Erik ten Hag said before the game that he wanted his side to take Barcelona out of their ‘comfort zone’ at the Nou Camp
However, this is a Barcelona side unbeaten in their last 17 games now and they weren’t done yet. When Casemiro played an uncharacteristically poor pass on the edge of his own box in the 746th minute, the ball was intercepted and played out to Raphinha.
He whipped in a cross and the presence of Lewandowski only seemed to confuse United as the Pole failed to get a touch on the ball which flew through Raphael Varane’s legs and past De Gea.
Casemiro almost went one better – or worse – when he directed the ball against his own post in the frantic, dying moments.
So we head back to Old Trafford to do it all again next week. What a treat.
Source of data and images: dailymail
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The Manchester United fans high up in the cavernous Nou Camp were singing tribute songs to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer long after this brilliant, breathless game was over, and it certainly felt like old times. ‘A bit of a throwback,’ said Paul Scholes on BT Sport. It certainly was. Not only a throwback to Solskjaer’s unforgettable …
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