Barcelona and Manchester United played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League playoff tie at Camp Nou on Thursday. All four goals came in a breathless second half, with United coming from behind to take the lead before conceding a late equaliser. It sets up a mouthwatering second leg at Old Trafford next week.
Erik ten Hag made only three changes to the side that beat Leeds on the weekend, with Raphaël Varane, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Casemiro coming in for Harry Maguire, Diogo Dalot and Marcel Sabitzer. Luke Shaw partnered Varane at centre-back, while Jadon Sancho kept his place in attack.
It was a positive first half from United, who saw less of possession but more of their opponents’ goal. They went close in the first few minutes, when Marcus Rashford slipped down the left and pulled the ball back into the box, though shots from both Fernandes and Malacia were both blocked in quick succession.
Barcelona soon responded with a chance of their own, though David de Gea beat a powerful Robert Lewandowski effort to safety. The hosts settled into a long period of possession, but struggled to convert their control into goalscoring chances. United held firm, and created a string of good opportunities before halftime.
The best came just short of the half-hour, when Bruno Fernandes skimmed a low pass from the halfway line straight through the centre of the Barça defence. Wout Weghorst swooped, but could only stub a tame shot straight at Marc-André ter Stegen when one-on-one. A few minutes later, Rashford burst past Marcos Alonso and into the box, though his shot lacked power and ter Stegen tipped it to safety.
The second half began with chances at both ends: erstwhile Leeds winger Raphinha curled a rising shot just past the post, before Sancho poked wide from the corner of the six-yard box. It was a particularly unfortunate miss, as seconds later Marcos Alonso rose at the back post to head a Barça corner past de Gea and into the net, sending the hosts into a 1-0 lead.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Rashford, and within three minutes United were level. A defence-splitting Fred pass sent Rashford down the right, and he slipped a low shot past ter Stegen at the near post for 1-1. It was poor goalkeeping, but a deserved equaliser.
The momentum swung in United’s favour, and there was still less than an hour on the clock when they took the lead. A short Shaw corner was drilled across the six-yard box by Rashford and flicked on by Fernandes, where the ball bounced off the shoulder of Jules Koundé and into the Barça goal for 2-1.
However, United couldn’t hold their lead to the final whistle. With 15 minutes left, an inswinging Raphinha cross bounced through the legs of Lewandowski and curled straight into the bottom corner with de Gea rooted to the spot. It was a disappointing and unfortunate goal, and one that felt rather against the run of play.
The final few minutes were wide open as both sides chased a winning goal. Barça were almost gifted one in the final four minutes, when Casemiro lost his bearings in the middle of his own box and smashed the ball against the post. Ansu Fati soon let fly from the edge of the area, though de Gea did well to tip his bouncing effort to safety.
The final whistle sounded with both sides tied after a breathless second half. Ten Hag will surely be encouraged by his side’s performance, and optimistic of a win at Old Trafford next week.