Man Utd 2-1 Barcelona (Agg:4-3): Antony off the bench to win Europa League play-off on big night for Erik ten Hag
Match report as second-half goals from Fred and Antony complete Manchester United comeback against Barcelona. Erik ten Hag’s team through to last 16 of Europa League after 2-1 win at Old Trafford secures 4-3 aggregate win; Marcus Rashford limped off with Carabao Cup final on Sunday
Manchester United came from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate to win their Europa League play-off at Old Trafford.
Robert Lewandowski’s early penalty had left Erik ten Hag’s team with work to do but his half-time change turned the game with second-half goals from Fred and substitute Antony enough to take United through to the round of 16 at the expense of Xavi’s Barca.
It was a comeback that had not looked likely at the interval but instead made it a night to remember, a huge moment for Antony and for Ten Hag’s improving team. They go into Sunday’s Carabao Cup final still chasing glory in four different competitions.
How Man Utd turned the tie around
The atmosphere had been raucous before kick-off, that sense of the potential for an occasion to savour up against fellow European heavyweights. But for all the excitement, for all the noise inside Old Trafford, it was Barcelona who landed the first blow.
Bruno had the opening chance of the game, finding himself free on the right but only able to fire his shot into the feet of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal. But that was a minor failing compared to the costly error that was to follow at the other end.
Alejandro Balde was running away from goal in the corner of the penalty box when the United captain tugged at his arm. It was foolish and though David de Gea got a touch to Lewandowski’s penalty he could only palm the ball into the top corner of the net.
Marcus Rashford, coming into this having scored 16 goals in 17 games since the World Cup, looked threatening and Old Trafford was abuzz whenever he had the ball. But once in front Barcelona gained a measure of control through Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong.
The 2-2 draw in the Camp Nou one week ago had ebbed and it had flowed, the strengths and weaknesses of both teams on show. But there was a contrast for 45 minutes this time. Ter Stegen appeared calm. De Gea’s kick almost gifted a second goal to Barcelona.
“We have improved a lot already as a team and the next stage is to beat teams like Barcelona,” Raphael Varane had said before the game. The onus was on Erik ten Hag, fresh from his midweek lunch with Sir Alex Ferguson, to find a solution to the problem.
The United boss did so with the withdrawal of the ineffective Wout Weghorst, rejigging his forward line with the introduction of Antony. The reward was instant, Fernandes squaring for Fred and the Brazilian firing beyond Ter Stegen with his weaker right foot.
De Gea still had to save superbly to deny Jules Kounde at the other end but the momentum was with United and they took the lead in the tie soon after. Good work from Luke Shaw and Fernandes in the corner eventually led to Antony’s composed finish on the angle.
Old Trafford erupted in joy, the moment they had been waiting for – the team they had been waiting for. Barca boss Xavi tried to turn the tie from the bench but – even with Rashford forced off – he could not repeat the trick of Ten Hag. The Dutchman’s revival of this famous club continues.
Analysis: Half-time change wins it
Manchester United have had 19 goals scored by substitutes in all competitions this season, the most of any side in Europe’s big five leagues. Antony’s will rank as one of the most important and came following a crucial switch by Ten Hag at the interval.
Weghorst has started all 11 games since signing for United last month and is clearly a favourite of his compatriot. But Ten Hag is ruthless enough to recognise when something is not working and his swift swap at half-time helped his team to turn this tie around.
Fernandes moved to the middle, Jadon Sancho reverted to the left. Rashford went up front and offered that threat in behind. Antony played on the right. It worked. Fernandes set up the equaliser having roamed to the left. Antony scored the winner.
Ten Hag has felt short of options for much of his time in charge. No doubt he will want more next season. But he has already shown himself capable of identifying what is required in a game and finding the solution. It made the difference against Barcelona.
Ten Hag: ‘My biggest win at United’
When asked on BT Sport if this is his biggest win as Manchester United manager: “I think so, yes. We have had some good wins – Liverpool and Arsenal at home.
“Over two legs, against Barcelona, leaders in La Liga, eight points ahead of Real Madrid. We have all seen Real Madrid this week. So if you can beat them, then yes, this is my biggest win.”
Xavi: ‘Small details make the difference’
Asked in the press conference when he believes Barcelona will be able to compete for major European trophies again, Xavi said: “Hopefully, next season. We competed well. At the end we lost, but it was really different from last season.
“Last season, it was impossible to compete. This season was different. We competed well, but the small details make the difference. We have to learn from our mistakes and be ready for next season.”
Man Utd’s win in stats
- Manchester United beat Barcelona for the first time since April 2008, ending their five-game winless run against the Spanish side.
- Barcelona had gone unbeaten in 37 successive matches in which they had led at the break before this result.
- Only Marcus Rashford (17) has netted more goals for Manchester United at Old Trafford this season than Fred (5).
Manchester United now switch their attentions to Wembley, where they take on Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 4.30pm. Erik ten Hag’s side then host West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday; kick-off 7.45pm.
Barcelona return to LaLiga action on Sunday at Almeria; kick-off 5.30pm. The league leaders then travel to bitter rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Thursday; kick-off 8pm.