Manchester United staged a remarkable comeback in the second half to defeat Barcelona and advance to the last 16 of the Europa League.
Brazilian teammates Fred and Antony, who were added as a substitute at halftime, both hammered low first-time strikes into the back of the net in front of a jubilant Stretford End.
After Bruno Fernandes’ foolish foul on Alejandro Balde in the 18th minute, Barcelona took the lead on Robert Lewandowski’s penalty, which seemed improbable at the interval.
Yet when Antony replaced struggling striker Wout Weghost, the match’s outcome was altered because United’s assaults gained greater pace, which the La Liga front-runners were unable to stop.
The team led by Erik ten Hag will now go to Wembley for the EFL Cup final against Newcastle, where they will attempt to win their first trophy since 2017.
Barcelona was eliminated from European competition without making it through the round of 16 for the first time since 1998–1999, which is not exactly what president Joan Laporta had in mind when he used all those economic tools last year.
Also, it was Barcelona’s first loss since October and the end of an 18-match winning streak.
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Following the game, Ten Hag said: “That was a wonderful night. When Real Madrid is playing this week and you can beat Barcelona, who is eight points ahead of them in La Liga, I believe it is amazing.
“A wonderful performance, and we must carry it forward into this season to ensure that we can prevail in the games.”
Added him: “Starting with the winning characters David, Rapha, Licha, Casemiro, and Bruno, I believe we have excellent personalities.
“The subs are bringing energy, talent, and a different dynamic to games because everyone has such a great believe in this squad and fight in this team. Not just in this game, but all the substitutes played outstandingly.”
Fred the Red Dangerous
Since switching from Shakhtar Donetsk to United for £47 million in 2018, Fred has attracted a lot of critics.
Christian Eriksen probably wouldn’t have even started this game if his injury hadn’t kept him out until the end of April.
Ten Hag has acknowledged that anyone who can play frequently for Brazil must be a good player, and this was one of those times when he did.
Manchester United scores a goal through Fred.
In just two minutes of the second half, Fred scored for Manchester United. Fred’s goal was a superb effort as he went into space on the outskirts of the box, unseen by Barca’s Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who United fought so hard to get in the summer.
Fernandes’ excellent through ball allowed De Jong to pressure his opponent, but he arrived too late to stop Fred from scoring the equalizer.
The game was changed by the goal. Then, Fred used his strength to thwart Barcelona’s counterattacks, made darting runs that alarmed the visitors, and even executed a basic pass correctly—something he frequently fails to accomplish.
In addition to Fred, Alejandro Garnacho also had a shot stopped before Antony’s third attempt resulted in their second goal, which enabling United to join Arsenal in the round of 16.
The opening leg will take place on March 9 at home, whoever they choose.
Ten Hag’s pivotal halftime change
Although Weghorst has received praise from Ten Hag for his work ethic, at this level—a Champions League match in everything but name—he looked like the last-minute replacement Cristiano Ronaldo brought in to fill the void until a more acceptable replacement arrived in the summer.
Weghorst is having to play a more significant role than Ten Hag had anticipated due to Anthony Martial’s ongoing injury, which weakens his squad as a whole.
Against Manchester United, Robert Lewandowski scored a goal for Barcelona.
For Barcelona this season, Robert Lewandowski has scored 25 goals across all competitions.
It was neither surprising nor unexpected that Antony took his position at halftime, nor that the hosts’ performance would significantly improve as a result.
There were still some tense moments, with Raphael Varane deflecting a Lewandowski shot away from danger in injury time when it may have been rolling in and David De Gea making a superb stop to deny Jules Kounde after Jadon Sancho had failed to follow the France defender.
During the final horn, Ten Hag and his coaching staff were the ones who were cheering.
The Dutchman has undoubtedly turned around the club’s fortunes after it seemed like they were headed nowhere quickly a year ago, but he is aware that they still need some hardware to prove they are on the right route.