Manchester United 2-1 Barcelona (4-3 agg): Antony completes comeback
Antony was the hero as Manchester United progressed to the Europa League last 16 thanks to a 2-1 win over Barcelona at Old Trafford that secured a 4-3 aggregate success.
Robert Lewandowski put the Blaugrana ahead with an 18th-minute penalty following a pulsating 2-2 draw at Camp Nou last week.
But Fred equalised early in the second half, before substitute Antony completed the turnaround for Erik ten Hag’s side 17 minutes from time.
The Red Devils held on for their first victory over Barca since the narrow 1-0 win in the Champions League semi-final second leg in April 2008.
Casemiro released Bruno Fernandes in the third minute for the latter to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen during a bright start for United.
But having almost been the hero at one end, Fernandes became the villain at the other when he hauled down Alejandro Balde in the penalty area, Lewandowski converting the subsequent spot-kick despite David de Gea’s best efforts.
The United goalkeeper almost gifted Barca a second before half-time, his loose pass intercepted by Sergi Roberto, but Casemiro made vital blocks to deny him and Franck Kessie.
The hosts capitalised on their good fortune within two minutes of the restart, Fernandes feeding Fred, who drilled a low shot beyond Ter Stegen’s dive.
United carried the greater threat but were almost caught by a sucker punch, with De Gea showcasing wonderful reflexes to tip away Jules Kounde’s header.
Nevertheless, Ten Hag’s side deservedly completed the comeback.
The ball ricocheted to Antony, who neatly guided into the bottom-left corner, and a late Raphael Varane block to deny Lewandowski ensured the Brazilian’s strike was decisive.
What does it mean? Comeback kings United keep the European dream alive
Once again, United dug deep as they came from behind to stun Barcelona, ending their opponents’ 11-match unbeaten streak away from home.
It was only the Red Devils’ second win in 12 attempts against the Blaugrana, who suffered a premature European exit for the second season running.
Antony makes his mark
Introduced as a half-time substitute in place of Wout Weghorst, Antony made the decisive impact with a wonderful winner to take United into the last 16.
The Red Devils have now had 19 goals scored by substitutes in all competitions this season, the most by any side from the big five European leagues.
With Fred dragging them level, it also marked the first time two Brazilians had netted for United in a European game.
Twelve in a row for Lewandowski
Although it proved academic, Lewandowski hit another milestone when he broke the deadlock from the penalty spot.
His 39th goal in major European competitions since the start of the 2019-20 season is the most any player has registered during that span, while he also reached the 25-goal mark for the 12th campaign in succession.
Key Opta facts
– This was the first time Barcelona have lost a game (in any competition) in which they led at half-time since April 2021 against Granada (1-2), having gone unbeaten in 37 such matches.
– Only Marcus Rashford (17) has netted more goals for Manchester United at Old Trafford this season than Fred (five).
– Since making his Manchester United debut in February 2020, Bruno Fernandes (25 – 12 goals, 13 assists) is one of just five players to have been directly involved in 25+ goals in major European competitions alongside Robert Lewandowski (37), Kylian Mbappe (33), Karim Benzema (27) and Mo Salah (27).
– Barcelona faced United without both Gavi and Pedri, the first time both have failed to feature in a game for Barcelona since January 5, 2022 against Linares Deportivo, ending a run of 61 successive matches where at least one of the two had appeared for the Blaugrana.
United quickly turn their attentions to Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Newcastle United, where they can end their six-year silverware drought. On the same day, Barca look to respond when they resume their LaLiga title surge away at Almeria.