Erik ten Hag deserves the credit as Man Utd pull off Barcelona win

Manchester United V Barcelona in pictures

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The boys from Brazil helped Manchester United pull off a comeback victory that brought the good times back to English clubs in Europe after a week of woe. Second-half goals from Fred and Antony saw Erik ten Hag side’s bounce back from a half-time deficit to Barcelona to make it through to the last 16 of the Europa League.

They deserved it too with Ten Hag’s half time shake-up paving the way for a rampaging second half display. There have been bigger prizes at stake than safe passage in Europe’s second-tier tournament when these two giants have met in the past but the competition and stage did not detract from an electric night at Old Trafford.

Part of that was down to the United resurgence but the anticipation was also due to the thrilling nature of a first leg in Spain. To expect a carbon copy was greedy and the contest never quite hit the same heights in terms of quality but it was a fizzing, feisty old affair regardless.

The game actually got off to a sizzling start with Casemiro putting Bruno Fernandes in on goal only for Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to save with his leg. However, in the 18th minute, Fernandes was culpable at the other end, needlessly yanking at Alejandro Balde on the edge of the United penalty area as he headed away from goal and conceding a penalty which Robert Lewandowski put away to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead.

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David de Gea got a paw to it, throwing himself to his left, but could not keep it out. Barcelona, with the ageless Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong impressive, dominated the rest of the half and United could easily have gone into half-time two down after de Gea carelessly gave possession away just before the break to Sergi Roberto on the edge of his own area.

Casemiro raced to the rescue twice, first with a tackle on Roberto and then with a block on the rebound to Franck Kessie. But the second half was a different story after ten Hag hauled off the ineffectual Wout Weghorst at the break and changed the emphasis of the attack.

With Antony introduced on the wing and Marcus Rashford moved into the middle it gave United a speedier outlook and the change of pace undid the La Liga leaders. The United equaliser was not long in coming. Two minutes after the interval Fred took Fernandes’ pass in his stride and buried a fine finish past Ter Stegen.

Fernandes who, for good or bad, was at the centre of everything, earned himself a booking for triggering a flare-up by drilling the ball into a prone de Jong just before the hour. It was the first of a rash of cards with the tackles flying in.

In the fire and fury it was United who were the side in the ascendancy and they struck the decisive blow in the 73rd minute through Antony. He drilled the ball, left-footed, past Ter Stegen after shots from substitutes Alejandro Garnacho and Fred had been blocked.

There was one heart-in-mouth moment in added time when Raphael Varane cleared the ball off the line from Lewandowski but United saw it through. They roll on to Wembley on Sunday for the Carabao Cup final still in four competitions.

Man Utd player ratings: De Gea 6, Wan-Bissaka 6 (Dalot 67, 6), Varane 7, Martinez 8, Shaw 7, Casemiro 8, Fred 8, Fernandes 6, Sancho 6 (Garnacho 67, 7), Rashford 7, Weghorst 4 (Antony 46, 7)

Man of the Match: Fred. Superb finish for the equaliser in an excellent all-round display from the underrated Brazilian.

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