Barcelona and Manchester United produced a thrilling encounter worthy of the Champions League elite with an action-packed 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie at Camp Nou on Thursday.
Marcus Rashford looked to have inspired a memorable Man United win as he scored and then forced an own goal from Jules Kounde within nine minutes of falling behind through Marcos Alonso’s header from a corner early in the second half.
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But the home side came on strong in the closing stages and leveled up the tie thanks to a wicked inswinging cross from Raphinha that found the back of the net. There could have been more late drama, too, with Casemiro turning the ball against his own post in the dying minutes of a breathless second half.
In a tie between two heavyweights looking to reclaim their place among the continent’s top tier, there was plenty of evidence that both are on the right track.
After turmoil off the pitch and being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage, Barcelona showed why they are eight points clear at the top of LaLiga and poised for a first league title in four years.
Man United, meanwhile, continue to look rejuvenated under Erik ten Hag. And they were again spearheaded by Rashford, who lived up to pre-match praise from Barcelona boss Xavi Hernandez. The England forward now has 22 goals for the season in all competitions, equaling his best-ever tally, and has 13 goals since the World Cup, three more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
It all means that the tie is tantalisingly poised ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford in a week’s time. However, Barcelona may have to navigate the return game without both of their two young midfield stars after Gavi picked up a yellow card and a suspension and Pedri was forced off with an injury late in the first half.
While Barcelona expectedly had the bulk of possession in the first half, the best chance fell to the visitors.
Wout Weghorst, playing in an unfamiliar advanced midfield role, was played in clear behind the Barca defence by Bruno Fernandes in the 30th minute but never looked sure of his finish and shot straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Just a few minutes later, United’s in-form top scorer Rashford had an opening of his own that saw him send an improvised shot with the outside of his right boot but Ter Stegen was again equal to it with a diving save. At the other end, David de Gea saved early and late in the opening half from Robert Lewandowski and Jordi Alba.
The second of those also saw a strong appeal from Barcelona for a penalty denied after Aaron Wan-Bissaka, whose error had allowed the chance in the first place, took Alba to the ground with a sliding challenge after the ball had gone.
The action kicked up another level in the second half. Jadon Sancho missed another golden chance for United, shortly before Barcelona struck first on 50 minutes. Former Chelsea defender Alonso rose at the back post to head the ball down and in from Raphinha’s delivery.
Rashford levelled three minutes later following a counter-attack down the right, slotting home a smart low finish between Ter Stegen and the near post.
The in-form Rashford also created United’s second, sprinting into the box from a short corner and delivering a low cross into a crowded six-yard area where the ball deflected into the goal off Kounde.
United players and Ten Hag complained strongly after what looked like a clear foul by last-man Kounde on Rashford just outside the box, but the officials decided against showing Kounde a red card.
Barcelona dug deep to grab the equaliser, however, and mistakes by United’s defence gifted the ball on the edge of their box to Raphinha whose cross eluded De Gea and went into the net.
Barca made a late push for the win and could have scored when an Ansu Fati close range strike was denied and Casemiro’s miss-hit clearance came off the crossbar.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.