Manchester United denied win in Barcelona by Raphinha’s equaliser

First leg sees 35 attempts on goal as Erik ten Hag’s side almost pull off victory

Barcelona 2 Manchester United 2

Luke Shaw had said that this would show Manchester United where they are, just how real their revival is, and Barcelona felt much the same way. The answer may not be conclusive yet, and they’ll have to wait a week to see whether or not they are even in the Europa League proper, but on Thursday night at least it was clear: somewhere good.

When Ronald Araújo leapt at the far post to head the final chance, it was the 35th attempt on goal of what had turned out to be an open, enjoyable and unexpectedly wild night. Four of them went in and it was a lot of fun.

Marcos Alonso scored the first, then Marcus Rashford the second on a night where he scared an entire stadium every time he set off, before a Jules Koundé own goal seemed likely to send United into the second leg with the lead.


For a while, in fact, it looked like it might put them through, full stop. Barcelona looked beaten. But then they were born again, Raphinha’s cross turning into a shot and this stadium turning into a mad house, the final minutes belonging more to Barcelona.

In the end, though, it finished level at 2-2. Next week will decide, and when the analyses are made the advantage may be seen to be United’s: they return to Old Trafford, where Barcelona must go without Gavi, who will be suspended, or Pedri, who was taken off here.

For now, though, this was just an indication that these clubs can at least serve up a spectacle, that their domestic form means something. Not that it was the same.

Barcelona had conceded just once in their last seven games in all competitions, and seven times all season in La Liga, but this would be different, they knew. And should there be any doubts, there was a very early reminder, Bruno Fernandes’s ball flashing across the six-yard box after only 15 seconds. Diving in, Fred couldn’t get there. United would be back soon, Alonso and Koundé having to react to get in front of Tyrell Malacia and Jadon Sancho.

That Barcelona were aware that United posed a different type of threat was shown by their tactical shift, Araújo moving to the right to handle Rashford. There was just one flaw with that plan. Or perhaps there were two: Rashford wasn’t out on the left, at least not always; Sancho was. If that wasn’t a problem – there was a huge cheer when Araújo flew into Sancho by the touchline early on – the fact that Koundé moved to central defence was.

At times, he looked ill at ease there, a high price paid for his errors, especially with the ball – although it was his interception that kept Barcelona in this leading to the second leg.

Rashford did pull into the space too: he it was who worked that first shooting opportunity. It was a good opening for United but an Araújo diagonal offered an exit that led to Robert Lewandowski bringing a sharp save from David De Gea and Barcelona into the game. Araújo struck wide, Alonso curled a free-kick wide, and Pedri volleyed over. Gavi had scooped the pass for him and was everywhere, tackling everything that moved.

A slick, swift pass from Frenkie De Jong should have got a better response from Lewandowski, alone in the middle of the area and played onside by Shaw, but his first touch was horribly heavy. And then it was United’s turn again. Sancho’s deflected shot spun just past a post, Marc-André ter Stegen saved when Wout Weghorst was found by Fernandes’s superb pass, and the goalkeeper then saw Casemiro’s header come straight to him. A clever free-kick then caught Barcelona out, Rashford alone in the area, only for it to come to nothing.

The best chance though came from another loose pass from Koundé. Rashford controlled and turned in one, moving gracefully, opening up his body and curling it towards the far post. Ter Stegen dived left and palmed it away with his right hand. A moment later, Araújo had to make a vital interception. United’s right was a story of two attacking full backs, Aaron Wan-Bissaka finding space to progress often and to great effect, but also snoozing when Jordi Alba dashed past him to hit a near-post shot that De Gea had to push away. As Alba let fly, Wan Bissaka was flying in, the challenge risky but not punished.

Wan-Bissaka made the first chance of the second half too, Sancho slicing wide. But it was Barcelona who got the first. Alonso leapt to head in from a corner and celebrated by pointing to the sky in honour of his father, the former Barcelona player of the same name who died last week. It wasn’t just that lead didn’t last; it was that it was like it had never happened at all, the game gone almost as soon as they had got it in their hands.

Two minutes later, Fred’s pass released Rashford between left back and centre back, and he smashed the ball hard and low in at the near post. Another followed soon after, Rashford taking Raphinha apart and surging into the area to provide the ball which eventually went in off Koundé.

Barcelona were on the ropes, unable to get control, or the ball, unable to hold back the tide too, and United knew it. Rashford certainly did: every time he ran, this place feared the worst. His next moment led to a Wan-Bissaka shot, and the one after that drew loud appeals for a penalty as Koundé barged into him.

And yet it was Barcelona who scored next. United seemed to have worked their way out of the press but the final pass was poor. Casemiro had impressed mightily until then, celebrating a key tackle just before, but now it was his pass that allowed Barcelona back. Koundé stepped in and found Raphinha on the right. The Brazilian’s inswinging ball crossed the path of Lewandowski and, without the Pole getting a touch, went into the far corner.

Suddenly, somehow, this stadium was alive and so were they. Rashford at one end and Raphinha at the other could each have scored inside a minute, as it headed towards a frantic finale. Andreas Christensen hit a post, the ball scrambled off the line and De Gea pushed away Ansu Fati’s chance before Araújo made one last leap in the 94th minute, only to be blocked. To Old Trafford and more of this. Yes please. – Guardian