Barcelona and Manchester United left it all to be decided in their Europa League Playoff tie after a sensational 2-2 draw in the first leg at the Spotify Camp Nou on Thursday night. The two teams played a crazy, intense, hard-fought match for 90-plus minutes and gave the fans in the stadium and around the world a true spectacle. Neither side deserved to lose, and the tie is beautifully poised ahead of next week’s second leg at Old Trafford.
The first 45 minutes were, quite simply, breathtaking. From the opening whistle both teams were at it, playing with non-stop intensity and not giving each other an inch of space without someone closing the ball down. There were a lot of transitions and long balls and very little midfield play, and both sides played really well and really hard.
Barça were the better side in the first 20 minutes and created a huge chance through Robert Lewandowski that was saved by David De Gea; United were the better side in the next 20 minutes and created a huge chance through Marcus Rashford that was expertly saved by Marc-André ter Stegen.
But just three minutes before the end of the half, some really bad news for Barça: Pedri, who was having a sensational half, suffered an injury to his right leg and immediately asked for a substitution. Sergi Roberto came on in his place, with the responsibility of replacing Barça’s most creative force in a huge game.
At halftime, a fantastic game had no goals but a lot of entertainment, but the question was whether or not Barça could sustain their intensity and still find a way to be dangerous in attack without Pedri.
The game continued to be played at a crazy pace to start the final period, and the goals finally came: Barça took the lead early on when a corner from Raphinha found Marcos Alonso at the far post for an easy header to put the home team ahead, but United equalized two minutes later thanks to an assist from Fred and a great finish from Marcus Rashford.
United were energized by the quick reply to Barça’s goal and went forward looking for a second, and they got it with a short corner that caught Barça off guard and led to an own goal by Jules Kounde to turn the game completely around with a half-hour to go.
Barça could have folded and collapsed like they’ve done so many times in Europe recently, but the Blaugrana fought their way back into the game and continued to press high and play with loads of intensity trying to find the equalizer. And they got it with 15 minutes to go when Kounde won a ball high up the pitch and found Raphinha, who sent a cross into the box that went untouched into the back of the net.
Barça dominated the final minutes and came very close to taking the lead several times, but De Gea made a couple of phenomenal saves and the referee decided to deny the Blaugrana a clear penalty for a handball by Fred inside the box that was somehow missed by VAR.
The final whistle came to end to end a truly spectacular football matches between two great teams that fought each other until the finish. This one had everything: great football, great play, controversial refereeing decisions, and the crowd was into every second of it. And the good news is we get to do it all over again at Old Trafford next week. Can’t wait.
But here’s the bad news: Barça will be without Pedri, Gavi and Ousmane Dembélé for that trip. Yeah, it doesn’t look very good.