Monday, June 17, 2024

Barcelona 2-2 Manchester United: What Were The Main Talking Points As Barca And United Play Out A Europa League Thriller At The Nou Camp?

Tom Dunstan in Editorial, UEFA Europa League 16 Feb 2023

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In what was a heavyweight showdown from the Nou Camp on Thursday evening, Barcelona and Manchester United eventually played out a thrilling 2-2 draw.

While both of the Europa League contenders might have entered the half-time break still looking to break the deficit, neutrals were treated to a remarkable second-half battle in Catalonia.

Although ex-Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso might have sent the Nou Camp support into overdrive as he headed home five minutes after the interval, the Premier League giants mounted a stunning comeback on foreign soil.

With the red-hot Marcus Rashford powering home moments before Jules Kounde turned into his own net to complete a quickfire turnaround, it appeared that Erik ten Hag’s side were sat in pole position to claim a crucial first-leg advantage.

Nevertheless, in what was a real rollercoaster affair on Thursday evening, former Leeds star Raphinha grabbed Xavi’s men a crucial equaliser as the 26-year-old’s whipped cross found a way past David de Gea.

With everything still hanging in the balance as both sides brace themselves for another monumental second-leg contest on February 23rd, we have taken a look at the main talking points.

Marcus Rashford – Europe’s hottest striking star

Bagging three World Cup strikes out in Qatar as England reached the World Cup quarter-finals last winter, Rashford has only continued on a remarkable flurry since returning from the festive interval.

While there might have been plenty of question marks over Rashford’s long-term future at Old Trafford last summer, the 25-year-old has enjoyed an iconic rise since ten Hag’s arrival in Manchester.

Although the Three Lions ace might have only bagged five goals across all competitions last season, Rashford suddenly finds himself in the form of his young career and has only underlined his status as Europe’s hottest attacking star.

Dragging United level on Thursday evening after powering past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the 51-cap international has now recorded a staggering 14 strikes in just his 16 post-World Cup appearances.

Likewise, along with finding the net as ten Hag’s side picked up a 2-0 victory away at Leeds while on Premier League duties last weekend, Rashford has scored in four consecutive contests.

Spearheading United’s charge across all formats, The Old Trafford hierarchy are now desperate to get Rashford tied down to a bumper new deal.

Xavi’s midfield dilemma

While Barcelona might have endured another public Champions League nightmare last year, the Spanish giants are in the midst of what has become a famous domestic purple patch.

Holding a remarkable eight-point buffer at the top of the La Liga table and appearing to cruise their way to Spanish history in 2023, Xavi’s youngsters would have been desperate to lay down an early marker here.

However, although Barca might make the trip to Old Trafford later in the month with it all still to play for, there is no doubt that Xavi will have huge concerns over a mounting midfield dilemma.

With the experienced Sergio Busquets once again missing out on Thursday evening due to a recent ankle injury, fans around the Nou Camp were left heartbroken as 20-year-old sensation Pedri limped off in the first-half with a suspected calf issue.

Likewise, watching on as fellow midfield superstar Gavi picked up a costly 73-minute booking that will see the youngsters ruled out of Barca’s second-leg showdown, Xavi faces a real test of his tactical IQ come February 23rd.

A better stalemate for United

Watching Kounde turn into his own net on the hour mark and moving into pole position, some in Manchester United’s camp would have been disappointed not to have left Catalonia with a first-leg advantage.

However, overcoming a late wave of Barcelona pressure as Casemirio rattled his own post from inside the six-yard box, ten Hag will have plenty of positives to take away from Spain.

Causing Barca’s defence a string of issues and with his attacking talisman only continuing on his post-World Cup romp, fans around Old Trafford should be confident of extending on their Europa League adventure later in the month.

Appearing to cruise their way towards a much-needed top-four return in 2023, the Premier League giants also have their sights firmly set on ending their trophy drought this year.

Booking their spot in the final of this month’s EFL Cup and a showdown with Newcastle, ten Hag is quickly writing himself into Manchester United’s history books.

With the mood around Old Trafford at the highest it has been since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure a decade ago, Thursday’s guests should be fancying their chances of laying down a Europa League marker on February 23rd.

Match Report

Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Kounde, Araujo, Alonso, Alba, Pedri, De Jong, Kessie, Raphinha, Lewandowski, Gavi

Subs: Balde, Christensen, Fati, Roberto, Torres

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Shaw, Malacia, Fred, Casemiro, Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford, Weghorst

Subs: Garnacho

Goals: Barcelona: Alonso (50′), Raphinha (76′) – Manchester United: Rashford (52′), Kounde OG (59′)

Yellow Cards: Barcelona: Alba, Gavi – Manchester United: Varane, Casemiro, Malacia

Red Cards: N/A

Referee: Maurizio Mariani

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Dunstan


Formerly of The Independent, Tom has spent the past six years as one of our senior writers and betting experts. Alongside working with numerous publications from across the globe, Tom also graduated from the University of Falmouth in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Digital Media.
Spending almost the past decade working in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, he has also spent time featuring in sports radio. Tom can be followed on Instagram - @iamtomdunstan

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