MAN UNITED 2, BARCELONA 1
(Man United won 4-3 on aggregate)
Brazilian magic again lit up Old Trafford as Manchester United beat Barcelona in a clash of European royalty.
Goals from Samba stars Fred and Antony helped the Reds come from behind to claim a last 16 place in the Europa League.
It looked like being a tough night when Robert Lewandowski gave the Catalan club an early led with a penalty.
But it was an altogether different story in a second half which lit up following the introduction of substitutes Antony at the break and Alejandro Garnacho midway through second period.
They injected electrifying pace which had been lacking in the disappointing opening half as they helped transform their fortunes and extend their unbeaten home run to 16 matches.
And by the end the Reds were worthy winners as Barcelona offered little threat in the second period as they slipped to a first defeat in 19 games and a run of 11 straight away victories.Embed from Getty Images
Ten Hag was delighted, saying: “It is brilliant when you can beat Barcelona who are eight points ahead of Real Madrid in La Liga. And you saw what they did to Liverpool.
“It was a magnificent performance. I am very happy, and we can belief we can win any game.
“We have the potential to beat big teams as we have already done against Arsenal, City and Liverpool.
“If we can follow our principles, discipline and team spirit, we can beat anyone.
“I think we have some great personalities in the team like David (De Gea),Rafa (Varane), (Lisandro) Martinez and Casemiro, they don’t fear anyone.
“We have some players here with great personalities and if and when you get setbacks they move on. They carry on, they are resilient, they want to get a result. If you believe in that even after you’ve conceded a cheap penalty, you carry on. When you win a big game like this after being 1-0 down this is a good indication of the season.”
Ten Hag’s message after a poor opening half was to have more belief and be brave. And he praised the contributions of Antony and Fred who he likened to a mosquito in stopping Frankie de Jong.
Reds’ captain Bruno Fernandes said: “The belief of the team is always there, and the belief of the fans is amazing. They pushed us through difficult moments for great comebacks. It is a great result but now we have a big game on Sunday.”
On the penalty he conceded, Fernandes added: “Nothing I can say will change it now, but I thought it was a bit soft, both us trying to get the position both of us using our arms but it is what it is. I don’t want to make comments. They (referees) are always right so I can’t do anything about that.”
On the connection with the fans, Fernandes continued: “The fans have been with us in the toughest moments, this season we have been really good because they are always behind us, but this is something different.
“You can feel between them and us there is something special, Old Trafford was bouncing that is why we got the result.
“When we got the goal right at the start of the second-half we knew they were going to be right behind us.”
Ten Hag made four changes from the side that began the 3-0 win over Leicester as Raphael Varane, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Casemiro and Jadon Sancho came in for Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Marcel Sabitzer and Garnacho.
There was also a return from injury for Antony as the Brazilian winger was named among the substitutes.
There were four changes, too, for Barcelona from the side that started the 2-0 win over Cadiz. There were starts for Ronald Araujo, captain Sergio Busquets, Franck Kessie and ex-Leeds United forward Raphinha.
And on the bench were Marcos Alonso, Eric Garcia and Ferran Torres who had once plied their trade in the North West.
United made an electrifying start and had a great chance to take a third minute lead when Casemiro released Fernandes who raced into the box but saw his shot blocked by keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
But disaster struck when United conceded a soft penalty for Fernandes’ challenge on Alejandro Balde, contact was minimal and the defender easily went to ground.
Robert Lewandowski scored from the spot, his 39th goal in his last 33 European matches, though De Gea got a strong hand to the spot kick but could only push the ball into the net.
United, who only had 41 per cent possession in a disappointing first-half showing, made a change at the break as Antony replaced Wout Weghorst.
And there was an instant improvement as United drew level within two minutes of the restart.
Sancho won a loose ball and supplied a pass to Fernandes who square ball to Fred to find the bottom corner with a drive from the edge of the box, his fifth goal of the campaign.
Barcelona would have regained the lead but for a brilliant save by De Gea to turn over a header from Jules Kounde who outjumped Sancho at the far post to meet a cross from Frankie de Jong.
Ten Hag made two further changes mid-half as Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Sancho were replaced by Diogo Dalot and Garnacho.
United went ahead in the 73rd minute as Antony found the net with his sixth of the season.
Luke Shaw did brilliantly to keep the ball in play on the left, Fernandes cut inside, Garnacho’s initial shot was blocked and rebounded to Antony who, from the far side of the box, fired a shot low into the far corner for his sixth goal of the season.
United’s fourth change with three minutes left saw Rashford, hurt shortly before, replaced by Scott McTominay.
There was a scare in the fourth of five added minutes when Lewandowski was released and nicked the ball past De Gea only for Raphael Varane to come to the rescue with a goalline clearance which was celebrated more than Antony’s winning goal such was its importance.