Manchester United are through to the Europa League round of 16, after beating Barcelona 2-1 at Old Trafford on a crazy Thursday night, ultimately sealing a 4-3 aggregate victory. Things did not start well for the Red Devils in front of their fans, after Bruno Fernandes made a mistake to give Barcelona a penalty. Robert Lewandowski just barely managed to convert it, but still did, with Barcelona taking the lead after just 18 minutes.
But the second half brought a much better Man United performance, with Fred scoring after a couple of minutes to equalise, and then his compatriot Antony scoring the winner with a lovely finish in the 73rd minute. Here is what we learned from this match.
Man United Finally Get Past A Spanish Side In Knockout Rounds
Before the match started, Man United fans knew all too well that in five of the past six seasons, it was the Spanish sides who knocked Man United out of various European competitions. There were the likes of Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla twice and also Barcelona. But this time things changed, with United getting a big European comeback victory, just as in the old days. It was the changes in the second half that made this victory possible.
Ten Hag Proves Worth Of His In-Game Adjustments
That is why big congratulations also go to Erik Ten Hag. The Dutchman tried to switch things around, putting Jadon Sancho in the number 10 role and sticking Bruno Fernandes on the right wing. But when those things did not work out and Marcus Rashford was unable to leave his usual mark on the game, Ten Hag was not afraid to mix things up. He brought on Antony at half-time instead of Weghorst and moved around all of the other three attacking players. Right away, new energy brought the equaliser, with Antony later on proving crucial when he scored the winning goal. It was often the case this season that Ten Hag’s in-game management brought the results for United.
This Barca Can Be Great, But Are Still Naïve
Barcelona are out of the Europa League, after previously getting out of the Champions League as well. However, they are comfortably sitting atop of the La Liga standings, further highlighting how unusual of a season they have had in Europe. In both UEFA competitions, Xavi Hernandez’s side proved to be naïve and to easy to break down. They conceded just seven goals in La Liga so far, but against United that was the case four times, with another 12 goals they conceded in just the six Champions League matches. With all of their talent and interesting players coming through, Barcelona still have their way to go and could be back to their very best in years to come.
On To The Round Of 16, Who Stands In The Way?
Manchester United are through to the Europa League Round of 16, which could bring some interesting matchups. After getting past Barcelona, now they will face one of the eight Europa League group winners, who skipped this past knockout round. Those potential opponents include Premier League leaders Arsenal, Italian giants Juventus, Spanish sides Real Betis and Real Sociedad. But there are also more intriguing opponents such as Feyenoord Rotterdam, Fenerbahce and Freiburg, while the likes of Ferencvaros from Hungary or Union Saint-Gilloise of Belgium would be an easier draw for the Devils.