Three goals in nine minutes and a result that leaves a sea of intrigue before the return game.
The Europa League has been getting more spectacular recently, but we were fortunate this season. After two days of the Champions League, the time has come for a pair that would look much more organic in the central European Cup. "Barcelona" and "Manchester United" used to be cut for the "earned," and now they are fighting for access to the 1/8 finals of the Europa League. But there was no indifference on the Camp Nou field and close.
Erik ten Hag surprised the opponent with the arrangement of the players. Marcus Rashford played on the edge, Bruno Fernandes on the right, Jadon Sancho on the left, and the oversized Wout Weghorst sank deep. This was most likely because Fred acted personally, according to Frenkie de Jong.
The picture of the game in the first minutes was reasonably expected: Barca had the ball more, and Manchester United responded with quick attacks. But the hosts' possession remained safe for the opponent: Xavi's team barely reached the goal of others and even moved through the center of the field with difficulty. On the other hand, Manchester United tried to stifle Barca's attacks at the very beginning. As a result, the guests had the first moment: after a cross from the left, the defenders covered Bruno's shot, while Fred failed to finish.
By a margin, Gavi was the most active Barça player. All attacks were built through him, and in many respects, with his help, by about the 10th minute, the hosts completely seized the initiative. First, Robert Lewandowski burst into the penalty area and charged from the left, and then Manchester United had to snuggle up to the gate for a few minutes. Even though this raid didn't lead to a goal, the ball from Barca didn't go anywhere - the team owned it wholly.
The swing in the game continued after that. In the middle of the half, Manchester United began to revive and respond with their attacks. The best moment was for Weghorst, who jumped out one-on-one and was obliged to score but shot at Marc-Andre ter Stegen. And a few minutes later, Rashford ran to the gate, and again the goalkeeper of Barça had to be dragged.
And at the end of the first half, Barca, already slightly inferior to Manchester United in terms of specifics in attack, lost one of its key players. Pedri was injured and immediately showed that he could no longer play. Instead of a midfielder, Sergi Roberto had to be released.
The first half lacked goals, and the second fully compensated for everything. Sancho was obliged to score a couple of minutes after the whistle, but the blow into an almost empty net did not work out. But Barça did not disappoint with the implementation: Marcos Alonso responded to the service from the corner and hit his head under the post.
On Alonso's goal, the show is not something that has not ended but has just begun. Three minutes later, Fred gave a pass to Rashford, and he managed to get into the near corner from the bottom of an acute angle. Ter Stegen did nothing, although he probably should have.
Rashford has been on fire lately, and Javi couldn't help but think about how to disable him. But even after the goal, Marcus continued to nightmare the defense of Barca and, after only six minutes, organized the second goal for his team. This time, the Englishman destroyed Rafinha on the right flank and shot through, and Jules Kundet cut into his own.
With a score of 2:1, Manchester United had a particular psychological superiority. An indicative moment happened between Casemiro and Gavi: the Spaniard went to the stroke but failed, and the Brazilian looked at him much like an understanding parent looks at an impudently behaving child. The midfielder of Barça, in another episode, also received a fatal yellow, because of which he will not be able to play in the second leg.
True, the sensations of the Manchester United players turned out to be deceptive. Instead of bringing the matter to victory, in the 76th minute, they conceded again. Rafinha rehabilitated for the moment with Rashford and hung on target, and the ball, without touching Lewandowski, flew into the net.
But the ending was the hardest part. Football became completely frostbitten: Barca rushed to score the winning goal, and Manchester United did not press in and responded with their counterattacks. And if it seemed that the guests were closer to victory before that, then the Catalans had more chances for the third goal. Barça claimed a penalty within a few minutes, hit the post, and forced de Gea to drag after Fati's shot.
But we didn't see any more heads. And there are only two thoughts after such a match. First: we are waiting for an incredibly intriguing second leg. Second, the top couple in the playoffs of the Europa League gave us what was missing in the Champions League. There couldn't be a better game.