It was a Champions League tie in everything but name.
Two storied European stalwarts going toe to toe… just as it used to be a decade or so ago.
Of course, it’s been a while since both Barcelona and Manchester United have eaten at the continent’s top table, but the way in which both sides approached the game suggests that it won’t be too long until both enjoy success once more.
Fine margins were always likely to decide the game if there was to be a winner, so individual battles had to be won in order for a winner to emerge.
Given how good the Red Devils have been going forward of late, it was crucial that Barca continued with their brilliant defensive work at Camp Nou.
Alas, the Blaugranes that are romping away in La Liga are not the same team that turns up in Europe - as the stat in the tweet below will attest.
Barcelona have now conceded 14 goals in UEFA competitions this season in 7 games, that’s twice as many as they have conceded in La Liga in 21 games.— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 16, 2023
Different stage. pic.twitter.com/HxBtbIQns5
Perhaps it’s worth speculating that, on the night, Xavi had no need to start with Marcos Alonso and Jordi Alba in place of Alex Balde and Andreas Christensen, however, the former two remain steady, experienced professionals.
Indeed, in Alonso’s case, right up until he was caught out for Marcus Rashford’s equaliser, he’d been having a reasonable night, even popping up at the far post to open the scoring and send a heartwarming tribute to his recently passed father.
As the game went on, he was found wanting, surely giving enough ammo to those culers who believe he doesn’t belong anywhere near Barca’s first team in any event.
Of course, if we’re going to single out one defender, then the likes of Jules Kounde don’t escape scrutiny either.
A second own goal because of poor body shape needs addressing as does his penchant for switching off in some of the big moments.
In these games, every player is expected to step up a level and Kounde can’t be happy with his own contribution after that performance.
It wasn’t just the defence that have potentially handed United the advantage in this tie mind.
Frenkie de Jong, long rumoured to have been a target for the Premier League outfit, looked out of sorts. Consistently caught in possession and guilty of giving the ball away on far too many occasions, this was one of his worst performances in a Barca shirt.
With no Pedri and Gavi for the trip to Old Trafford, even if Sergio Busquets returns, the tempo for the visitors is likely to be set by the Dutchman. We need a performance like those which he used to consistently find for Erik ten Hag’s Ajax side.
In closing, one has to acknowledge the continued excellence of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
How the German remains second fiddle to Manuel Neuer in the national team on this form is anyone’s guess.
His point blank save from Wout Weghorst is what we’ve come to expect but that was no easy stop. Another from Rashford sent out the message that United’s forward line were going to have to do much better if they wanted to walk away with an advantage.
The custodian will be furious that the England man got the better of him from the tightest of angles and he could do nothing about the second goal.
Barca fans can but hope that he stands tall again in the Theatre of Dreams... or else next Thursday could be a nightmare for Xavi and Co.