Barcelona have been eliminated from the 2022-23 Europa League thanks to a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Thursday evening in the second leg of their Knockout Playoff tie. Barça played a brilliant first half and took the lead but couldn’t sustain the same level in the second half and conceded two goals, and they really missed Pedri, Gavi and Ousmane Dembélé when trying to make a late comeback.
Barça made a very shaky start to the game, losing easy balls in midfield and conceding a huge chance to Bruno Fernandes that required a world-class save from Marc-André ter Stegen. The first five minutes were very concerning for Barça fans, but the last 40 were completely different.
The Blaugrana utterly dominated the first period, with all four midfielders playing fantastic football on both ends and the back four completely shutting down United’s best attacking players.
The Catalans took the lead 18 minutes in when Fernandes was called for a penalty when he fouled Alejandro Balde inside the box, and Robert Lewandowski barely got it past David De Gea to find the back of the net and put the Catalans ahead.
Barça then nullified any threat of a United comeback by keeping the ball and moving it quickly through the lines and using the wings to great effect. They also pressed really high up the pitch and forced the Red Devils into bad mistakes at the back, and they had a couple of real opportunities to double the lead.
At halftime a fantastic performance from Barça had earned them a valuable one-goal lead, but United were certainly going to up their level and launch a blitz in the second half. Would Barça remain poised and finish the job?
United started the second half with an equalizer just 90 seconds in as Fred received a pass from Fernandes at the edge of the box and had plenty of time to take a touch and fire it past Ter Stegen to make it 1-1 and immediately change the game.
The goal brought the crowd back into the match and United totally dominated the following 10 minutes, and Barça started making some really poor mistakes in possession which increased the pressure even more.
The visitors managed to weather the storm without conceding a second, hower, and slowly got back into the game by returning to their first half plan of keeping the ball and finding spaces in behind United’s high line.
Barça created a huge chance in the 65th minute with a cross from Balde that found Jules Kounde at the far post, but De Gea made a sensational save to send the Frenchman’s header over the bar.
The Catalans finally started to look settled and back to their rhythm, which made it even more painful when they conceded a second: after Andreas Christensen and Frenkie De Jong made two big blocks inside the box, the ball fell to Antony on the right wing and the Brazilian found the bottom corner to give United the lead.
Barça had 15 minutes to find a goal and send the tie to extra-time, and both Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati came on as Xavi Hernández looked for his two attacking substitutes to make a decisive impact.
Ferran nearly came up with some late magic with a beautiful pass to Lewandowski, who managed to beat De Gea before Raphaël Varane made a brilliant goalline clearance. That was Barça’s best chance in the dying moments, and the final whistle came to end their European journey this season.
This one is extra painful because Barça played really well at Old Trafford without their three most creative players, but they were sorely missed at the end when the team needed a late goal. But Barça fans should be proud of this team. They definitely weren’t embarrassed in Europe and held their own against arguably the best team in the world right now on both legs.
Now they can concentrate fully on La Liga, and learn the lessons from this painful night to continue evolving and try again in Europe next season.
Man United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka (Dalot 67’), Varane, Martínez, Shaw; Casemiro; Fernandes, Fred, Sancho (Garnacho 67’), Rashford (McTominay 88’); Weghorst (Antony 46’)
Goals: Fred (47’), Antony (73’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo (Alonso 82’), Christensen, Balde; Kessie, Busquets, De Jong; Raphinha (Fati 75’), Lewandowski, Roberto (Ferran 70’)
Goal: Lewandowski (pen 18’)