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Man Utd Beat Barca To Reach Europa League Last 16

Manchester United have scored six goals via substitutes in the Europa League this season, more than any other team

Manchester United produced a memorable second-half comeback to reach the Europa League last 16 and knock out Barcelona in the process.

Brazilian duo Fred and Antony, who came on as a half-time substitute, both drilled home low first-time shots in front of an ecstatic Stretford End.

It was a victory that looked so unlikely at half-time as Barcelona led thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s 18th-minute penalty after Bruno Fernandes’ needless foul on Alejandro Balde.

But Antony’s arrival for struggling forward Wout Weghost changed the course of the tie as it injected more pace into United’s attacks, which the La Liga leaders failed to deal with.

Erik ten Hag’s side now move on to Wembley, where they will look to collect their first silverware since 2017 when they face Newcastle in the EFL Cup final.

For Barcelona, it was the first time they have been eliminated from European competition without reaching the last 16 since 1998-1999, which is not quite what president Joan Laporta had in mind when he pulled all those economic levers last year.

Fred the red menace

Fred has had plenty of detractors since his £47m move to United from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018.

The chances are if Christian Eriksen had not been ruled out until the end of April through injury, he wouldn’t even have started this game.

Yet, as Ten Hag has admitted, anyone capable of playing regularly for Brazil has to be a good player and this was one of those occasions when he proved it.

Fred scored for Manchester United after only two minutes of the second half

Fred’s goal was an excellent effort as he moved into space on the edge of the area, unseen by Barca’s Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who United spent so long trying to sign in the summer.

When De Jong did come across to pressure his opponent after Fernandes had played a superb through ball, he was too late to prevent Fred drilling home the equaliser.

The goal transformed the contest. Fred then used his energy to break down Barcelona counter attacks, make surging runs that unsettled the visitors and even did the simple passing right, which he quite often gets wrong.

Fred also followed up Alejandro Garnacho in having a shot blocked before a third effort from Antony brought their second goal and allowed United to join Arsenal in the last-16 draw.

Whoever they get, the first leg will be at home on 9 March.

Ten Hag’s decisive half-time switch

Ten Hag has praised Weghorst for his industry but at this level – a Champions League game in all but name – he looked what he is, an emergency signing brought in at relatively little expense to plug a gap created by Cristiano Ronaldo’s unscheduled exit before someone more suitable comes in next summer.

The continued injury absence of Anthony Martial means Weghorst is having to play a more prominent role than Ten Hag envisaged and it weakens his team overall.

Robert Lewandowski scores a goal for Barcelona against Manchester United
Robert Lewandowski has scored 25 goals in all competitions for Barcelona this season

It was no surprise Antony replaced him at half-time, nor that the hosts’ performance should improve so markedly as a result.

There were still some nervy moments, with De Gea producing a fine save to deny Jules Kounde after Jadon Sancho had failed to track the France defender and Raphael Varane booting Lewandowski’s shot away from danger in injury time when it might have been rolling in.

But it was Ten Hag and his coaching staff celebrating at the final whistle.

The Dutchman has evidently transformed fortunes at a club that appeared to be going nowhere fast 12 months ago, although he knows it does need some silverware to really underline that they are on the right track.

John Motson RIP

Manchester United paid tribute to legendary BBC commentator John Motson at Old Trafford.

The club placed a picture of Motson, who died on Thursday, on one of the tables in the area of the press box where the broadcast media sit, together with a candle in Motson’s honour.

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