Manchester United vs Barcelona Final Football Score 23 Feb 2023
Few in Barcelona last Thursday will have been as relieved as Tyrell Malacia to see Raphinha’s number come up with seven minutes left. Raphinha himself certainly wasn’t happy, recoiling in disgust that was so clear even those in the heavens at Camp Nou could see it. The substitutes’ bench took a beating not long after with the Brazilian’s reaction so furious he was compelled – or forced – to apologise when speaking to the media after the final whistle. Some might argue that reaction was fair enough, given he had just spent the previous 83 minutes tormenting United’s left-hand side. Those who watch Barcelona regularly agreed it was one of the 26-year-old’s best performances for the Blaugrana since joining from Leeds United in the summer, the cut inside and cross-shot that levelled the scores typical of an electric and precise performance.
So when Xavi decided that the 83rd minute was the right time to bring his most dangerous player off, replacing him with Ferran Torres, those of a United persuasion collectively breathed a sigh of relief – not least Malacia. The 23-year-old was by no means below par last week, although left Raphinha in too much space to arc the cross that would eventually glide past David De Gea.
But in such circumstances, during a crunch European tie and facing up to one of Europe’s most dangerous wingers, an experienced head may have got a better grip on the individual battle. Unfortunately for the Reds, that option was forced to play centre-back. Lisandro Martinez’s three bookings in the group stages before the World Cup saw him serve a one-game suspension last Thursday, with Erik ten Hag again opting to move Luke Shaw into a central role. That decision came thanks in part to the Dutchman’s insistence on having a left-footed player on their natural side, something neither Harry Maguire nor Victor Lindelof can boast.
But far from just a logical choice, the 27-year-old has proved a more than capable back-up in that role since he returned from Qatar, having played as part of a back-three previously. Ten Hag has praised Shaw’s tactical flexibility and big-game mentality, and the United boss clearly trusts him to manage the biggest players – as he did when opting for him to battle Erling Haaland in the Manchester derby. On Thursday, that big player will likely come from Barcelona’s right, with Ousmane Dembele still injured and Raphinha in a purple patch that demands he starts again at Old Trafford. The Brazilian has played twice before in M16 and was twice handed a thumping in the white of Leeds – trip number three will no doubt be much more competitive.The first leg lived up to the pre-match hype, and now Manchester United and Barcelona renew hostilities at Old Trafford on Thursday night to determine who will progress from their Europa League knockout round playoff tie.
The two continental giants – who competed in the Champions League final only 12 years ago – played out a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou last week, and a similarly exhilarating contest can be expected at the Theatre of Dreams.Even when Marcos Alonso headed home at the back post to open the scoring in the first leg, Man United always possessed a route back into the tie courtesy of the red-hot Marcus Rashford, whose near-post finish preceded the cross which Jules Kounde would turn into his own net.However, the reinvigorated Blaugrana ensured that everything would be left to play for at Old Trafford when Raphinha’s ball into the box evaded everyone before nestling into the bottom corner, and interest would have been piqued when Erik ten Hag used the term “rubbish” to describe his side’s first-half performance against Leicester City on Sunday.
Conceding chance after chance to the wasteful Foxes – who could not find a way past an inspired David de Gea – Man United still managed to get to half time with a one-goal lead thanks to Rashford, who doubled his tally prior to a Jadon Sancho finish in an eventual 3-0 Premier League victory – one which puts them just three points behind second-placed Manchester City. Talk of a possible Premier League title charge is by no means unfounded for the Red Devils, who could technically still end the season with a quadruple, as they also gear up for Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Newcastle United and an FA Cup fifth-round tie versus West Ham United.
With a trip to Anfield also to come on March 5, the next fortnight can certainly be described as a season-defining period for Man United, whose unbeaten run in all tournaments stands at eight matches, and they have struck at least two goals in each of their last nine.Turning Old Trafford into a fortress once again, Ten Hag’s charges have 14 wins and a draw to show from their last 15 home matches, but both Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid won at the Theatre of Dreams in 2022, and Barcelona would do well to take a leaf out of their Spanish counterparts’ book.
Being demoted to the second tier of European football for the second year running was nothing short of disastrous for a cash-strapped Barcelona, who are potentially just 90 minutes away from another premature exit from continental competition – one which may not have such dire consequences this time around, though.
As former midfield maestro Xavi now works his magic in the dugout, Barcelona have built up an eight-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table and comfortably returned to winning ways over Cadiz at the weekend – Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski netting in a 2-0 victory. Also boasting their own stellar unbeaten streak of 18 matches – 16 of which have ended in victory – the Catalan powerhouses travel to Old Trafford having won each of their last 11 away games in all competitions, although Bayern Munich and Inter Milan have both put Xavi’s men to the sword at the Allianz Arena and San Siro this season.
Barcelona nevertheless have a penchant for avoiding defeat against Man United, who are now winless in five games against the Blaugrana since the 2007-08 Champions League semi-finals, but dreams of a highly sought-after piece of European silverware must now end for one giant rising from the ashes.Man United have had plenty of players on the naughty step recently, but the duo of Lisandro Martinez and Marcel Sabitzer are back from continental bans served in the first leg, while Casemiro will also return to the fold amid his three-game domestic suspension, which has now been completed. Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek continue their long-term recoveries, while Anthony Martial is still sidelined with a hip problem, but Ten Hag is confident that Harry Maguire and Antony will both be fit for the second leg.
Raphael Varane will expect to demote Victor Lindelof to the bench, while the Wout Weghorst number 10 experiment did not go as planned in the first half against Leicester, so the towering Dutchman could revert to a central role as 24-goal Rashford supports him. While Man United are busy recovering players from suspension, Barcelona have lost Gavi to an accumulation of yellow cards, while his fellow Kopa Trophy winner Pedri sustained a hamstring injury in the first leg and will also miss out.
Ousmane Dembele’s thigh injury will also keep him out of contention for Thursday’s second leg, but in brighter news, Ronald Araujo is back from a domestic ban, and Sergio Busquets was an unused substitute against Cadiz after recovering from an ankle injury. The veteran Spaniard could therefore link up with Frenkie de Jong and Franck Kessie in the midfield trident, while Gavi’s absence opens the door for Ansu Fati to start on the left, in spite of Ferran Torres’s effervescent display against Cadiz.