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Thursday, February 23rd, 2023
(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Antony scored a dramatic winner as Manchester United came from behind to banish Barcelona from this season’s UEFA Europa League. The Red Devils powered through to the last 16 by ending a 15-year wait for a win over La Blaugrana, who suffered their first defeat of the calendar year.
Straight from kick-off it was evident that Erik ten Hag had tinkered with the line-up that drew at the Nou Camp last week, with Wout Weghorst up top and Jadon Sancho in the No 10 role. It appeared to be paying dividends when Bruno Fernandes was slid in by Casemiro early on, but his low effort was saved by Marc-André ter Stegen, and that’s about as good as it got for the Red Devils in a discouraging first half.
Alejandro Balde suffered no such frustration, and the teenage wonderkid earned the visitors a penalty inside 15 minutes, beating Fernandes in a foot race before being clumsily pulled down. David de Gea is yet to keep a clean sheet against Barça, and although he got a strong hand to Robert Lewandowski’s stuttering spot-kick, it wasn’t enough to stop the Pole notching his 39th goal in UEFA competitions since the start of 2018/19 – an unmatched total among Europe’s elite.
La Blaugrana went on to dominate the rest of the half, forcing Ten Hag to shuffle things around at the interval, and the Dutchman was rewarded immediately as Fred took Old Trafford by surprise with a swift touch and finish that eluded Ter Stegen. The Catalan giants almost struck back soon after through Jules Koundé, whose header forced De Gea into an eye-catching reflex save, and the Frenchman was made to pay for his missed opportunity as substitute Antony found impressive composure in the heat of battle to rifle into the bottom corner.
The result extends Barça’s recent misery in England, with their last trip resulting in a famous 4-0 thrashing against Liverpool in 2019. Ten Hag will be forced to move on quickly, although he can look forward to Sunday’s Carabao Cup final full of confidence after taking an almighty scalp at Old Trafford.
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