Barcelona and Manchester United served up a thrilling 2-2 draw in the Europa League knockout playoffs Thursday that outranked anything seen in the Champions League this week.
The former European champions traded leads in a back-and-forth second half of their first-leg game at Camp Nou.
Barcelona struck first in the 50th minute on defender Marcos Alonso’s header from a corner and leveled in the 76th when Raphinha’s cross from the right wing curled into the net untouched. United’s defense was distracted by Robert Lewandowski’s failed attempt to connect.
In between, Marcus Rashford showed just why Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández described him as one of the most dangerous forwards in Europe.
Rashford beat goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen at his near post with a shot from a tight angle in the 53rd then created United’s go-ahead goal seven minutes later.
Receiving the ball at the touchline from a corner taken short, Rashford dribbled into the penalty area then fired a low cross that was flicked on by Bruno Fernandes and bounced up to ricochet into the net off defender Jules Koundé for an own goal.
“If you face number one of Spain in an away game and you are the dominant team, you can see this as a positive,” United manager Erik ten Hag said.
United goalkeeper David de Gea preserved the lead with late saves, after ter Stegen’s best saves were in the first half to keep out shots by Rashford and Wout Weghorst.
A game of 35 attempts on goal was watched by former United manager Alex Ferguson, now aged 81, in the stadium where his team won the 1999 Champions League final.
It sets up an enticing second leg at Old Trafford next Thursday with a place in the round of 16 at stake.
Barcelona has never won the second-tier European competition — never even reached the final in 52 years as the UEFA Cup then the Europa League — and its 13th attempt looks to be no easier.
A game between two former Champions League finalists saw Monaco captain Axel Disasi score with a long-range shot in stoppage time to seal a 3-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen.
Juventus was held 1-1 by Nantes, after leading in the 13th on Dušan Vlahović’s goal, and seemed sure to be awarded a penalty for a handball in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Instead, after a two-minute review and consulting the pitchside screen, Portuguese referee João Pinheiro awarded Nantes a free kick for a foul by the Juventus player Bremer.
Shakhtar Donetsk’s first competitive game of 2023 during the midwinter break for the Ukrainian league was a 2-1 win over Rennes in a “home” game played in neutral Warsaw.
Shakhtar’s first game since selling star winger Mykhailo Mudryk to Chelsea saw his replacement on the left flank, Dmytro Kryskiv, open the scoring in the 11th minute.
Sevilla, the record six-time champion, eased to a 3-0 win over PSV Eindhoven, and Salzburg will take a 1-0 lead to Roma next week thanks to Nicolas Capaldo’s header in the 88th. Coach José Mourinho’s team almost leveled when Andrea Belotti’s header was pushed on to the crossbar by goalkeeper Philipp Köhn.
Ajax drew 0-0 at home to Union Berlin, the surprise Bundesliga title challenger. Sporting Lisbon got a stoppage-time goal from defender Sebastian Coates to draw 1-1 with Midtjylland.
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
Fiorentina’s 4-0 rout of home team Braga was the standout performance in the Europa Conference League knockout playoffs.
Forwards Luka Jović and substitute Arthur Cabral each scored twice, and Braga had defender Vitor Tormena sent off for a late tackle on Jović.
Five of the eight games ended in 1-0 wins for the home team: Trabzonspor over Basel, Qarabağ against Gent, Ludogorets over Anderlecht, and AEK Larnaca against Dnipro-1 of Ukraine.
Lazio’s goal against Cluj by Ciro Immobile came deep in first-half stoppage time after Lazio defender Patric was sent off. It was 0-0 in Norway between Bodø/Glimt and Lech Poznan.
In Moldova, Sheriff lost 1-0 to visiting Partizan of Serbia in a game played in an empty stadium, ordered by national authorities citing concern about an alleged Russian-backed plot to overthrow the government.