Barcelona and Manchester United shared a gripping 2-2 draw at Camp Nou on Thursday as the two European heavyweights traded blows in an intense Europa League play-off first leg.

Marcos Alonso sent Barcelona in front with a header but the superb Marcus Rashford drilled home to level for the visitors and helped force a Jules Kounde own goal which gave United the lead.

Raphinha’s cross flew in to pull Barcelona level and they might won the game, hitting the post late on, while the hosts also wanted a penalty after Fred appeared to handle in the box.

Xavi Hernandez and Erik ten Hag’s sides are two of the most in-form teams in Europe and delivered a remarkable spectacle.

Having twice clashed in Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011, this Europa League duel offered an enthralling test of each team’s recent improvements.

“(We should have been) more clinical finishing chances,” Ten Hag told reporters.

“The disappointment is we didn’t score them, we should have scored a minimum of four goals.”

The coach also complained about a foul by Kounde on Rashford which went unpunished on the edge of Barcelona’s box.

“We can discuss if it was in the box or outside the box but it’s definitely a red card,” added Ten Hag.

“I asked the referee why. He said it was outside the box and not a foul. The linesman and referee were in a very good position and we have the VAR. I think it was a really bad decision.”

– Camp Nou thriller –

Xavi surprisingly dropped Christensen and Alejandro Balde for Alonso and Jordi Alba, starting with Ronald Araujo at right back.

United deployed the red-hot Rashford up front, with Wout Weghorst playing in a withdrawn role as an atypical No 10.

The visitors were without a host of players including Christian Eriksen, Antony and the suspended Lisandro Martinez, while Barcelona were missing injured duo Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Busquets.

Ten Hag was bolstered by former Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro’s availability, after missing the team’s last two matches suspended.

David de Gea parried a Robert Lewandowski drive early on as Barcelona started the stronger, with Alonso and Pedri also coming close.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, in sparkling form this season, made a superb save from Weghorst when through on goal and then denied Rashford.

Barcelona lost midfield maestro Pedri to a thigh injury before the break and they will be without Gavi in the second leg after he was booked.

Raphinha lashed a spectacular effort inches wide before setting up Alonso from a corner, with the Spaniard heading Barcelona in front after 50 minutes.

The defender escaped the attentions of Fred at the far post and celebrated by raising a finger to the sky in a tribute to his father, a former Barcelona player, who died last week.

However Rashford pulled United back level with a sharp near post finish past Ter Stegen after breezing past Alonso just two minutes later.

It was the English striker’s 14th goal in his last 16 games across all competitions and his 22nd of the season.

United took the lead before the hour mark when Rashford drove into the box and his cross was flicked on, with Kounde inadvertently shouldering the ball into his own net.

This time Barcelona battled back.

Raphinha, playing well in the absence of Dembele, curled a vicious cross into the area which flew past Lewandowski and into the far corner to level.

Barcelona hit the post and De Gea made a fine save to foil Ansu Fati late on as the Catalans took control in the final stages but could not find a winner.

Xavi warned in his press conference that the game would not be won or lost in the first leg, and it is perfectly poised for the second leg at Old Trafford next week.

“We wanted to win and go there with a victory, a draw is better than a defeat,” Sergi Roberto told Movistar.





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