Marcus Rashford lit up the Nou Camp as Manchester United and Barcelona played out a rip-roaring 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League knockout play-off clash.
hese global giants fought for Champions League glory in the 2009 and 2011 finals, but recent travails mean they are playing away from the continent’s top table as they continue their respective rebuilds.
Thursday’s eagerly-anticipated meeting lived up to the billing as Rashford scored his 22nd goal of the season and fizzed in the cross that Jules Kounde turned into his own goal as United responded superbly to Marcos Alonso’s 50th-minute opener for Barcelona.
United shone in Spain but Raphinha’s cross found its way into the net to peg them back and sparked a breathless conclusion to a wild tie, setting up a mouth-watering return fixture at Old Trafford next week.
Erik ten Hag’s players heeded his request to take the game to the runaway LaLiga leaders, who had Marc-Andre ter Stegen to thank for keeping the first leg goalless at half-time.
Bruno Fernandes brilliantly put Wout Weghorst through but the on-loan frontman could not beat the goalkeeper, who also stopped in-form Rashford bending a shot home.
For all of United’s positivity it was Barcelona that took the lead five minutes into the second half as former Chelsea defender Alonso rose to head home a corner.
But Ten Hag’s men are made of stern stuff and Rashford is in the form of his life, with the forward thumping home from an acute angle and then sending over a ball that Kounde turned into his own goal.
It was a mightily impressive display but United were not to end with a 2-1 comeback win at the Nou Camp like 1999, with Raphinha’s dangerous inswinging cross going straight in after Robert Lewandowski had tried to get a touch on it.
United rode their luck at the end of a game that started with Lewandowski testing David De Gea with a firm ninth-minute effort.
Barca attempted to pull United in different directions to create gaps and Pedri struck a snapshot over after Luke Shaw – again shifted centrally from left-back – blocked his initial flick-on
United soon regained their composure and attacking instincts, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka breaking free down the right and cutting back for Jadon Sancho to see an effort deflect narrowly wide.
A bigger chance followed in the 28th minute as Fernandes superbly passed between the hosts’ centre-back pairing to put Weghorst through on goal. The Netherlands international waited for the ball to drop and ended up stretching under pressure to direct a shot that Ter Stegen easily saved.
United continued undeterred and nearly got joy from set-pieces, before Rashford raced through and forced Ter Stegen into a smart save,
Ten Hag’s side deserved to be ahead but they could have been behind at the break had Wan-Bissaka not produced a fantastic recovery tackle to take the sting out of Jordi Alba’s shot.
Barca were forced to replace Pedri with Sergi Roberto just before half-time, which they returned from strongly as Raphinha fizzed wide.
United responded with a great chance of their own that Sancho snatched at – a missed opportunity they were made to rue when Raphinha’s corner to the far post was all too easily met by Alonso in the 50th minute.
It was a gut punch that United responded to in emphatic fashion two minutes later.
Fred put a ball in for Rashford to chase and, after a touch that looked to have taken the ball too wide, the confident England hitman made a mockery of the acute angle to laser low past Ter Stegen at his near post.
The travelling hordes high in the gods celebrated wildly, just as they would do again in the 59th minute.
Rashford collected a short corner and followed quick feet with a dangerous driven ball that ended with Kounde bundling into his own goal.
The 25-year-old was then furious not to win a penalty having been left in a heap by Kounde, with Ten Hag booked as he fumed about the lack of VAR intervention.
Lewandowski flashed a free-kick over and Fred fired wide as this entertaining encounter continued, with play swinging from end to end.
Barcelona finally found their second goal in the 76th minute. Casemiro gave away possession and Raphinha’s threatening cross went past a host of bodies and into the net.
This frantic first leg continued as Rashford lashed wide before De Gea denied Raphinha and substitute Ansu Fati tried his luck.
Barcelona upped the ante during a chaotic ending that saw the ball hit the woodwork, United’s goalkeeper standing firm and luck being on the visitors’ side.
Penalty appeals against Fred were overlooked as the hosts pushed for a late winner on a thrilling night that sets up a superb second leg.
Ten Hag praised England forward Rashford and the efforts of his side.
“He is in great form,” the United boss said. “The whole team did well.
“It was a really good team performance. We had a lot of variation.
“We had a lot of opportunities and we should have won this game.”
Ten Hag was less than impressed by the officiating.
Speaking to BT Sport, the Dutchman said: “The refereeing had a big influence in this game.
“I think it was a clear foul on Rashie (Rashford). You can discuss if it is inside or outside the box. If it is (outside), then it is a red card.
“It is a big influence not only on this game, but in this round. A referee cannot make such a mistake.”