Manchester United should fear no one in their quest to win four trophies, manager Erik ten Hag said after beating Barcelona 2-1 on Thursday to progress to the round-of-16 of the UEFA Europa League 4-3 on aggregate.
Robert Lewandowski’s early penalty had given Barca the perfect start at Old Trafford, but the La Liga leaders were again undone on the European stage as Fred leveled early in the second half, before Antony delivered his biggest moment since arriving in Manchester from Ajax.
“Magnificent night,” said Ten Hag, who has transformed United’s fortunes in his first season in charge. “That is another step because when you can beat Barcelona, your belief can be really strong because you are then able to beat anyone.”
The fact that two of the continent’s giants were clashing at this stage of Europe’s second-tier competition was evidence that both have fallen on harder times, but United are riding the crest of a wave as they remain in the hunt for trophies on four fronts.
The Red Devils could end a six-year wait for silverware when they face Newcastle United in the EFL Cup final on Sunday, but they left nothing in reserve to secure their biggest European scalp since dumping Paris Saint-Germain out of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 in dramatic fashion in 2018-2019.
“I think we have some great personalities in this team,” Ten Hag said. “Everyone has such a strong belief in this team, you can see it. With the subs they bring energy and quality, they bring a different dynamic in games.”
United are now unbeaten at Old Trafford in 18 matches dating back to September last year, but were forced to come from behind for the second time in the tie.
Barcelona were unbeaten in all competitions stretching back to October last year, when they were dumped out of the Champions League group stage at the hands of Bayern Munich and Inter.
Despite their rise domestically under Xavi Hernandez to usurp Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, the Catalans again came unstuck in a big European test.
Barcelona also crashed out at the Champions League group stages last season before losing to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.
“My feelings were really different from last season,” Xavi said. “This year we have competed in every game apart from Bayern at home. For small details we haven’t won. We have to learn from our mistakes and improve.”
In France, former Manchester United star Angel di Maria scored a hat-trick as Juventus reached the next stage with a 3-0 second-leg win over Nantes.
The result allowed the Italian giants to progress 4-1 on aggregate.
Argentine World Cup winner Di Maria opened the scoring after five minutes and then added a 20th-minute penalty.
He completed his hat-trick in the 78th minute, in a game where the French side had been reduced to 10 men after just 15 minutes when Nicolas Pallois was red-carded for handball.
“After we were knocked out of the Champions League, some people might have thought the Europa League would be a walk in the park for Juventus, but it is not that simple,” Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “This was an important match, but it was not perfect. We still have work to do. There were things I was not happy with this evening.”
Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma also made it to the round-of-16 as a 2-0 win overturned a one-goal deficit from the first leg against Salzburg.
Andrea Belotti and Paulo Dybala scored in a seven-minute first-half spell to secure the win.
Six-time champions Sevilla went down to a 2-0 defeat to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, but progressed 3-2 on aggregate.
Luuk de Jong and Fabio Silva hit late goals for the Dutch team, who had Mauro Junior sent off in stoppage-time.
Sporting were also amongst the winners, a 4-0 victory at Midtjylland in Denmark sealing a 5-1 aggregate victory.
Union Berlin, who are riding high in the Bundesliga, defeated Ajax 3-1 after the first leg had ended goalless last week.
Robin Knoche, Josip Juranovic and Danilho Doekhi scored the goals which gave Union a first-ever win in the Europa League knockout stages.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen won 3-2 at AS Monaco to level the tie at 5-5 on aggregate, before going on to win the penalty shoot-out 5-3.
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