Both managers looked to be playing mind games with each other when the line-ups were announced, but the game was always going to come down to who wanted it more.
United showed zest and desire in the opening stages, and it looked set to pay off when Casemiro played in Bruno Fernandes. But the Portuguese’ low effort was comfortably saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
United’s early vigour slowly waned as they allowed Xavi’s side control possession and get into their grove, and it proved costly when the Blaugranas pounced in the opening quarter of an hour.
Alejandro Balde won a penalty after beating Bruno Fernandes in a foot race before being clumsily pulled down by the United man.
David de Gea seemed to have prevented Robert Lewandowski from opening the scoring, but despite getting a strong hand to the Pole’s shot, it was not enough to stop the spot-kick.
Barca dominated the rest of the half, forcing Eric ten Hag to shuffle his pack at the interval, and the Dutchman reaped an instant reward as Fred’s swift touch and finish drew the Red Devils back level within minutes of the restart.
The Catalan giants came close to regaining the lead soon after through Jules Kounde, but the Frenchman’s header forced De Gea into a reflex save.
A late barrage from the Spanish league leaders would lead to nothing as United’s dream of a famous quadruple continues.
The Red Devils have powered through to the last 16 by ending a 15-year wait for a win over Barca, who suffered their first defeat in 18 games.
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