(Reuters) – Barcelona fought back to earn a 2-2 draw with Manchester United in a pulsating Europa League knockout round playoff first leg on Thursday.
United were the better side for large parts of the game and controlled the tempo but were denied by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who made three outstanding saves in the first half.
LaLiga leaders Barcelona struck first, five minutes after the break, when Marcos Alonso scored with a towering header at the far post from a corner. Marcus Rashford levelled three minutes later following a counter-attack down the right, slotting home a smart low finish between Ter Stegen and the near post.
The in-form Rashford also created United’s second, sprinting into the box from a short corner and delivering a low cross into a crowded six-yard area where the ball deflected into the goal off defender Jules Kounde.
United players and manager Erik ten Hag complained strongly after what looked like a clear foul by last-man Kounde on Rashford just outside the box, an infringement that should have produced a red card for the French international. Barcelona dug deep to grab the equaliser, however, and mistakes by United’s defence gifted the ball on the edge of their box to Raphinha whose cross eluded David de Gea and went into the net.
Barca made a late push for the win and could have scored when an Ansu Fati close range strike was denied and Casemiro’s mis-hit clearance came off the crossbar.
Barcelona will travel to next week’s second leg at Old Trafford with a depleted midfield as Pedri came off in the first half with a leg injury and Gavi will be suspended. In Austria, a late header by midfielder Nicolas Capaldo earned Salzburg a 1-0 win over AS Roma at the Red Bull Arena.
Jose Mourinho’s Roma controlled the game and could have gone in front minutes before halftime through striker Tammy Abraham but his shot from inside the box was saved by goalkeeper Philipp Kohn.
The Italians had another chance nine minutes from time when Andrea Belotti’s close-range strike crashed against the crossbar.
But Salzburg defender Strahinja Pavlovic set up Capaldo with a lofted pass into the box for the Argentine to nod in the winner in the 88th minute.
In Amsterdam, Union Berlin were unfortunate not to beat Ajax Amsterdam away in the goalless first leg of their tie at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
The Bundesliga frontrunners had the ball in the home net after 66 minutes when Morten Thorsby fired the ball in from close range, having cleverly deceived two defenders as he chested down a cross from Jerome Roussillon.
However, VAR showed his arm made contact with the ball when controlling it and the strike was chalked off.
Union deserved a goal, having shown most of the attacking initiative on the night plus effectively closing down the space Ajax needed for their passing game, but must now look to secure a last-16 place when they host the second leg in the German capital next Thursday.
In Poland, Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk beat Stade Rennais 2-1 thanks to first-half goals from Dmytro Kryskiv and Artem Bondarenko, while Karl Toko Ekambi’s volley in the second half gave the French side hope for the second leg next week.