Europa League ignites with battle of the giants as Man Utd dump Barca

February 24 – Barcelona’s recent continental woes continued as they were dumped out of the Europa League by Manchester United on Thursday, failing to reach the last 16.

In the clash of the titans, United fought back to earn a 2-1 win (4-3 on aggregate) to send the runaway La Liga leaders packing. They face more Spanish opposition in the next round, this time in the shape of less imposing Real Betis.

Last season, Barca were knocked out of Europe’s second tier competition in the quarter-finals and Thursday’s elimination marked only the fifth time they have been knocked out in any group stage in the last three decades.

It’s a far cry from the golden era of 2005-15 when they won four Champions League titles. 

This year should have been one of recovery for a revamped Barca side, spearheaded by new signing Robert Lewandowski. Instead, after being demoted to the Europa League when only coming third in their Champions League group, another elimination represents another financial blow.

“It’s a big disappointment but I believe we were better this season than in the previous one, at least we showed up,” manager Xavi told Spanish tv. “We played against top level clubs like Bayern Munich, Inter Milan (in the champions League) and now Manchester United and were not able to be up to their level.”

Conversely, United manager Erik ten Hag insisted his team can beat anyone as they hunt for a first major trophy since 2017.

In front of a raucous crowd of 73,000, this was the type of encounter United fans have been hoping for since the days of the great Alex Ferguson as Ten Hag’s outstanding first season continues to improve.

United remain in four competitions this season and face Newcastle in the League Cup final on Sunday.

Ten Haag said: “You need a strategy to build but also you need results to get that strong belief.”

“This is another step because when you can beat Barcelona – one of the best teams in this moment in Europe – your belief can be really strong because then I think you are able to beat anyone. It was a magnificent night.”

Elsewhere Sevilla goalkeeper Marko Dmitrović was attacked by a fan who ran on to the field in the Spanish team’s 2-0 defeat at PSV Eindhoven.

The fan threw a punch at Dmitrović before being wrestled to the ground by the keeper during the incident which happened late in the match 

Dmitrović appeared to be unhurt and the fan was quickly surrounded by players from both teams before being led off the field to jeers from the crowd.

Sevilla still progressed 3-2 on aggregate while Ten Hag’s former club Ajax are out after a 3-1 loss at Union Berlin.

Following the Europa League last-16 draw made today, the pairings are as follows with matches to be played on March  9 and 16:

Union Berlin v Union Saint-Gilloise

Sevilla v Fenerbahce

Juventus v Freiburg

Bayer Leverkusen v Ferencvaros

Sporting Lisbon v Arsenal

Manchester United v Real Betis

Roma v Real Sociedad

Shakhtar Donetsk v Feyenoord

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