MANCHESTER: Manchester United got the better of Barcelona to progress to the last 16 of the Europa League as Antony’s winner secured a 2-1 win on the night and 4-3 aggregate victory on Thursday.
Robert Lewandowski’s early penalty had given Barca the perfect start at Old Trafford.
But the La Liga leaders were again undone with the step up to the European stage as Fred levelled early in the second period before Antony delivered his biggest moment since arriving in Manchester from Ajax.
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 in recent years.
But United are riding the crest of a wave in Erik ten Hag’s first season in charge as the Red Devils remain in the hunt for trophies on four fronts.
United could end a six-year wait for silverware when they face Newcastle in the League Cup final on Sunday.
But they left nothing in reserve to secure their biggest European scalp since dumping Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League last 16 in dramatic fashion in 2019.
United are now unbeaten at Old Trafford in 18 games dating back to September but were forced to come from behind for the second time in the tie.
Bruno Fernandes missed a glorious chance to give the home side the lead inside three minutes when his angled drive was repelled by the foot of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Barcelona were unbeaten in all competitions stretching back to October, when they were dumped out of the Champions League group stage at the hands of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
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.
The visitors even failed to take advantage of a gift with the opening goal.
Fernandes foolishly stretched out an arm to catch Alejandro Balde and French referee Clement Turpin infuriated Old Trafford by pointing to the spot.
David De Gea got a hand to Lewandowski’s penalty, but the ball rebounded in off the post on 18 minutes.
Barca were without the class and creativity of Pedri and Gavi in midfield due to injury and suspension respectively.
However, Xavi’s men went onto control the remainder of the first half without ever threatening to extend their advantage.
Ten Hag responded by replacing the ineffectual Wout Weghorst with Antony at half-time and got the desired response within two minutes.
Fernandes, restored to his preferred central midfield role, picked out Fred, who fired low past Ter Stegen.
United still needed a big moment by De Gea to prevent the momentum swinging back toward the Catalan giants as he tipped over Jules Kounde’s header from point-blank range.
Antony has flattered to deceive since being reunited with Ten Hag after an £86 million move from Ajax.
However, the Brazilian delivered a moment of quality befitting of that price tag for the winner 17 minutes from time.
After Alejandro Garnacho and Fred saw efforts blocked, the ball sat up nicely for Antony to curl the ball beyond the outstretched arm of Ter Stegen.