Manchester United arguably enjoyed their greatest night of the Erik ten Hag regime thus far on Thursday evening, with the Red Devils coming from behind to see off runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona at Old Trafford.

With the tie finely poised following what was a thrilling 2-2 draw in Catalonia last week, it was the visitors who struck the early blow this time around, with prolific marksman, Robert Lewandowski netting from the penalty spot following a soft foul from Bruno Fernandes on Alejandro Balde.

While United sides of the recent past may well have crumbled after suffering such an early setback, the current crop proved that they are made of sterner stuff as they came flying out the traps after the break, with the often-maligned Fred firing in just minutes after the interval.

Having swiftly seen the benefits of a tactical reshuffle from Ten Hag as Wout Weghorst was replaced by Antony at half-time, those alterations then looked even more astute as the latter man marked his return from injury with a goal, curling in in superb fashion with his typically lethal left foot.

The £86m summer signing ultimately proved the match-winner for the hosts to steer them into the last-16 of the Europa League, with the 22-year-old having ‘enhanced‘ the Red Devils’ attack following his introduction off the bench – as per Manchester Evening News journalist, Samuel Luckhurst.

Despite having netted the clincher for the Premier League side on the night, it was Antony’s compatriot Fred who truly stole the show from his central midfield berth, having ‘overwhelmed‘ the opposition with his relentless, energetic presence – as per Luckhurst.

How did Fred perform against Barcelona?

The 29-year-old has undoubtedly been a frustrating figure in the side of late due to his inability to maintain a consistent performance across 90 minutes, with that having been typified in the weekend win over Leicester City as the diminutive machine lost possession on 14 occasions, yet also registered an assist for Marcus Rashford’s second strike of the day.

As last night’s encounter showcased, however, when the former Shakhtar Donetsk man is at his best he is undoubtedly a hugely influential figure for Ten Hag, having produced a “herculean” display up against the Camp Nou outfit, in the words of journalist Sacha Pisani.

That standout showing saw the £120k-per-week man win six duels on the night – including recording five tackles – with the 47-touch maestro having been a constant pest in the centre of the park, despite being dribbled past on eight occasions.

The 5 foot 7 playmaker had come out like a “man possessed” after the break, according to journalist Dominic Booth, with that rampant restart swiftly rewarded as he expertly cushioned Fernandes’ fizzing pass, before guiding his effort into the bottom corner – albeit with the ball having perhaps come off the midfielder’s shin.

That slice of luck was perhaps what Fred had deserved for his “box-to-box” performance – as per Statman Dave – as he again proved himself the man for the big occasion, earning justified comparisons to club cult hero Park Ji-sung in the process.

As United prepare for another pivotal, season-defining clash in the League Cup final against Newcastle United on Sunday, the Belo Horizonte native will need to be at his brilliant, destructive best once again.


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