LANDOVER, Md. — Manchester United took a measure of revenge over FC Barcelona with a 2-1 win in a Herbalife World Football Challenge match in front of 81,807 spectators at FedEx Field on Saturday night, an all-time Washington-area record for a soccer match.
Nani and Michael Owen scored for the Red Devils while Barcelona’s Thiago Alcántara briefly drew his side level with a jaw-dropping strike in the 70th minute as the English Premier League champions’ speedy counterattacking and ruthless finishing won out over the intricate passing and movement of the La Liga winners, who defeated Man. United in May’s UEFA Champions League final.
Wayne Rooney fired Nani’s sharp low cross just wide of the near post in 10th minute, the only real chance of a choppy start.
Barcelona began to impose their possession mastery on the match and pushed United back into their own half, but the English champions victimized Barça’s patient approach with a textbook counterattack goal to snatch the lead in the 22nd minute.
Danny Welbeck led the charge after David Villa had surrendered possession at the top of the Man. United penalty box, racing forward to play a clever ball for Nani’s run into acres of space behind the flat-footed FCB back line. The Portuguese winger just barely beat Barcelona’s offside trap, leaving him all alone as he advanced on Víctor Valdés and slipped a low finish underneath the veteran goalkeeper for a 1-0 United lead.
The signs of preseason tweaking were apparent as both sides’ managers made further personnel changes in the second half, though the action nonetheless flowed more fluidly with more scoring chances at both ends.
Barcelona resumed their normal domination of possession after intermission but it was United who created the first clear chance of the half, with Nani again at the center of the action.
Making a slashing run down the right channel in the 64th minute, Nani found Welback with a diagonal pass and the young striker’s superb first touch set him up to hit a low drive that was well saved by Valdés. Second-half sub Michael Owen narrowly missed the rebound for what would’ve been a point-blank finish, and the opportunity passed as Nani tracked down the loose ball and drilled a shot high and wide of goal.
Let off the hook, Barcelona responded within moments as promising youngster Thiago conjured up a moment of magic to equalize for the Catalans.
The play was set up by winger Carlos Carmona, who cut inside and threaded a square pass into the path of his Italian-born teammate. With United defenders Nemanja Vidic and Fábio da Silva slow to step out and close him down, Thiago laced a bending, dipping rocket into the top right corner of David de Gea’s goal as the Barça fans sitting behind the endline erupted in celebration.
Yet the Red Devils would respond, making the most of another poorly-timed FCB turnover to retake the lead in the 76th minute. Seydou Keita could not handle Sergio Busquets’ pass at the center circle and Tom Cleverly was quick to capitalize, surging forward and setting up Owen for a one-on-one with Valdés.
The former England international made no mistake, calmly lifting his finish over the ‘keeper to give Man United a 2-1 lead that withstood a flurry of late Barça pressure. Owen even had a chance to bag a second strike in the final minutes, but blasted a close-range finish over the bar.
The win wraps up a perfect US tour for Manchester United, who return to England after five wins out of five on their North American travels.
Barcelona, meanwhile, fly to Miami on Sunday for the second leg of their trip, where they will face Mexican giants CD Guadalajara in another World Football Challenge tilt.