LANDOVER, Md. – A steal, a twist, a turn, a spin . . . and a goal. The entire sequence unfolded in about five seconds and lifted the crowd of 80,162 at FedEx Field to its feet as only Neymar can, a dazzling goal in the 31st minute to lead Barcelona to a 1-0 win over Manchester United in an International Champions Cup friendly.
The goal was a stunner, vintage Neymar, and had many clad in Barcelona colors buzzing the rest of the night – especially as rumors continue to circulate that he might be headed to French power Paris-Saint Germain during this summer’s transfer window.
“Neymar was very happy, talking to his Manchester United friends outside the locker room just right now,” Barcelona Manager Ernesto Valverde said through a translator after the match. “He is still with us. Concerning the game, I am happy with the performance and happy that we won against a powerful team such as Manchester United.”
Neymar showed a deft touch coupled with sneaky savvy – he stole the ball from Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia deep in the penalty area to set up his goal. But he wasn’t the only draw Wednesday night.
Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were all in the starting lineup against United, and fans were treated to an entire first half of play from all three of the high-scoring front line players. New Barcelona signing Nelson Semedo, who made his debut against Juventus on Saturday, also got the start.
It was uncertain before the match whether the trio of Neymar, Suarez and Messi would play together on the pitch, and if so, their touches were thought to be kept at a minimum. In Barcelona’s match against Juventus on Saturday, Messi and Neymar both started, with Suarez coming in as a substitute in the second half.
But on Wednesday, the trio were reunited and didn’t waste any time attacking, with all three taking a shot within the first six minutes on the pitch.
“In the first half, I think there was a high rhythm in regards to team having chances in both boxes,” Valverde said. “It’s clear even though it was a friendly, both teams wanted to win tonight.”
In the first half, Neymar took three shots on goal, including the night’s lone tally. Suarez took three shots on goal, and Messi took a team-high six.
“For the clubs, it was good,” Manchester United Manager José Mourinho said. ” I think in preseason it’s important to also to play for that, when you come to the West in a stadium with a few thousand very enthusiastic [fans], this is want they want. They want Messi, they want Neymar, they want [Paul] Pogba, they want the best players to show what they are, and I think it happened.”
After Barcelona’s fast start, United had a chance to settle in on defense and was able to take its own shots at Barcelona goalie Jasper Cillessen. But no matter how close United got, it could not connect, with six total shots in the first half, 12 on the night. United’s Marcus Rashford’s speed dazzled and Pogba was strong as well, earning praise from Mourinho after the match.
Manchester United substituted half its team to start the second half. Barcelona substituted its entire squad at intermission.
Both the Catalan club and United had their opportunities in the second half.
“Both teams playing for a result,” Mourinho said. “In spite of it [being] a friendly and the result is not the most important thing, both team played for a result. We tried to equalize, they tried to keep the ball and keep possession and defend well, so even in the second half, the match was positive.”
For Messi, it was his first time playing in the nation’s capital after three aborted attempts. Twice he did not play for Barcelona because he was vacationing after Copa America duty. The third missed opportunity came in March 2015, when he accompanied the Argentine national team to Washington for a friendly against El Salvador but did not play because of an injury to his foot.
And while Messi, who has scored a club-record 507 goals in 583 matches, didn’t score during Wednesday’s friendly, he got most of the love before the match from the fans, with the crowd cheering loudly after he scored in warmups.
Perennial English Premier League power Manchester United will now head back to Europe, while Barcelona will continue its 10-day East Coast tour, playing in its third and final match in the United States against rival Real Madrid in Miami on Saturday. Real Madrid won both the La Liga and Champions League titles last season. It is only the second time the two squads will have met outside of Spain and the first time in the United States. Valverde said there is a chance that the Barcelona stars will play more minutes against Real Madrid.
“I think in this moment, the best players are in these two clubs [Real Madrid and Barcelona],” Mourinho said. “And you have to accept that as a reality.”