Barcelona vs Manchester: Two heavyweights set to meet for a 14th time in European competition

Manchester United host Barcelona in the Europa League knockout play-off which makes this the 14th time these two European heavyweights have played each other in European Competitions. 

Seeing these two European Giants in the Europa League may be a little jarring to some who may think this is an indictment of how far they have fallen. But for me any fixture between these two teams is a mouth-watering prospect.

Now depending on your age this fixture conjures up certain memories, from Bryan Robson being carried off the pitch by adoring United fans after overturning a 2-0 first leg deficit to win 3-0 in the Cup Winners Cup in the 83/84 season.

Next on to Rotterdam in 91 for 2-1 win in the same competition, or a Lee Sharpe flick in a 2-2 draw at home in 94, but totally outclassed 4-0 in Barcelona with United hampered by the three-foreigner rule in the reverse fixture of the Group Stage of the newly rebranded Champions League.

Sir Alex Ferguson cut a forlorn figure at the Nou Camp in 94 watching helplessly as his United side suffered a nightmare at the hands of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’.

No Peter Schmeichel or Eric Cantona weakened United severely then Romario and Stoichkov led the English Champions a merry dance, this would be one of United’s worst European defeats, but this stadium would hold special memories just a few later.

That was the first night when you saw how far away United were from going toe to toe with Europe’s elite, Romario gave Gary Pallister an absolute chasing cementing his status as the best forward in the world at that time.

Ferguson, however, would use this defeat as a lesson, beaten and bruised but he would be back in 5 years with a team ready to take it to the best and let us not forget the Nou Camp holds special memories for Reds as its where United clinched a historic treble in 99.

For myself, my first introduction to this fixture was in the Champions League in the 98/99 group stages, seeing United go toe-to-toe with that team of Figo and Rivaldo was amazing to watch, from Beckham’s free kick at Old Trafford and Cole and Yorke’s stunning interplay at the Camp Nou are memories I will always remember.

Every United fan will remember watching Paul Scholes’ amazing volley to put United into the Champions League final in 07/08 over Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and some guy called Lionel Messi.

Now the less said about the next two games the better really, outclassed in Rome and Wembley in two Champions League finals to arguably the best club side ever is no disgrace.

In the 2018/19 season, Manchester United’s reward for that amazing comeback against PSG in the Champions League was a tie against Barcelona, a hugely forgettable tie in which Lionel Messi scored and United lost 4-0 on aggregate.

This fixture is upcoming in the Europa League, but it still has a touch of glamour about it, you could sit around all day and reel off the talented players who have played in this fixture for both teams.

Maradona in 83, Romario in 94, Rivaldo in 99 are just 3 examples of truly world-class stars playing against United in a time before saturated TV coverage meaning we can watch any game anywhere.

This fixture has produced amazing drama and some stunning goals from United’s point of view, who could forget Paul Scholes’ stunning strike to take United to Moscow in 08. Or Cole and Yorke’s stunning interplay in the Camp Nou in 99, Mark Hughes’ goal in Rotterdam was a coming-of-age moment for the club but also a generation of fans seeing United mix it with the best after the European ban in the late 80’s for English sides

With the European Super League rearing its ugly head again, this fixture is something that might be used to bolster its argument, here are two giants of the European game who have hardly played each other competitively.

I would, however, argue the contrary in that the sparse nature of these games add to the anticipation and magic for fans of this kind of fixture, repetitive games become boring, and we need to keep this kind of magic in the game or football will never get it back.

Both teams look like they are moving back in the right direction on the pitch while both facing uncertainty off it with Barcelona’s finances and United’s takeover contrasting with how they are both faring on the pitch.

This play-off game may lack the stage of the Champions League or a final to grace it on, but it still has enough stars to produce something for the next generation to marvel at. The only question remains who will add their name to the other stars who have graced this illustrious fixture.

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