Manchester United: My top 3 Champions League games

Manchester United are back in the Champions League after a year in the Europa League last season, but a third-place finish in last season’s Premier League got them back amongst Europe’s elite. 

Now let us get the hard part out of the way in that the reigning champions are our noisy neighbours Manchester City; they completed the treble and for a lot of United fans this hurts but we have had the summer to deal with it. 

This is the last Champions League under its current guise before it moves on to the Swiss Model next season, which looks so complicated it would be easier to explain the Math problem Matt Damon solved in Good Will Hunting. 

This is a personal list so there will be no moments in finals as this would be another list, therefore this is just a list of the games I loved watching United in the Champions League and the ones that stick with me most. 

Paris Saint-Germain vs Manchester United | 6 March, 2019

The post Sir Alex Ferguson era did not give United much to shout about in Europe, let’s be honest it all went out the window after the disaster against Olympiakos under David Moyes. However, after Jose Mourinho left the club in December 2018, club legend Ole Gunner Solskjaer took over as caretaker manager. Not much was expected for the rest of the season and after the first leg 2-0 defeat it looked hopeless. 

As Solskjaer said: “Mountains are there to be climbed,” but little did we know United would start their ascent so fast when Romelu Lukaku pounced on a bad back pass to score early and suddenly the impossible looked possible. 

Ten minutes later Juan Bernat scored to make it 3-1 on aggregate and hope seemed lost until just before half-time Gianluigi Buffon spilled a Marcus Rashford shot to Lukaku and it was 2-1 and all United needed was a goal to go through on the Away Goals rule. 

United couldn’t find a breakthrough in the second half and PSG had chances to seal it but couldn’t finish, then Diogo Dalot took a shot that hit Marquinhos’ arm and United got a last-minute penalty. Marcus Rashford grabbed the ball and powered his kick in to put United through, it was a brilliant finish to add to the momentum that was built under Solskjaer. 

A night to remember for players and fans alike in Paris, the rest of the campaign would not have great moments going out to Barcelona in the next round. It did allow us to remember that this competition is truly special and nights like these make football what it is. 

Arsenal vs Manchester United | 5 May, 2009

An all-English affair in the Champions League, another chapter in the infamous rivalry between the two club and the two managers. Sir Alex Ferguson vs Arsene Wenger was always box office, and this was no different. 

Park Ji-Sung got United off to a flying start with an early goal after 8 minutes and then Cristiano Ronaldo scored a stunning long range free kick. United looked on their way to the final in Rome and back-to-back Champions League wins. 

The moment that was special for me was that third goal and the second goal for Cristiano Ronaldo on the night, it a goal that symbolises so much about this team and that era of Manchester United. 

United broke from an Arsenal attack on the edge of their own box and with Park, Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney went up the pitch in three passes for Ronaldo to score and put United in the final. This summed up United in Europe that season, tough to beat and can break with devastating pace and efficiency. 

Of course, we all remember what happened in the final against Barcelona but for thisbrief moment United looked like the best team in Europe if not the world. This was the last truly dominant Ferguson team both domestically and in Europe, we were not to know it, but this was this was the beginning of the end. 

Juventus vs Manchester United | 21 April, 1999 

Did you really think it was going to be any other game? This was United’s arguably finest hour in Europe, a coming of age for this side built by Sir Alex Ferguson in the hope of emulating his mentor Sir Matt Busby.  

The only stick that could be used to beat United in the 90s’ was lack of progress in Europe, well the same could be said of any English club since the ban after the Heysel Disaster ended. There had been so many false dawns and lessons learnt that you wondered if they were ever going to get back to the top in Europe once more.  

A late Ryan Giggs goal in the home leg cancelled out Antonio Conte’s opener to send it back to Turin all square, but this was the best side in Europe in the latter half of the 90’s. Juventus were the beast you had to vanquish in order to lift the trophy, United had faced them the year before in the group stages and beat them at Old Trafford only to lose 1-0 in Italy. 

A Juventus team with Zinedine Zidane, Filippo Inzaghi, Edgar Davids and Didier Deschamps were household names, and they were coached by a young Carlo Ancelotti, this was football’s Mount Everest.  

Ferguson must have wondered if he were cursed by the football gods as Pippo Inzaghi struck twice in the first ten minutes, United seemed done and all possible treble would be shattered into a million pieces before people had enough time to recover from the first goal. 

A season full of comebacks and drama was all a starter for the month of April, United vanquished bitter rivals Arsenal in an FA Cup semi final replay that might stand the test of time as arguably the best game played between two English sides in my lifetime. 

Pressure does not make character; it reveals it and when United needed hope Roy Keane answered the call. A near post header on 24 minutes gave United a lifeline, he was yellow carded minutes later ruling him out of a potential final if United got there. 

His performance is cited by many as the epitome of will on a football pitch, a defiance of character to simply go quietly out of Europe again. It was not just Keane’s tackling and character that pushed United on but his passing and control of the game, Keane today is caricatured as a hardman but believe me he was so much more. 

A Dwight Yorke header levelled the score on the night at 2-2 but as Clive Tyldesley famously said on commentary, “United have seen the Juventus away goal and they have raised it”. 

With 7 minutes to go a long kick from Peter Schmeichel found its way to Yorke who went past two defenders and round the goalkeeper only to be brought down by Angelo Peruzzi. But Andy Cole was never too far from Yorke and Cole scored to send United on to Barcelona, like Busby in 68 they came from two down against a European giant. 

This game was a statement that this was their year, a spectrum of the human emotion going from crushing despair to unbridled ecstasy in 90 minutes in a way that only football can.  

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