I am talking here of a few landmark clashes that have redefined some old rivalries, sparked a few new rivalries, and make tomorrow a day to remember for the Stretford End faithfuls...So, presenting "Manchester United and the Payback Season"...
Liverpool vs. Manchester United / Benitez vs. Ferguson
In more ways than one, this season has been a payback season for many teams. I'll start with Liverpool. Starting from 2004-05 leading upto this season's clash at Anfield, Manchester United had been superior over Liverpool, winning seven of a possible eight games and drawing once. However, Liverpool trounced United 2-1 after conceding the lead early on. The game was marked by Nemanja Vidic's sending off.
In the early days of 2009, Rafa Benitez had a go at Sir Alex Ferguson, which was widely publicised everywhere and some even believed that Rafa had lost it. In the return fixture at Old Trafford however, Rafael Benitez's men pulverised United to win 4-1. Call it an uncanny coincidence, but Vidic was again sent off.
This is also Rafa's first double over Sir Alex, since he took over in 2004-05, that memorable season when Liverpool became Champions of Europe again. In a way this was Liverpool's and Rafa Benitez's time to extract a sweet revenge.
Mourinho vs. Ferguson
Claudio Ranieri was a fading star in the Chelsea galaxy, until that crucial quarter-final fixture at Highbury. Thanks to Wayne Bridge, his career seemed resurrected, until they came against Didier Deschamps' AS Monaco.
However, this is not about Ranieri or Deschamps, but of a man who had made headlines in England by sprinting along the Old Trafford touchline as FC Porto overcame Manchester United in the round of sixteen.He would also go ahead to lift the European Cup.
This was the first of many clashes between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, who eventually took over Ranieri's post at Stamford Bridge. In 11 clashes against United, Mourinho lost only once. An impeccable record, given his short tenure in England.
When the second round ties were announced, a lot of us winced in pain as United were drawn against the unstoppable Nerazzuri, Inter Milan, managed by none other than the self proclaimed "Special One." Thankfully the first leg was at San Siro, or in Inter's terms, Guiseppe Meazza stadium.
The Inter defence sustained wave after wave of United's attack till the end. The return leg sound like a dreadful one. "What if Inter got a goal" was one of many uncomfortable what ifs that lingered on in United minds. However at the end of 90 minutes, it was Sir Alex having the last laugh, having beaten Mourinho's Inter 2-0 and securing a berth in the quarter-finals.
FC Porto vs. United
This tale of love and hate in a way relates to the Mourinho-Fergie marriage. Mourinho arrived in the English scene, sprinting along the Old Trafford touchline and in the process, smashing a million delicate United hearts.
After the first leg, United were sitting pretty with an away goal, despite the defeat at Porto. Things looked OK till the last minute as United were leading by a fragile 1-0 scoreline, despite having a goal denied wrongly.
However, it all went wrong in the very dying moments of the game. Costinha struck a lovely free kick past Tim Howard to fire Porto into the next round and introduce Jose Mourinho to England.
Tomorrow's quarterfinal clash will certainly bring back memories 2004 to Sir Alex and to the United players who played that night. So if the trend looks set to continue, maybe true to the payback philosophy, United will go through.
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