Manchester United or Barcelona? Who's Treble Was Greater?

David ArreolaSenior Analyst IAugust 6, 2009

This past season Barcelona's Champions League conquest over Manchester United completed the fifth-ever European Treble, and first since 1999. Ironically, Manchester United was the winner of that particular Treble.

For those of you who are new to football, or perhaps you've just been born, the term Treble refers to a team winning three trophies in one season. There are many variaties of Trebles in football, varying on the country and association. However, the most prestigous is known as the Continental Treble. This Treble includes trophies from a top tier league, top tier domestic cup, and continental trophy.

The European Treble is the highest honor attainable by all nations. It should be noted that such thing as a Quadruple and Quintuple exist, however they are impossible in most football associations around the world.

Anyway, enough with the education. Let's get to football.

With Barcelona's recent Treble, I have asked the question: whose Treble was greater, Manchester United in 1999 or Barcelona in 2009?



Both clubs were loaded with individual talent. For Manchester United, names like Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Teddy Sheringham, and Andy Cole come to mind. For Barcelona you list the names of Lionel Messi, Sameul Eto'o, Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry, and Xavi.

Both teams played beautiful football and if they were not dominating opponents, they were getting ready to crawl back from a deficit.

For this particular section, I do not give the edge to either Manchester United nor Barcelona. They are completely even in terms of individual talent.

Edge: Even


Domestic Cup

Manchester United won the F.A. Cup in 1999. The road was a very difficult one. United were matched up against five Premier League opponents in each of the first rounds of the competition. 

United were drawn with their bitter rival Liverpool in the fourth round. Michael Owen scored in the third minute and Liverpool did not trail for 89 minutes. Dwight Yorke equalized from a David Beckham free kick in the 86th minute, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won the match for Manchester United in the 92nd minute. Manchester United snatched victory from the very hands of their opponents, as you will read this became a trend for the 1999 Treble winners.  

United played Arsenal in a semi-finals, but the match finished scoreless after 120 minutes and was scheduled for a replay three days later.

With the replay match tied 1-1, Arsenal nearly stole the Treble dream from Manchester United. Arsenal were awarded a penalty in injury time. Dennis Bergkamp's penalty kick was saved by Peter Schmeichel and the match went into extra time.

Midway through the second half of extra time, Ryan Giggs scored one of the most astonishing and breath taking goals of all-time. Giggs started his run at the half-way line and beat the entire Arsenal back line and scored a left-footed shot that blasted into the roof of the net. United had taken one step closer to the Treble.

In the F.A. Cup Final, Manchester United defeated Newcastle United 2-0 in a rather dominating performance.

Barcelona won the Copa Del Rey in 2009. They faced an early test against Benidorm, a team from the second tier of Spanish football. Barcelona won both legs 1-0 behind goals from Bojan Kircic and Lionel Messi.

In the round of sixteen, Barcelona demolished their La Liga counterparts Athletico Madrid 5-2 in the aggregate. Barcelona faced a serious test from Espanyol in the quarter finals. The first leg finished in a 0-0 draw, however Barca defeated their Catalonian rivals 3-2 at the Nou Camp behind a stellar performance from Bojan Kircic.

In the semifinal, Barcelona defeated Mallorca 3-1 in the aggregate and advanced to the Copa Del Rey final where they would face Athletic Bilbao. The final was nothing short of a fiasco for Bilbao. Barcelona scored four unanswered goals after trailing Bilbao 1-0 following an 8th minute goal from Toquero.

Barcelona had won the Copa Del Rey for the first time since 1998.

Edge: Manchester United were able to steal victories from some of the best teams in England. Barcelona dominated their opponents, but faced weaker teams.


League Football

Barcelona won the Spanish Primera Division in 2009 with 87 points in the table. Barca was nine points clear of second place Real Madrid. Barcelona finished the La Liga season with a record of 26-6-5.

After a couple bad performances to start the season, Barcelona found themselves in 15th position. However, behind a sensational nine-game winning streak, they claimed the top spot on the table. Barcelona would remain unbeaten for 21 games in La Liga.

Barcelona dominated the entire league all season. They were in the top position for virtually the entire season. From when they first took over in round nine all the way until the very end.

The highlight of their season was the colossal 6-1 victory over rivals Real Madrid. This win solidified Barcelona's place as Spanish League champion.

Manchester United won the F.A. Premier League in 1999 with a then record number of goals scored. Manchester United won with 79 points in the table, only one point ahead over Arsenal. After the first five matches, United were in 10th place and struggling. However, Man Utd. managed to rip of a seven game unbeaten streak to earn second position on the table.

It was a dogfight all season long between Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea. Following a 3-2 loss to Middlesbrough in the 18th round, United were third on the table. They would not lose again the entire season.

United showed big margins of victory on their way to the Premier League title. One such result was an 8-1 victory at Nottingham Forest. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored four goals in the final ten minutes of the game.

Edge: Barcelona won more games and never really struggled during the season. Despite United's impressive 20 game unbeaten streak to end the season, Barcelona were always in first position on the table.


Champions League

Barcelona won their Champions League group with thirteen points and a record of 4-1-1. They were drawn with French club Lyon in the round of sixteen. The first leg in Lyon finished 1-1 with Barcelona having the away goal advantage. However, they would not need it. Barcelona destroyed Lyon 5-2 in the second leg.

The quarterfinals saw a dream matchup between Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Both clubs were heavy favorites to win the Champions League in 2009. Barcelona ended any hopes Bayern had of a European title when they defeated them 4-0 in the first leg at the Nou Camp. Barcelona advanced 5-1 on aggregate.

In the semifinals, Barcelona would meet with English club Chelsea to determine who would go to Rome for the final. After a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp, the second leg at Stamford Bridge was the center of controversy during the second leg. Chelsea's Michael Essien scored a stunning goal early in the game to give Chelsea the advantage. During the course of the game there were many obvious, and not so obvious, penalty situations that were not awarded by the referee.

The missed penalties proved fatal for Chelsea as Andres Iniesta fired in a beautiful goal from about 21 yards out, in injury time. Barcelona had stolen the match on the away goals rule, denying Chelsea a return to the Champions League Final.

In the final, Barcelona started off badly the first ten minutes against Manchester United, but took over the match for the final 80 minutes. A goal from Samuel Eto'o in the 15th minute changed the match. Barcelona controlled possesion in midfield and made Manchester United look like fools, rather than the defending European Champions.

Lionel Messi's jaw dropping header in the 77th minute was the final nail in the coffin for Manchester United as Barcelona had all but won the title.

After the referees whistle, Barcelona had won their Treble.

Manchester United finished second in their group with ten points with a record of 2-4-0. The older format of the Champions League was much different from the current one we have today. Back in 1999, only the two best runner ups in the group stage would advance to the knockout stage.

In the quarterfinals, Manchester United defeated the heavily favored Internazionale Milan with a convincing 3-1 aggregate. In the semifinals against Juventus, Manchester United relied on late goals to advance to the final. The first was a 90th minute equalizer from Ryan Giggs in the first leg at Old Trafford, which finished 1-1. The return leg in Italy finished 3-2 in United's favor. Andy Cole's 84th minute goal sealed Juve's fate and put United in the final.

The 1999 Champions League Final needs no introduction. Manchester United and Bayern Munich had both won their league and major domestic cups. Meaning that no matter who won, we would have a Treble winner in 1999. The only question was, who would it be?

Mario Basler of Bayern Munich gave the German club the lead in the sixth minute on a low curling free kick. Bayern Munich would not be down for every minute of the game, except the one that matters. The match was dominated by the German club as they kept the pressure on United all match. It wasn't until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on as a substitute in the 80th minute that United made a run, and did they ever make a run.

With injury time looming, United were still trailing 1-0. A corner kick was awarded as injury time had just begun. The corner kick was poorly cleared by the Bayern Munich defense as Ryan Giggs was able to get a shot off. The shot was a bad one, but so bad, that it went right to Teddy Sheringham who calmly redirected it into the back of the net. Despite being behind and outplayed most of the match, United appeared to have forced extra time.

Less than 30 seconds after the restart, Manchester United had forced another corner kick. David Beckham's corner kick was headed by Teddy Sheringham towards the far post, where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was waiting to poke it into the roof of the net in a reflex like movement. Bayern had led most of the match, but now found themselves trailing 2-1 in a matter of minutes.

Manchester United completed one of the most thrilling comebacks in recent memory. They had won their Treble in injury time of the Champions League Final.

Edge: Despite the heart-stopping finish to the season, Manchester United will not be receiving my vote here. Barcelona demolished some of the toughest clubs in Europe, including the defending European champion, Manchester United.


The Verdict

In my humble opinion, I think the 2009 Barcelona Treble team was better than the 1999 Treble team of Manchester United. Barcelona were never really challenged, except for the Chelsea matches, as they ran through all competitions.

However, I believe that Manchester United's Treble season was the stuff of legends. Late goals, dramatic comebacks, and that unbelievable night at the Nou Camp, all of these things means to me that their Treble was greater.

It is hard to differentiate between the two, as they are so very even.