Manchester United vs. Barcelona: A Look at the History of This Fixture
The Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona is now just days away, and fans are eagerly anticipating a great final between the two, but most fans are still divided as to just who they think will come out on top.
People look to the '09 final as to just how United were brushed aside and assume the same will happen again, but there has been much more games between the two clubs than that one, and ones which have had huge significance as well.
There’s quite a history to this fixture which has never let us down in terms of entertainment, so I’ve decided to look back at all the competitive fixtures between the two and see just who has come out on top the most.
07/3/84. Cup Winners Cup QuarterfInal. 1st Leg. Nou Camp. Att- 70,000
Barcelona 2 Manchester United 0
In 1983, United and Barca had relatively the same season; United finished third whilst Barca managed fourth, and they both won their domestic cups, The FA Cup and the Copa Del Rey, respectively. So consequently, they both entered the now extinct Cup Winners Cup in the new 1983-84 season.
They both flew through the stages of the competition before being drawn against each other at the quarterfinal stage; Barcelona were being led by arguably the greatest player of the time in Maradona, and United had a young Welshman in Mark Hughes (Who would join Barcelona just two years later)
Barcelona was ultimately the favourites to go through, not many would argue against their star-studded side whilst United would rely on their "Captain Marvel" Bryan Robson to be their inspiration to drive United on from midfield.
The first leg was at the Nou Camp, and it followed the script. Barcelona were clearly superior on the night but did not overwhelm United that much, winning 2-0 courtesy of Graeme Hogg's own goal and Rojo's brilliant strike from distance. United still had a chance in the nest leg, but Barcelona looked good enough on this night to be able to hold on.
21/03/84. Cup Winners Cup Quarter Final 2nd Leg. Old Trafford. Att- 58,574
Manchester United 3 Barcelona 0
It was Maradonas first game in England. Fans flocked to Old Trafford to see the superstars in action and cling to a thread of hope that United could overturn the deficit.
It was a night older United fans would never forget. Inspired by Bryan Robsons brilliance, Manchester United went on to crush the Spanish giants 3-0 and shock everyone by going through to the semi finals.
Robson's first-half diving header gave the Englishmen the breakthrough they needed desperately. Robson got the all-important second early in the second half and with the momentum clearly with them, United completed a stunning turnaround as Frank Stapleton blasted home the winner.
15/05/91. Cup Winners Cup Final. Feyenoord Stadion. Att- 50,000
Barcelona 1 Manchester United 2
Once again these two teams met in the Cup Winners Cup; once again, United went in as the underdogs, but this time it was the final.
This was the first year English clubs were allowed back in Europe after the Heysel disaster, and the days when English clubs dominated the European scene seemed such a long time ago. United took a lot of fans over to Rotterdam hoping to bring the European pride back to these shores and more importantly for themselves after a rather unremarkable season in which they finished sixth.
Barcelona, on the other hand, was on the rise again. They broke the five-year stronghold Real Madrid had on La Liga by finally claiming it back, and then would go on to win it for the next three years straight, and they were also only one season away from becoming the kings of European football by winning the European Cup for the first time.
It was clear who the favourites were again, but as was shown seven years earlier, an inspired United performance broke Barcelona hearts. This time, it was Mark Hughes who was the hero, who had been on Barcelona’s books just five years earlier, came back to haunt his old club, scoring the two goals that won the trophy. Ronald Koeman scored a consolation goal from a free kick whilst also Barcelona had a player sent off with five minutes to go and had a late equalizer ruled out for offside, but it didn’t matter, United held on to lift the trophy.
19/10/94. Champions League Group Stage. Old Trafford. Att- 40,064
Manchester United 2 Barcelona 2
This was the first season of the new format of the The Champions League, introducing group stages. United’s and Barcelona’s first venture into this new format brought them together in the group stage, and this budding new rivalry in Europe was set to continue.
The foreigner rule, which meant United could only play three players outside of the UK in their team, had really begun to hamper United in Europe as they found the previous year. Ferguson had to juggle his team round to fit the right players in that he needed, and often, Schmeichel was one of the ones sacrificed to include the likes of Kanchelskis.
Barcelona though had gone on to build an even fiercer team before including the likes of Stoichkov and Romario, who was fresh off the back of his World Cup-winning campaign with Brazil. They were beaten finalists the year before, and beaten, well 4-0, to Milan, and they had a point to prove this year.
A packed Old Trafford expected another great night from these two, and they weren’t disappointed. Mark Hughes (again) put United into the lead until goals from Romario and Bakero put the game into Barca’s hands. The game was back-and-forth until an amazing back heeled goal from Lee Sharpe ensured the match ended as a draw. The Red Devils always seemed confident against the superior Barcelona teams they had been facing and always seemed to be able to match them in all the games. How that was about to change.
02/11/94. Champions League Group Stage. Nou Camp. Att- 114,273
Barcelona 4 Manchester United 0
With Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona watching from the stands, Manchester United crumbled in front of a rocking Nou Camp. Whether it was the near 115,000 people inside the ground or they were just simply outclassed, it made United realise just how far they had to come to mix with the best in Europe.
United’s backline and the keeper had no answer to the brilliance of Stoichkov and Romario. A Stoichkov double with Romario and Ferrer adding the other two meant that Barca had finally erased their United hoodoo and showed just who the better of the two teams was.
16/09/98. Champions League Group Stage. Old Trafford. Att- 53,601
Manchester United 3 Barcelona 3
Fast forward four years and neither team had managed to win the Champions league still. Both stuck on winning the competition one a piece United’s last win remained in 1968 whilst Barcelona’s was just in 1991. United had managed to dominate domestically but just couldn’t make it to the final hurdle in Europe, falling at the semifinals and quarters the previous two seasons. Being drawn with Bayern Munich and Barcelona again in the group, it was time for United to show they could match up with the very best.
Barca, meanwhile, had failed to win the league for three years prior to 1998, and the season before, they qualified for the Champions League by the virtue of coming second in the league, but they endured a miserable European run by finishing bottom of their group which included PSV, Dynamo Kyiv and Newcastle United. Once again, they had a lot to prove.
This stage encounter between the two produced one of the most memorable matches between the sides, purely for entertainment value. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs scored within three minutes of each other early in the match before Brazilians Sonny Anderson and Giovanni (penalty) brought Barca level before the hour mark. David Beckham typically restored United's lead, but the impressive Luis Enrique's 71st-minute penalty secured a point.
An end-to-end game which either team could have won, was really amazing to watch, and still to this day, one of my favorite matches at Old Trafford.
25/11/98. Champions League Group Stage. Nou Camp. Att- 67,648
Barcelona 3 Manchester United 3
For this game, just see the last slide. Miraculously, the sides did it all over again just two months later.
Another end-to-end football match which either team could have won, and for a period in the second half, I really thought United was going to get it. The nightmare of their previous visit was totally washed from memory as they matched Barca with a great attacking mentality being spearheaded by Yorke and Cole, whilst Barca were countering with the greatest player on the planet that year Rivaldo.
This time, Barca led first, through Anderson, and with it being in the first couple of minutes, United fans must have been thinking they were in for it again, but the irresistible combination of Dwight Yorke who netted twice and Andy Cole saw Barca trail twice with Rivaldo leveling both times, before hitting the bar with a late effort to win it.
The two draws helped United just edge Barcelona out in the group stage and United went on famously to complete their treble and lift the European cup for the second time. In the Nou Camp of all places.
23/04/08. Champions League Semi Final. Nou Camp. 1st Leg. Att- 95,949
Barcelona 0 Manchester United 0
This was quite a special match for me, as it was my first time at the Nou Camp for a match. Like a lot of the United fans who hadn’t seen the ground on match days I was overwhelmed. The streets outside were heaving with the colours of Barca and every step further down the road their amazing stadium kept looming in the distance. Once inside, it was easy to see why opposition players found this place intimidating.
Barcelona had claimed their second European cup just two seasons before against Arsenal and It was the first time when both these teams had both been clean favourites in this tournament together. Looking at the teams, it was hard to separate them to pick a winner; both were sweeping through teams domestically and on the continent. But to most people it was Messi vs. Ronaldo. Unfortunately, Messi wasn’t fully fit, and that was obvious just watching him play. That battle would just have to wait.
Ronaldo had his chance to prove his doubters wrong with a penalty in the second minute, but he blasted his pen over the bar to the jeers of the Barca fans. Just a few minutes later, another strong penalty appeal went up, but the ref waved it off. After this early United flourish, Barca started to take over the game and looked the most likely to score of the two teams. They had the most chance in the end, but Van Der Sar wasn’t too troubled. A poor United performance, but a draw from the Nou Camp wasn’t a bad result, even though they missed out on an early crucial away goal. The worst match from these two so far.
29/04/08. Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg. Old Trafford. Att- 75,061
Manchester United 1 Barcelona 0
An electric atmosphere at Old Trafford helped create a truly unforgettable European night. Barca went in as slight favourites, knowing if they scored they would have a huge advantage for the night
With it being such an important game and important time with it being just 50 years after the Munich disaster, the pressure was enormous, and it was going to take something special to win it, and Paul Scholes delivered duly. It was his redemption for missing out on the '99 final, being suspended for the biggest game of his career. A sweet volley into the corner. United had one foot there.
Barcelona came close in the second half, too close. Pushing back United, edging closer and closer to their goal and in the last 10 minutes alone they had some glorious chances to put themselves in the final. The crowd was growing quiet as fingernails started getting chewed down, and the tension was sweeping around the ground, and when the whistle was blown, the roar from the crowd and the emotion they let out, showed just what it meant.
27/05/09. Champions League Final. Stadio Olimpico. Att- 62,467
Manchester United 0 Barcelona 2
Another personal one for me, the most disappointment I’ve ever felt coming out of a ground. A year on from knocking Barcelona out and the dramatic penalty shootout win against Chelsea, United were confident of becoming the first team to retain the trophy since Milan did it in 1990. It was finally Manchester United vs. Barcelona on the biggest stage of them all.
All the build up was again about Ronaldo vs. Messi, but two other little midfielders got in on the occasion with superb performances, Xavi and Iniesta. Unfortunately, United had no answer to the passing and movement of the two, and a lot of fans who weren’t so up to date with Spanish football, now saw why Barcelona was once again ascending to the top of the football mountain.
Bar an early chance from United Barcelona swept them aside with ease. A great goal from Eto after 10 minutes, then Messi making a mockery of his small height to head home over Van Der Sar completed what was a footballing masterpiece by Barcelona on the night. United were stifled on what was a poor night for them, but no one could argue about which team deserved it.
So there we have it, a host of truly amazing matches which are tied three a piece, just like each of their European cup records. I’m sure we're all in for another quality match this Saturday where fans of each club will be put through all the usual heartstopping moments, and neutrals will be able to enjoy another classic between the two.
I’ve heard a lot of people say United don’t stand a chance, but it really depends on which United turn up. They can beat anyone on our day, but again, they’ve had some very bad days this season, which why some people are surprised they’ve even made it to the final.
Either way one of these teams will be Champions of Europe for the fourth time on Saturday, but who will it be?