Manchester United and Barcelona don’t play often, but when they do, it’s a game to behold. They have met 11 times before: three wins for United, four for Barcelona and four draws. The goal ratio is slightly in favor of Barcelona with 20 goals against 15.
But nothing can replace a dip into the atmosphere of ten of those dramatic clashes. Here they are:
The great comeback in the 1984 European’s Cup Winners Cup
It was more than 40 years ago when the two met for the first time at Nou Camp. The shock of an intimidating atmosphere of 90,000 roaring Catalan fans and Diego Maradona in his peak had stunned the Red Devils to a 2-0 deficit before the second leg. But at a manic Old Trafford, United blitzed Barcelona.
The Catalans held until Ray Wilkins found Bryan Robson inside the six-yard box from a corner for 1-0 to United. In the second half, United dismantled the mighty Catalans in two minutes. After a careless back-pass by Barcelona defender Vitto, the ball rolled in no man’s land. A cross caused a melee near the box which somehow gave the chance for Ray Wilkins to shoot. His shot was parried, but the rebound fell to Bryan Robson who blasted it in for 2-0 to United.
An avalanche had formed. Two minutes later, a cross from the left side landed on the head of a United player, whose half shot half pass found Frank Stapleton lurking near the far post for 3-0 to United. People flooded the pitch after the final whistle to congratulate the players.
They had done it. The Red Devils overcame a deficit of 2-0 to win 3-2 over two legs against Barcelona.
1991 European’s Cup Winners Cup final
Barely a year after the ban on English teams to take part in European competitions fell, Manchester United met Barcelona for the third time. With the wound from seven years earlier still fresh, Barcelona faced an onerous task of beating United without injured key players - Andoni Zubizaretta, midfielder Guillermo Amor, and Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov. Zubizaretta’s absence was particularly painful.
After 66 minutes, Bryan Robson’s lobbed the ball from a free-kick met a miscalculated forward rush by goalkeeper Carles Busquets, which allowed a weak header to release Mark Hughes alone against the goal. United went 1-0. Then Robson pulled out another dagger. His through ball released Mark Hughes. Busequets rushed out and Hughes flicked the ball past him. Manchester Untied were already 2-0.
Johan Cruyff’s disbelieving gaze glinted with hope when Ronald Koeman returned one with a trademark bombastic 30-yard free-kick but Barcelona’s energy had been sapped. It ended 2-1 to Manchester United, the Red Devils beating the Catalan giants for the second time in history.
1994 Champions League Group Stage
It was just after the new rule for use of foreign players had crippled Manchester United when they met Barcelona in the Champions League Group stages. This time it was a different story.
United had clawed to a draw at home through goals by Mark Hughes and Lee Sharpe, but their visit to Nou Camp without talismanic players Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona carried a sense of doom.
Two goals by Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov, one by Romario and another one by Albert Ferrer dealt Red Devils a heavy blow, 4-0. Barcelona had gotten their revenge and had proved a point after the earlier year’s humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of Milan in the final.
The David Beckham show
Sir Alex Ferguson boasted the best side in the world during the 1998/99 treble-winning season. But when his stars met Barcelona in Champions League group stages, they had a fight on their hands.
David Beckham was at the zenith of his career when he got acquainted with the Catalans. So like a proper English gentleman, he made sure he took his cap off, nodded and provided a pin-point cross from the right to Ryan Giggs who broke the deadlock. Then another one, the accuracy of which Lee Harvey Oswald would have been proud of, connected with a spectacular Dwight Yorke scissors-kick which goalkeeper parried, only for the rebound to find a furious Paul Scholes’ shot for 2-0.
The Catalans dug deep and responded: first, through Sonny Aderson, and then Giovanni from a penalty, 2-2.
Knock, knock. Who is there? David Beckham. Still. Another gentlemanly salute and a thunderous curl of a free-kick: 3-2. Just like that, he became a megastar overnight.
But Barcelona had the last laugh. Twenty minutes from time, a great melee inside United’s box culminated with the referee giving Nicky Butt the marching orders for a daring one-handed save. Luis Enrique duly converted the ensuring penalty, 3-3.
1998 Champions League Group Stage, Barcelona - Manchester United (3-3)
If the first match was all about Beckham, the second was about the Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole partnership with the occasional interruption of Rivaldo’s brilliance. The Manchester Untied duo spoke to each other with their peripheral vision on that night.
Barcelona opened their tally inside the first minute through Sonny Anderson. The Red Devils responded with a calculated low drive by Dwight Yorke for 1-1. The two sides shook their hands and left it for the second half.
Early in the second half Yorke and Cole left the Barcelona’s defence standing like schmucks with their one-twos with Cole making the finishing move for 2-1. If things looked to be crumbling on the defensive front for Barcelona, they had their Brazilian up front, Rivaldo, as he bagged the equalizer from a perfect free-kick, and went to sleep mode, biding his time, for one more explosion of brilliance.
United kept pushing. Barcelona failed to contain David Beckham who presented a constant nuisance on the right side and eventually one of his precise crosses connected with Yorke who scored for 3-2. Then Rivaldo awakened when he received a cross from the left and, in a moment of pure brilliance, tamed the ball on his chest and unleashed an acrobatic over-head kick.
Unfortunately this was the last goal in this spectacle.
2008 Champions League semifinal, Barcelona - Manchester United (0-0, 0-1)
In the 2008 Champions League semi-final, the Red Devils hosted Barcelona at their own Old Trafford after a goal-less draw in Spain. The victory was minimal, but how it was achieved was worth a song or two.
Early in the first half, Paul Scholes found space about 25 yards from goal with ball inviting him to shoot. The unleashed shot drew a slow and deliberate trajectory as it flew into the upper-left corner outside of the reach of helpless Victor Valdes.From there on, both teams exchanged chances, but it ended at 1-0 for the Red Devils, who won the tournament that year.
2009 Champions League final, Barcelona - Manchester United (2-0)
A year later ensured another exhilarating repeat of the titanic clash, this time in the final.
Fired-up, Christiano Ronaldo was the man to watch, making a note with two missed opportunities. But barely nine minutes have passed when Samuel Eto’o jumped out of nowhere to unleash a powerful shot underneath the grasp of Edwin van der Saar and Barca were ahead in the final, 1-0. Barcelona’s vice squeezed tighter and tighter, providing Lionel Messi and later Xavi with chances to double the lead, but they missed.
In the second half, Ji Sung Park gave Barcelona a rare scare when he failed to connect with a rebounded ball two meters away from the goal-line. Barcelona kept on tightening their grip and in the 69th minute, it was all over when Messi elegantly deflected the ball over Van der Saar for 2-0.
The Red Devils created several more chances, but in the end it was the Barcelona players who, over mojitos, were telling stories of how they avenged their club’s European Cup Winnners Cup final defeat.