Having delivered their finest performance in the David Moyes’ era – even though, admittedly, that’s not saying much – against Olympiakos, Manchester United enter their first Champions League quarter final since 2011 knowing full well that tomorrow’s game could be the last time Old Trafford host a European Cup game for a while.
Quite how long we’ll have to wait to see United playing in Europe’s elite competition at home is anybody’s guess but it’s perhaps fitting that United will bid farewell to the Champions League by hosting Bayern Munich, the current champions of Europe who are aiming to become the first side to retain the trophy.
We might wave goodbye to the European Cup over the next 10 days, so here’s a list of the top 5 five Champions League quarter finals Old Trafford has seen.
5) Manchester United vs Real Madrid 2-3 (2-3 on aggregate), 19th April 2000
Having secured a creditable 0-0 in Madrid, United’s bid to become the first side to defend the Champions League in its current format came to an abrupt halt when Real Madrid visited Old Trafford. Mark Bosnich, who had been excellent in the first leg at the Bernabeu, was out injured and his replacement, Raymond Van der Gouw, could only watch on horrified as Roy Keane scored his only own goal for United with the game barely 20 minutes old.
Needing two goals to progress the Reds poured forward – there was a time, in a different era, when United held no qualms about going toe-to-toe with the likes of Real Madrid – but their commitment going forward left them dangerously exposed at the back, as well as all but out of the competition after Raul’s quick-fire brace at the beginning of the second half – one inspired by THAT backheel flick from Fernando Redondo.
David Beckham scored one of his best goals in a red shirt and Paul Scholes added a late penalty, but a second memorable comeback in less than 12 months was not to be and United bowed out of the competition, while Real would go on to lift the trophy in Paris.
4) Manchester United vs Real Madrid 4-3 (5-6 on aggregate), 23rd April 2003
Up until this season, this was the only other occasion when United came face to face with the defending champions at this stage of the competition. Three years on since their previous meeting, United and Madrid were sides at the polar opposites of the scale – the Reds entering a critical phase of their post-Treble decline in Europe, while Madrid’s Galacticos era was in full swing.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal at the Bernabeu had offered United a small glimmer of hope to cling on to ahead of the return leg, but dreams of a famous comeback were dashed within five minutes, as Ronaldo slotted home Real Madrid’s first. Van Nistelrooy responded just before halftime, but Ronaldo completed his hat-trick with two more goals in nine second half minutes, either side of an Ivan Helguera own-goal.
David Beckham, whose eyebrow scar – caused by a flying boot Fergie had sweetly struck in the aftermath of an FA Cup defeat against Arsenal – had by then become more important to the media than his on-pitch contribution replaced Juan Sebastian Veron and netted twice, before departing the pitch deep at the final whistle deep in talks with Roberto Carlos and Zinedine Zidane.
United’s adventure in the Champions League was over, Becks’ adventure with Real Madrid, meanwhile, had just begun.
3) Manchester United vs Porto 4-0 (4-0 on aggregate), 5th March 1997
United marked their first appearance in the quarter finals of the European Cup in 29 years by putting Porto to the sword, as they produced arguably their best European performance of the Eric Cantona era. One which, unfortunately, wasn’t replicated in the semifinals that season, nor the following one.
As if to show that his tombola approach wasn’t a luxury he only indulged to in the latter stage of his career, Fergie deployed a midfield trio of David Beckham, Ronny Johnsen and Ryan Giggs, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eric and Andy Cole up-front. The result was mesmerising, as United tore the Portuguese to ribbons, May opening the score with 20 minutes gone, before Eric added a second before halftime.
Ryan Giggs and Andy Cole completed the rout in the second half, thus depriving the second leg of any real meanings. Not that the traveling Reds minded too much, as they spent a couple of Superbock-lubrified days in Portugal.
2) Manchester United vs Roma 7-1 (8-3 on aggregate), 10th April 2007
After a couple of season in the wilderness of European football, United were again a force to be reckoned with, as Fergie’s plans to clinch a second European Cup in a decade were coming of age. Though such plans won’t be fulfilled until 12 months later, United’s thrashing of Roma announced their return in Europe’s elite, much as their first Premier League title after three seasons sent out a strong signal of intent to their rivals.
Arriving into the second leg trailing 2-1 on aggregate and without the suspended Paul Scholes, United were out of of the blocks in a flash and produced the sort of relentless, flawless, swashbuckling football that had characterised the majority of their season – and which would, in fact, characterise their next two campaigns too.
Michael Carrick, Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney netted in 19 breathtaking first half minutes and by the time Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first goal in the competition – let that sink in for a second – the tie, much like Roma themselves, was dead and buried. Ronaldo and Carrick were on the scoresheet again in the second half, before Daniele de Rossi produced a fantastic finish for his side’s only goal and Patrice Evra added United’s seventh.
1) Manchester United vs Inter Milan 2-0 (3-1 on aggregate), 3rd March 1999
Progressing through a group containing Bayern Munich and Barcelona – which alone provided enough memorable moments to fill a book – was no easy feat, but United were rewarded with a quarter final showdown against an Inter Milan containing Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio, Ivan Zamorano and Pablo Simeone.
In a season during the which the unexpected and extraordinary regularly seemed to become routine, the first leg of United’s clash against Inter Milan didn’t disappoint.
Dwight Yorke put United in front with just seven minutes played, pouncing for the umpteenth time that season on a David Beckham’s cross delivered with the usual surgical precision, before United squandered opportunities to increase their lead during a momentous first half.
With seconds remaining before half-time, Beckham and Yorke combined yet again to put United two in front, before Peter Schmeichel took centre stage, defying the law of physics to keep out an Ivan Zamorano’s header and ensured United kept a valuable clean sheet ahead of the return leg.
United would concede at the San Siro, but Paul Scholes’ goal ensured it did not matter one bit.