While Manchester United are going through a prolonged rocky period since the departure of Alex Ferguson and while Barcelona have failed to make a Champions League semi-final since 2015, their meeting in this season’s quarter-finals still whets the appetite more than any other.
The clubs have not met in eight years, but there is no shortage of excitement whenever they do meet. Here are five games we hope they can emulate on Wednesday night.
Manchester United 3-0 Barcelona, Cup Winners Cup – 1984
FA Cup winner the season previous, and top of the league in April, Manchester United headed into this Cup Winners Cup quarter-final in arguably their best shape in 16 years. Coming up against Diego Maradona’s Barcelona, they fell to an undeserved 2-0 defeat in the Nou Camp thanks to an own goal from Graeme Hogg and a rocket from Juan Carlos Rojo.
But such was the close nature of the first leg that it never felt as though United were out of the tie and so it proved in the return leg.
Bryan Robson, giving what has often been described as his finest United performance, led the comeback with two goals, but it was Frank Stapleton that Barcelona couldn’t live with. He won everything in the air, including a flick on for Robson’s first, and the Catalans simply had no answer to him.
The Irishman also smashed home United’s third on 53 minutes prompting a deafening roar from the United crowd and sparking a fightback from a hitherto listless Barcelona. United, however, held firm and repelled everything Barcelona and Diego Maradona threw at them, albeit a Diego Maradona playing with a bad back.
While the victory inspired hopes of United adding to their FA Cup in 1983, an injury to Bryan Robson saw them crash out to Juventus in the Cup Winners Cup semi-final and win just two of their remaining 10 league games as they finished six points behind eventual winners Liverpool.
Manchester United 3-3 Barcelona, Champions League – 1998
In their treble-winning campaign, United found themselves in a group of death with Barcelona and finalists Bayern Munich. Over four games they failed to beat either of them, but that is not for lack of trying. Their opening group stage game took place at home to the Catalans and turned out to be an absolute classic at Old Trafford.
United raced into a two-goal lead courtesy of the Class of ’92. First, Ryan Giggs nodded a David Beckham cross into the top corner before Paul Scholes bundled home after Dwight Yorke’s acrobatic volley had been saved.
United went in 2-0 up at the break and looked quite comfortable, but a Sonny Anderson goal after a pinball in the box brought Barca back into it right after the interval. Minutes later, they were level after Giovanni converted a penalty won by a typically dramatic fall from Rivaldo.
A superb David Beckham freekick rallied United, but they conceded a second penalty and had Nicky Butt sent off for deliberate handball following a goalmouth scramble. Current Spanish manager Luis Enrique converted and United had to settle for a point in one of the most enthralling group stage games in the Champions League.
Barcelona 3-3 Manchester United, Champions League – 1998
Two defeats to Bayern Munich meant that Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona needed to beat United in order to have any chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League. They started in ideal fashion too, scoring after 50 seconds through Sonny Anderson who fired passed Peter Schmeichel from the edge of the area. United had Schmeichel to thank for not being further behind when he spread himself to deny Anderson a second moments later.
At 1-0 United were never beaten; they did come from behind to get a result on 31 occasions in that treble-winning season after all, and soon enough they were level thanks to a Dwight Yorke daisy cutter.
United started to purr in the second half and took the lead after some exquisite link-up between Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.
Yorke’s dummy and the subsequent one-two and finish from Cole is one of the most aesthetically pleasing goals scored by United in European competition and was a testament to the partnership between the two.
With United firmly on top, Barcelona forged a route back into the game when Rivaldo’s free-kick wrong-footed Schmeichel, but a Yorke header saw United retake the lead. He would have sealed his hat-trick too were he not ruled out for offside when he was blatantly on.
As it transpired, an overhead kick from Rivaldo rescued a point for Barca as, for the second time in two months, the sides amazingly played out a 3-3 draw.
Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona, Champions League – 2008
On the way to United’s most recent Champions League triumph, they caught Barcelona in a lull between two high points. Not the team they were in 2006, and not quite at the heights they would reach a season later, Barcelona were ripe for the taking. A tense 0-0 draw in the Nou Camp which included a missed Cristiano Ronaldo penalty made for a very nervy 90 minutes at Old Trafford.
United started on the front foot and took the lead through a howitzer of a shot from Paul Scholes just shy of the quarter hour mark. Scholes has since said that his goal was a miss hit, but it flew passed Victor Valdes and into the top corner nonetheless.
United were far better than Barcelona if truth be told and should have gone in 2-0 up at the break; Nani passing up a glorious chance when he sent a header wide from three yards out.
After the break United sat deeper and deeper in order to protect their fragile lead but withstood everything Barcelona had to offer as they secured a Champions League final berth for the first time since 1999.
Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United, Champions League – 2011
While the 2009 final in Rome was the coming together of the two best teams in Europe, the 2011 final was far from it. Barcelona were at their peak under Pep Guardiola when they took on United at Wembley. United, on the other hand, were in sharp decline.
Fabio and Antonio Valencia started on the right flank for United. That tells you all you need to know. Only Alex Ferguson could have gotten that team to the final, but then even he benefitted from an extremely favourable draw.
United were second best throughout, and somehow went in level at the break, Wayne Rooney’s terrific goal cancelling out Pedro’s opener.
For large portions of the game, United were chasing Lionel Messi’s shadow and it started to tell. Ten minutes into the second half, Park struggled to close the mercurial Argentine down and he crashed in a shot from 30-yards. Edwin van der Sar, playing in his last ever game, should have done better with the shot and it rattled the back of the net.
Any hopes of a second United equaliser were shelved by a wonderful effort from David Villa with 20 minutes remaining. The Spaniard’s perfectly curled effort from the edge of the area found the top corner and sealed Barcelona’s second Champions League win in three years.
It was about as complete a performance as you could ever
wish to have in a Champions League final and no club has ever reached the level of performance that Barcelona reached between 2008 and 2011.