Tonight Manchester United will travel to Spain to play Valencia. Television viewers (and my mum who has got a bloody ticket!) will hope that it carries on the tradition of tasty games between clubs of the two countries.
In the Champions League, games seem to consistently produce goals, initiating a top five feature. So to make things fair, each English team is only allowed one representative.
Honourable mentions go to the following:
Barcelona 4 – 0 Manchester United
Barcelona 4 – 1 Arsenal
Chelsea 1 – 2 Barcelona
Real Madrid 3 – 2 Leeds United
Real Madrid 3 – 2 Manchester United
Barcelona 5 – 1 Chelsea
Barcelona 3 – 3 Manchester United
Manchester United 3 – 3 Barcelona
Quite a list, I am sure you will agree.
Anyway, here goes:
5) 19th October 1999: Arsenal 2 – 4 Barcelona
Although the Champions League final of 2006 between the two clubs was a more important game, it didn’t really hit the anticipated heights given the attacking prowess of both teams.
This group stage match at Wembley, however, did exactly that with Barcelona providing a glittering example of counter-attacking football.
Arsenal allowed themselves to fall two behind early on, but in their attempts to get back into the game were picked off by Cocu and Figo’s majestic passing.
The game also included a genuine wonder save by Arnau from Tony Adams.
4) September 17th 1997: Newcastle 3 – 2 Barcelona
As Championship Manager would label it, this was the Asprilla show. Still slightly blamed for the failure of the Toon to win the title in 95/6, Tino wrote his own Geordie folklore on a magical night on Tyneside.
His first was a penalty earned by his own pace, and this was followed by two bullet headers, as Newcastle went three up inside an hour.
In typical fashion Barcelona got back into the game, but this was Newcastle’s night. No, this was Tino’s night.
3) 10th March 2009: Liverpool 4 – 0 Real Madrid
If the Champions League final of 2005 was the pinnacle of Liverpool’s decade in emotional terms, then the thrashing of Real Madrid was arguably the highest point of skill, technique and ruthlessness. It was also the point at which Gerrard and Torres were at the height of their combined powers.
Real were swatted away like an Eastern European side in a group stage. Gerrard was sublime on his 100th European appearance, scoring twice, but it as the movement and touch of Torres that was most sumptuous.
Perhaps this was the zenith, the peak since which everything has fallen away. If so, it was hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff.
2) Tuesday 8th March 2005: Chelsea 4 – 2 Barcelona
The game that had everything, and yet it still isn’t top.
With tensions raised in the Nou Camp during Barcelona’s 2-1 first leg win, this became the showpiece by which to judge Mourinho against Rijkaard, at the time seen as the two best young managers in the world.
Many beforehand predicted caution, Chelsea needing a 1-0 win to qualify. What actually happened blew us away.
Chelsea stormed into a three goal lead inside the first half hour through Gudjohnsen, Lampard and Duff, Stamford Bridge deliriously celebrating an assumed qualification.
But this match, even in defeat, was Ronaldinho’s. He scored a penalty and then produced a wonderful, no-backlift, shimmy and shot that wowed pundits and fans.
The sound when John Terry headed home with fifteen minutes left, giving Chelsea the lead on aggregate, was as deafening as the smug silence from Mourinho, Rijkaard’s sour grapes at the end merely stoking the Portuguese fire of arrogance.
1) 23rd April 2003: Manchester United 4 – 3 Real Madrid
Quite simply, the best game I have ever attended in my 25 years on this planet.
Standing ovations from opposite fans are reserved for occasions of genius. They are saved for times when lovers of clubs put this aside to remember love of the game. When Ronaldo walked off the Old Trafford pitch after his hat trick, United fans knew that booing was blasphemy. Hell, even not applauding was blasphemy.
It was the ultimate game played by a centre forward, three goals before the hour, the first two grandiose in their simplicity, the third a flash of power from 25 yards.
Manchester United were magnificent, Beckham coming off the bench to score twice, including a trademark free kick. But United’s splendour could only fall at the feet of Real. They were out of this world.