Ranked! Manchester United’s 10 greatest European performances since 1990

Manchester United PSG

The Red Devils pulled off an incredible upset against PSG on Wednesday – but how does that compare to a thriller against Real Madrid and the greatest display of Fergie’s reign? Try to contain yourself, Clive...

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10. Bayer Leverkusen 0-5 Manchester United, 2013

There hasn’t been a huge amount to shout about on the Champions League front since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure (although there was at least that Europa League win in 2017). However, in the interests of A) not completely ignoring the last six years and B) throwing Moyesy a bone, we’ve gone for this group-stage demolition of Bayer Leverkusen.

This kind of European thrashing used to be much more frequent (poor Brondby), but this result has the distinction of being United’s biggest ever away win in the Champions League. Wayne Rooney had a hand in four of the goals, as Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Nani got on the scoresheet to send United into the knockout stages with a game to spare.  

9. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999

This has to be on the list because of the way it finished, but Manchester United really didn’t play well in this game at all. They were hampered by suspensions to Paul Scholes and Roy Keane of course, and knackered after a gruelling fight for the Premier League title which went right down to the last day.

A midfield of Jesper Blomqvist, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs wasn’t Ferguson’s ideal choice - and United struggled to break down Bayern Munich after falling behind to Mario Basler’s early, low free-kick. The sides had drawn 3-3 and 2-2 in the group stage, though, so perhaps more goals were inevitable – although there were definitely hearts in mouths when Carsten Jancker sent an overhead kick looping onto the bar. In the end... well, we all know what happened in the end.

8. Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona, 2008

Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes had missed United’s 1999 Champions League Final through suspension, but it was his stunning goal which ensured they reached their next one. This was a very different United side, built on the counter-attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. It was set up to stop a Barcelona team which would - with a few minor tweaks - become one of the most successful club sides in history.

United had secured a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou in the first leg – although could have had more, as Ronaldo missed a penalty in the third minute. In the 14th minute of the second leg, Scholes collected a loose pass and smashed a swerving, unstoppable shot into the top corner.

7. Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid, 2003

As a standalone game, this would be higher up the list – a stunning home win against one of the most star-studded sides in history. This was a dramatic, magical evening of attacking football – two giants trading blows.

A brace from substitute David Beckham, plus a goal from Ruud van Nistelrooy and an own goal from Ivan Helguera, gave United hope. But Madrid had won the first leg 3-1, so the Reds needed a wider win and were undone by the brilliance of Original Ronaldo, who scored a magnificent hat-trick. It was this game which led to Alex Ferguson reshaping his team into a more solid defensive unit, and laid the foundations for theIR 2008 Champions League victory.

6. Manchester United 2-1 Barcelona, 1991

The ban on English clubs competing in European competitions after Heysel had taken its toll, with many of Britain’s best players opting to ply their trade elsewhere. That included Mark Hughes, who’d spent time with Terry Venables at Barcelona, and faced his former side in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in the first season back at Manchester United.

The striker opened the scoring at Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium after 67 minutes - officially, at least. There’s some dispute as to whether Steve Bruce’s header had already crossed the line before Hughes snatched in, playground-style, to steal it. There was no doubt about the second goal seven minutes later, as Hughes rounded goalkeeper Carles Busquets (who’d enthusiastically thrown himself to the ground - like father like son) and fired in from a tight angle.

Ronald Koeman pulled one back for Barça with a long-range free-kick, and the Catalan side had a goal disallowed and a shot cleared off the line late on. However, United held on to claim their first European trophy since the 1960s.