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

Manchester United Europe

From a thriller against Real Madrid to the greatest display of Fergie’s reign – it’s Manchester United’s most balmy nights in Europe. Try to contain yourself, Clive...

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10. Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United, 2009

Getting one English team into the Champions League semi-finals is a decent achievement now, but back in 2009 during the Premier League's apex, English sides took up three of the four spots. While Chelsea were throwing tantrums and getting narrowly knocked out against Barcelona, United easily disposed of the Gunners in true "Lads, it’s Arsenal" style.

Manchester United had a 1-0 advantage from the first leg for their trip to the Emirates, and were 2-0 up in the away leg inside 11 minutes. A slip by Kieran Gibbs allowed Park Ji-sung to steal in and lift the ball over Manuel Almunia. The second goal was memorable - a rocket of a free-kick from impossibly far out by Cristiano Ronaldo - almost a repeat of an equally ridiculous goal he’d scored against Porto earlier in the competition.

The third goal of a 3-1 win was the crowning glory, though. A sharp, incisive United counterattack that took just seconds.

Ronaldo broke from an Arsenal corner, back-heeled it to Park, who fed a speeding (!) Wayne Rooney down the left. Ronaldo raced into the area to steer in a finish from Rooney’s cross. It was his last European goal for the club.

9. 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 five 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.  

8. 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 stages, 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, right?

7. Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona, 2008

At 1:05

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 counterattacking 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.

6. 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 the 2008 Champions League victory.

On the next page: Roma ruined and Porto punished