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Top 5: Real Madrid games at Old Trafford

1. Real Madrid 3-3 Manchester United, 1968 European Cup Semi-Final

(OK, so it wasn’t at Old Trafford, but this is the most important game United ever had against Madrid, and there are only four other home legs, and this column is called top fives. So be quiet.)

Determined to prove his prophecy that preceded Munich, Matt Busby’s new side had won a narrow victory in the first leg and had the task of completing the job in front of over a hundred thousand fans at a packed Bernabeu, without the injured Denis Law. The earlier vow of Busby had given the game a sense of destiny, but it didn’t seem that way when half-time game.

United trailed 3-1, an own-goal all they could get, forced by the emergent Brian Kidd. Madrid were cruising, and the mood in the dressing room was grim. Eventually, Busby was able to rally his men, and in the second half, Sadler’s goal gave them the opportunity of a replay (the away goals rule not yet in force.) Another goal, however, saw them win the tie after Best found Bill Foulkes in the area. United had gone to Madrid and matched them, and the final seemed theirs to lose.

More than anything, that came from the sense that destiny had returned, Foulkes being a survivor of Munich and bagging the winning goal. Well, in some cases. Not for Best, who was later to claim that he hadn’t recognised who he was passing to and would’ve taken the shot on himself rather than play it to Foulkes. Those out of towners just don’t get it.

2. Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid, 2003 Champions League Semi-Final

It shouldn’t be so that one of the all-time great games involving Manchester United was a futile victory that wasn’t quite enough, but it perhaps typifies the era in which it took place. United were in the middle of a painful reformation that remains controversial even now

People will tell you that the saga over David Beckham dominated the game, but nobody has a right to a monopoly on framing a game like this. Ask any Red and they’ll tell you that this encounter was dominated by Ronaldo (plus ca change.) By the time Beckham was introduced, United were on a kamikaze mission, and they ended up completing it. After scoring two to give United an unlikely comeback, Beckham missed a difficult third and looked around to see Ferguson’s enraged reaction, immediately knowing his time had come.

United’s trophy hopes weren’t the only wreckage at the end – Beckham would leave at the end of the season, the biggest sign that the 1999 side was gone, never to return. That process would be excruciating, and although they ultimately ended in defeat, nights like this, with their brief resonance of the doomed glory of the 1980s. It would be five years before Ferguson claimed his vindication – a heavy price, and for some, still a price too high.

3. Manchester United 2-3 Real Madrid, 2000 Champions League Quarter-Final

Perhaps the most infamous and important game on the list, and the one that finally inspired Ferguson to embark on the lengthy campaign of bridge-burning, golden-goose-slaying and boot-kicking that we now know as 4-5-1. It’s astonishing that such a huge decision was undertaken off the back of this game, because it was utterly indescribable.

Firstly, United got off to a disastrous start thanks to a freak Roy Keane own goal, before meeting two players having the games of their lives, a young Iker Casillas keeping everything out while Fernando Redondo was unstoppable in attack, putting on a glorious display as well as, yes, that. It’s not quite got the elegance of John O’Shea vs. Luis Figo, but there’s no accounting for taste. In between all that, Raul was idiotically shown onto his left foot by Silvestre and predictably curled a belter into the top corner.

A late United comeback was too late to salvage anything, although while most of Old Trafford saw an off-day, a freak catastrophe, Ferguson claimed to see the underlying problems, and identified them as the cavalier spirit that had won him his first cup. Both sides still claim they were right.

4. Manchester United 2-2 Real Madrid, 1957 European Cup Semi-Final

1957 was United’s first ever season in Europe, and Matt Busby’s young team took to the continental stage like Anderson to Haribo, wiping the floor with the Belgian champions, Anderlecht 10-0 in their debut game, before succeeding in getting a 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in a game that really did shake the world – so much so that Real Madrid made a phenomenal bid to lure Busby to Spain as their manager.

Even now, playing an in-form Real Madrid in Europe seems an almost otherworldly experience, whether down to the all-white kids under floodlights, the colossal names, or the overwhelming sense of history of the club. In those days, it must have been magnified tenfold, with European football was still in it’s infancy, scouting and dossiers on the opposition unheard of, and every game and trip abroad an alien experience. Notably, this was also the first European game hosted at Old Trafford, United playing at Maine Road for home ties earlier in the competition due to a lack of floodlights at their own ground.

Despite the youth and inexperience of the team, and despite Real Madrid possessing one of the greatest teams in history – probably the greatest – United were far from outclassed, but couldn’t quite get the job done. Busby saw the positives in the tie, declaring that if he could beat Real Madrid, he would win the cup. He was right, but it wouldn’t be with the young team he had then.

5. Manchester United 1-0 Real Madrid, 1968, European Cup Semi-Final

When United have played Madrid, it’s usually been a nervy, tense away leg at the Bernabeu followed by a blockbuster, end-to-end thriller at Old Trafford, and usually to the Spaniards’ benefit. Notably, then, in the one success story for United it was the other way around, edging out Real at home before a thrilling battle at the Bernabeu, more on which later.

This was no disciplined job in the style of United’s victory over Barcelona forty years later. United’s reputation was such that Real Madrid – the Real Madrid of Puskas, Di Stefano, and Gento – had come to defend, fielding a back five in a determination to keep United out. A red tidal wave descended upon them, with Paddy Crerand hitting the post and George Best finding a way through to take the lead, but it was all United could manage.

The victory would eventually prove enough, as United’s support later embarked on their first European away trip in significant numbers. But while the result was a narrow one, it finally showed something more valuable – unlike ten years before, Madrid had come to Old Trafford and were too scared to play. United had arrived as a European giant.

About Callum Hamilton

Callum writes for The Busby Babe on SB Nation. Follow @Callum_TH on Twitter.

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  1. santafereno says:

    Let’s hope that our next tie becomes an ageless classic! What the hell, I’ll settle for a 0-0 draw.

  2. wayne says:

    Obviously 68 has to be the most important,i was just a young lad and probably at the time more of a George Best fan,i was mesmerized by him as a very young lad his 1966 ‘El Beatle’ performance against Benfica but after this game and then the final a Red had been born,that was a fucking awesome side

  3. Jasonkamera says:

    What the hell is this from Ando?! One of my favourites…but maybe not for long…

  4. Briggsy says:

    Hmmmm, don’t know if he’s been misquoted, but it looks like Anderson is looking, has been looking, to leave

  5. yustaq says:

    Can’t predict know what the scoreline will look like… But man utd will get pass madrid to 1/8 final.

  6. wayne says:

    Find it hard to believe that if Ando has tried to leave ‘many times’ he’d still be at the club if he feels that way goodbye and good luck as far as i’m concerned Utd have been patient and fair with the lad

  7. taff says:

    United just need to focus one game at a time .never mind history books .every player that puts that red shirt on should be honourd to do so and look to make their own history for the club and fans .many a good footballer never got the chance. To represent their team and would’ve played for no money just the wear the devils shirt .so any player not willing to give their all for united should never be allowed to put on the shirt .

  8. taff says:

    If united give any opersition too much respect theve lost already.make them respect you .

  9. AlphaRS says:

    The arrogance of this article just annoys me. I think SAF might have something to do with it…!

  10. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    hopefully we make a FURIOUS start and hit them early for two goals. Get them dishevelled before they even settle down. Can’t risk playing for a 0-0 draw.

  11. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    @AlphaRS Zubizaretta and his crew can fuck right off. DeGea is here to stay. Why the fuck would we sign someone for 17 million pounds to only stay here for two seasons? Barcelona think they can run over us like they did Arsenal? FUCK THAT. Include Messi in the deal and then we can talk.

  12. WeAreUnited says:


    I als odoubt it, I don’t believe that he tried to leave many times, cause I bet SAF would have said goodbye with his injury proness, that’s why that’s a news duck.

    I don’t believe it.

  13. Random says:

    Regarding Anderson.

    In the comments section of SkySports link above, a Brazilian comments that Anderson merely meant that he may have thought about leaving but he was convinced to stay and make it at United.

    I think I believe the guy.

  14. Andromeda says:

    An injury prone player like Anderson can’t flourish anywhere except united.I think its fair to say we are one of the most patient club in term taking care of long standing or recurrent form of I need to mention?the likes of Owen Hargreaves and Fletcher are just few examples.thus in my opinion Anderson would make the mistake of his life by leaving us, moreover I believe he is now more mature and recognize his potential and he obviously knows he must start from zero at any other club.few words of wisdom from Fergie and deep self contemplation could change his mind methinks.personally I can’t see this happening unless the lad could do it out of an extra mindless advice or psychological breakdow.whatever he decides, I wish him a good luck though, he was a brilliant servant afterall, nevertheless it would be very sad to see him leaving:(

  15. orez says:

    I cried at 2003. I couldn’t believe we were playing such an amazing game but we were destined to loose the tie. It was very sad and Ronaldo was just a beast. One of the best games he has ever played. How many other games did he lose after scoring 3?

  16. King Eric says:

    Alpha – Alright mate. Fuck me how arrogant? “The heirachy will decide” Err no you cunt I think United may have a say in it. Fucking cunts, do one. Also the writers line “After a succession of high profile errors” He has made about TWO all season.


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