Sorry about the delay in new posts! The madness of Christmas and work took over slightly! We return to the 5 best Champions League matches series this week with #2
In 1995, Alan Hansen infamously stated that you can’t win anything with kids. Immediately setting himself up for a fall, but even the pessimistic Hansen couldn’t have expected Manchester United to embarrass that remark so much that we would still be talking about it over a decade later. United were the dominant force in English football in the late 90s. Blackburn Rovers briefly threatened but Jack Walker’s millions eventually ran out and Arsenal were still finding their feet under Arsene Wenger. In 1999, the culmination of Alex Ferguson’s hard work was there for all to see. His side were playing excellent football; flowing in attack and steely in defence, they were a complete team. A last day comeback against Tottenham saw them edge out Arsenal in a fierce title race. That game was the start of a 10 day period in which United won the three biggest trophies available to them. Six days after the end of the Premier League season, they were back in action in the F.A Cup Final against Newcastle, they won easily and were able to take off Paul Scholes and Andy Cole early to rest for the Champions League Final, 4 days later. They arrived in Barcelona with all the momentum but were up against a resurgent Bayern Munich. For much of the match it looked like Roy Keane’s absence was going to cost them dearly, but in the dying minutes a young Norwegian popped up to decide the greatest Champions League final of the Twentieth Century.
Number 2- Manchester United 2 v 1 Bayern Munich, Final 1998/99
Roy Keane was United’s very own captain fantastic. He was the enforcer, leader and often creative force behind the first great dynasty of the Premier League. So how would Ferguson’s young team cope without the man who rescued them in the semi final as well as the visionary Paul Scholes? They started in retched fashion with Mario Basler firing home from 25 yards having caught Peter Schmeichel off guard from the set piece. However the young guns soon rallied and Dwight Yorke had their first chance of the game when a Jaap Stam header ricocheted into his path but the ball surprised him and he could only drag his shot wide of the post. Despite the early setback the game was United’s, although Bayern had sucker punched them, they hadn’t settled into the game and were having to defend furiously. David Beckham was delivering dangerously from every set piece, he deceived the Bayern defence and floated a ball to the far post where the aged Lothar Matthaus could only just head behind for a corner. Nevertheless, the Germans were holding strong and grew into the game. Content to sit back they broke down the majority of United’s attacks and broke forward, trying to release Alexander Zickler at every opportunity.
Half time came without incident, United had dominated possession but only crafted a few opportunities. The final one coming when Andy Cole scuffed a long ranch shot with others in good positions after 35 minutes. Few teams manage to hold on to an early lead for the entire game and this will have worried Ottmar Hitzfeld at half time. He would have to change his team’s set up for he knew that United’s pressure would increase tenfold after the break. And so it transpired. The second half started at a feverish pace with both teams seeking to score early on. United had the first chance after a dangerous Ryan Giggs corner found Ronny Johnsen unmarked in the box but the big Norwegian could only head over.
It was still all United but there was a moment of deja vu as Basler once again caught Schmeichel off guard from distance, this time however the ball shaved the crossbar and kept the Premier League champions in with a shot. Sensing that more was needed up front, it was Alex Ferguson who made the first change bringing the predatorial Teddy Sheringham on in place of the tiring Jesper Blomqvist. A tactical reorganisation saw Beckham move out the wing and Sheringham play straight through the middle. A matter of moments later and the Germans replicated the change, swapping the exhausted Zickler for Mehmet Scholl. It had been a frustrating 70 minutes for United as they still lacked a cut and thrust up front. Again Ferguson turned to the bench and made what is now seen as the most critical subsitution ever made by bringing on the ultimate super-sub, Ole Gunar Solskjaer. Solskjaer almost equalised immediatelym forcing a fine save from Oliver Kahn at his near post. However, the magical finish was not far away. As soon as the game entered stoppage time, United found their goal. Almost reacting to the 3 added minutes as if it were their last few minutes on Earth. Sheringham lived up to his reputation and scored with a perfectly timed shot whilst swivelling from eight yards. This turned the game on its head. Bayern had been the aggressors in the second half, peppering the woodwork from all angles but they went into a state of shock and retreated deep into their own half. It was all to no avail though as 2 minutes later, right at the death, Solskjaer delivered. A final David Beckham corner was flicked on at the near post by Sheringham leaving the entire defence flat footed and finding the predatory Solskjaer lingering at the back post with just enough space to rifle the ball into the roof of the net. Chaos followed, this was a stunning turnaround, the likes of which the newly reformatted Champions League had never seen. It was rightly regarded as the greatest final of the modern era at the time. It was one of those nights that football fans will never forget, and that United fans will take to their death beds.
I hope everyone enjoyed this article and comes back next week to see the culmination in the Top 5 Champions League Matches series. Please follow the blog on Twitter @FootballTop5s for all the latest updates.
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