Seven German sides United have faced
Football returns on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend, with the resumption of the Bundesliga in Germany. The fierce derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke is the standout fixture for us, not least because both of those teams have faced Manchester United in Champions League semi-finals.
The club from North Rhine-Westphalia were our first German opponents, the clubs meeting in 1956 and 1964, and while we dominated those earlier clashes, our last match-up still hurts, 23 years on. The teams were paired in the 1997 Champions League semi-finals, with Dortmund winning the first leg 1-0 in Germany – a deflected goal past Raimond van der Gouw, deputising for Peter Schmeichel, who was injured in the warm-up. The return match at Old Trafford, though, is one that still brings fans out in a cold sweat. After an early netbuster from Lars Ricken, the Reds were up against it, and lay siege to the Dortmund net in search of at least three goals. Despite 21 attempts, Cantona and co couldn't break through. "I couldn't have asked for more – apart from a few goals," was Sir Alex Ferguson’s rueful assessment.
United Review x BundesligaGallery
Take a look at 16 programme covers from United's previous encounters with German opposition. Wunderbar!
Borussia Dortmund are currently second in the Bundesliga.
16 May: Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04, 14:30 BST, Signal Iduna Park.
And well may you ask! This lot started life in Leipzig, moved to Berlin, changed their name several times, and now reside in Frankfurt, playing in the sixth tier of German football as FC Frankfurt. It's a far cry from their heyday, when United met ASK Vorwaerts – their fourth incarnation – in the first round of the 1965/66 European Cup, claiming a 5-1 aggregate victory for a quarter-final berth (one tie and into the quarters, those were the days...)
That success came courtesy of a battling victory in the away leg – John Connelly and Denis Law on the scoresheet – while a fortnight later the Reds wrapped up the tie with a David Herd hat-trick in a 3-1 win. "We set out to hold them and come out and play when we could," said Busby, ever the pioneer, of United's counterattacking style. "We did remarkably well."
Deutschland's most highly decorated club will forever have their name etched into United's history because of their part in arguably our greatest night. Clinching a second European Cup, and the Treble into the bargain, is undoubtedly the highlight of the Reds' fixtures against Germany's finest. Oddly, that heart-stoppingly narrow win is one of only two wins against the Bavarians in 11 attempts. The final in Barcelona was the third game against Bayern of the 1998/99 campaign, the previous two ending as draws: 2-2 in the Olympiastadion and 1-1 at Old Trafford. The latter result enabled the Germans to top the group but allowed both to progress.
Since glory in the Nou Camp, we’ve been paired in one Champions League group stage – honours shared in both ties – and three quarter-finals, with Bayern exacting revenge for May 1999 on all three of those knockout match-ups. Ole’s winner still smarts, then…
Bayern Munich currently top the Bundesliga, four points clear of Dortmund.
17 May: Union Berlin v Bayern, 17:00 BST, An der Alten Forsterei Stadium.
Just two meetings with the club from south-west Germany, who now find themselves in the second-tier of the Bundesliga following relegation last season. We were drawn together in the same group in 2003/04 and had a mixed time of it, although a below-par performance in Germany was eventually no obstacle to United's progress. Two second-half goals in two minutes from Imre Szabics and Kevin Kuranyi in the Mercedes-Benz Arena set up a shock win for Stuttgart as the Reds, despite a Ruud penalty after the hour, failed to muster an equaliser.
It was a different story at Old Trafford as United claimed a straightforward 2-0 win. Goals from van Nistelrooy, who equalled Denis Law’s club record of 28 in European competition, and Ryan Giggs bagged the points to go five points clear of Stuttgart as group winners.
Stuttgart are currently second in Bundesliga 2.
17 May: Wehen v Stuttgart, 12:30 BST, BRITA-Arena (Bundesliga 2).
Like their Bundesliga rivals from Dortmund, Leverkusen inflicted yet more semi-final heartbreak on the Reds in April 2002. In our first meeting, at Old Trafford, Michael Ballack and Oliver Neuville scored the away goals in a 2-2 draw that would ultimately cost Sir Alex Ferguson the chance to lead United out at Hampden Park for the final. The second leg was a frustrating 1-1 draw, and no-one was more deflated than Roy Keane, who had missed the 1999 final through suspension, scored United's goal on the night and ran himself into the ground in his efforts to get his team over the line. “You just wish you had 10 of him," Sir Alex reflected. "He was marvellous. I am disappointed for everyone because they all contributed to a really good campaign, but we all hoped that Roy would get to the final."
United gained some revenge the following year, recording two wins in the group stage. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice in a 2-1 victory in the BayArena – the Reds' first win in Germany for 37 years. Juan Sebastian Veron and van Nistelrooy then secured a 2-0 triumph at Old Trafford in the return game, but both teams qualified from the group.
The last meetings between the clubs – in 2013– provided a goalfest for the fans, with United enjoying a significant upper hand. David Moyes’ first European match in charge of United delivered a 4-2 win for the Reds at Old Trafford, with an emphatic 5-0 away win to follow two months later.
Bayer Leverkusen are currently fifth in the Bundesliga.
18 May: Werder Bremen v Bayern Leverkusen, 19:30 BST, Weser-Stadion.
There have been four encounters with the team from Lower Saxony in the last 11 years, with plenty of goals shared between the teams. Our first clashes came in the 2009/10 group stages, with goals from Ryan Giggs (his 150th for the club) and Michael Carrick overcoming a shock opener from future resident of Manchester Edin Dzeko. The return tie in Germany was a landmark night for Michael Owen, who scored a hat-trick for the Reds, the 3-1 win also featuring another goal for Dzeko.
Five seasons ago we met again in the group stages, with a repeat of the 2-1 Old Trafford scoreline thanks to goals from Juan Mata and Chris Smalling. However, it was a bit of a horror show in the last game of the group, with United exiting the Champions League with a 3-2 defeat.
Wolfsburg are currently seventh in the Bundesliga.
16 May: FC Ausburg v Wolfsburg, 14:30 BST, SGL Arena.
Our first meeting with one of the giants of German football came at the semi-final stage of the Champions League in 2011, and thankfully the result didn’t go the same way as those other two last-four ties with Dortmund and Leverkusen. The first leg away in the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen put United in cruise control, a quickfire second-half salvo from Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney edging us a step closer to the final in Rome. That final berth was sealed with a dominant display at Old Trafford, the 4-1 win featuring the unlikely goalscorers Antonio Valencia, Darron Gibson and Anderson with two of his nine goals for the Reds.
Schalke 04 are currently sixth in the Bundesliga.
16 May: Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04, 14:30 BST, Signal Iduna Park.