Highbury 2005 was an all-time football classic

Of all the 'Match Rewind' games we've streamed during lockdown, tonight's – the 4-2 win at Arsenal from February 2005 – is undoubtedly the one I am most desperate to watch.

Most Reds will tell you that the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay between the two sides was the greatest game of football they've ever seen in their lives. But it's also one we relive all the time.
 
Ryan Giggs's famous solo goal is rightly all over social media every few weeks, and we can all retell the story of that game, and the final weeks of the Treble season, in our sleep.
 
But the 4-2 is, for my money, the second greatest game of football I've watched as a United fan.
It didn't mean anything come the end of the season – neither side won the title – but it was the final game of one of English football's fiercest rivalries, which roughly spanned the years 1997-2005. And when you've got that kind of context, silverware and league points don't need to matter.
 
It's personal.
 
That became clear from minute one in this match. Actually, scrap that: it was clear way before minute one.
 
To be precise, it was clear when Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira nearly came to blows in the Highbury tunnel, after the Arsenal captain had targeted Gary Neville.
 
“We'll see you out there,”
barked Keane, and he meant it in the truest sense of the phrase. On the pitch, actions, not words, would reveal the essence of both sides.
Several United players refused to shake Vieira's hand when the teams met for the ersatz 'show of respect' after the teams had lined up.
 
And when the game began, it did so as ferociously as you might expect. And then it simply kept going at a breakneck pace for the entire 90 minutes.
 
Goals always help games, and there were plenty here, but the beauty of it went beyond that. The sharp passing, the committed tackles, the arguments, the disputes... they all made stark the sheer desperation both teams felt as they strained for superiority.
 
It was football of the highest standard in terms of technical ability, yes, but it was ultimately so enjoyable because this game mattered in a profound way to whatever 22 players were present on the pitch throughout the match.
If you've never seen it before, I urge you to tune in for the full showing tonight.
 
See Cristiano Ronaldo showing a glimpse of the goalscoring machine he would become.
 
See Roy Keane snapping in everywhere, firing intelligent, purposeful passes all over the pitch.
 
A young Wayne Rooney tearing around like a turbo-charged dodgem.
 
And, of course, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, as usual, knocking the ball around in that typical no-fuss Mancunian style.
Red cards, a United comeback, and all of this. Not to mention John O'Shea's ludicrous late chip over Manuel Almunia.
 
But all of that is the mere icing on the cake. This match could have been 0-0 and it still would have been bewitching. Because, as Keane's spat with Vieira made clear before kick-off, these were two sides that were willing to give absolutely everything to avoid losing to one another.
 
Sport doesn't get any more compelling, any more human, than this.

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