Old Trafford has staged some special European nights over the years.

Opinion: Old Trafford is due a special European night

As a rather greedy Manchester United supporter, I feel we are overdue another special night watching the Reds in the Champions League at Old Trafford and I sincerely hope this is our time to deliver.

I was fortunate enough to be in Turin and Paris this season to witness victories that, while against the odds, should provide the fuel for further heroics against Barcelona.

Such victories on our travels should mean nobody is complaining about the fact the draw with the Spanish leaders was switched due to Manchester City also being at home in their second leg next week. Yet, first and foremost, it is abundantly clear that we need to do our job in this leg.

Paul Pogba takes on the PSG defence.
Things did not go to plan for Paul Pogba - and United - in the home leg with PSG.

There was nothing in the first half of the Old Trafford game against Paris Saint-Germain but a couple of key injuries took their toll and, in the end, it is fair to say the French side ran out comfortable victors – particularly after Paul Pogba was sent off. The same could be said about Juventus as, despite Pablo Dybala scoring the only goal, the Italians’ rock-solid defence showed few signs of being penetrated like they were in the closing stages of the second leg.

There was the win over Young Boys, with a very late goal by the now-departed Marouane Fellaini, but it is impossible to argue against any suggestion that United have under performed at home in this Champions League of late. Going back to last season, Sevilla progressed in the knockout stages after a 2-1 success on the night, and on aggregate, as again we came up short when expectation was high.

In fairness, we won our previous three Old Trafford ties in the 2017/18 tournament, scoring seven goals in the process, and kept our nerve to go all the way in the Europa League – even if we needed extra-time to see off Anderlecht and a 1-1 draw with Celta Vigo made for a nervous night in the semi-final.

However, in the Champions League, as somebody who has been spoilt rotten by the club’s success, I feel we are waiting for an evening in Manchester that will at least come close to those glorious occasions of yesteryear. And I just know the Old Trafford faithful will react in kind if we can produce the stirring performance that we know is capable from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.

Perhaps I am being short sighted here and cases can be made for other notable nights, even quite recently. There was the time in 2014 when Bayern Munich needed an equaliser from future Red Bastian Schweinsteiger to earn a draw. In the previous round, Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick to overturn Olympiacos’ two-goal lead from the leg in Athens.

A 4-1 defeat of Schalke, at the semi-final stage no less, was not to be sniffed at but the tie was already strongly in our favour after a fine 2-0 triumph in Gelsenkirchen. Yes, Chelsea were beaten in front of a raucous atmosphere earlier in that campaign and yet, as English opponents, it inevitably did not quite have the same feel as a classic European encounter.

So perhaps it could be contested, more than a little unfairly, that the last time we really had one of those games that has contributed to the legend of the famous Champions League ties under the lights at the Theatre of Dreams was back in 2010, when David Beckham’s AC Milan were unceremoniously battered 4-0. 

Indeed, in his exclusive pre-match interview with MUTV, Ole argued that the last great and special European night we experienced at Old Trafford was the last time Barcelona visited in 2008, when Scholesy thundered in the only goal to send us to the final in Moscow.

Ji-sung Park scores against AC Milan.
Ji-sung Park finds the net as United cruise past AC Milan 4-0 in 2010.

Almost a decade has passed since then, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge, including, as I have mentioned, a successful path all the way to the final and Barcelona at Wembley in 2011. I was at the national stadium that night too and the level of pain felt ridiculous, having seen my team go within one step of lifting the trophy after reaching a third final in four seasons. I’d been at each of these showpiece events (I told you I was spoilt) and Pep Guardiola’s side were just too good on the day.

As a fan, you live in hope and somehow use the bad experiences to further crank up the exhilaration when things do go well. If you told me on the train back from London that we would have to wait eight years before attempting to exact some revenge, it would have seemed an awfully long time.

Antonio Valencia is tugged back by Andres Iniesta.
Andres Iniesta pulls back Antonio Valencia as United lose 3-1 in our last meeting with Barcelona.

If you also told me that I would be a little starved of what a demanding supporter might deem an ultra-special Champions League tie at Old Trafford, this may have seemed harder to accept. However, if we produce a passionate performance worthy of so many of our great contests with the Catalans in the past, and manage to take a lead to the Nou Camp, all of this will be instantly forgotten.

We have done it in Europe away from our home turf but now is the time to show the watching world but, first and foremost, our wonderful supporters within Old Trafford that this is the company we still truly belong in. Let’s have another of those special nights under the lights!

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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