Revealed: United's top five European comebacks
Which is the greatest European comeback over two legs in Manchester United's history? That’s the big question we're asking, on the 35-year anniversary of our famous turnaround against Barcelona back in 1984.
That famous night at an electric Old Trafford naturally features in our countdown of ties we won after losing the first leg. But we begin with another victory, secured more recently in 2014, when the Theatre of Dreams played another significant role…
5: UNITED 3 OLYMPIACOS 0 (3-2 ON AGG)
After suffering a chastening 2-0 first-leg defeat in Greece, which sent ripples through Europe, David Moyes' side had to win by three clear goals in the return fixture at Old Trafford.
Our preparation was far from ideal - losing 3-0 at home to Liverpool in the Premier League three days earlier - but Robin van Persie was thankfully on sparkling form, brushing off an inconsistent campaign to score a sensational hat-trick. The Dutchman set us on our way with a penalty, scored a clinical second strike before the break and netted a decisive third with a 51st-minute free-kick. All before leaving on a stretcher late on!
“Of course there was pressure after Sunday because it was a bad performance and bad result,” the evergreen Ryan Giggs said afterwards, referring to the Liverpool game. “We owed the fans because they've been unbelievable.”
Sir Alex Ferguson’s improving side had lost 2-1 in Rome, with Wayne Rooney scoring a valuable away goal, and this second leg at Old Trafford was a real test of the group’s trophy-winning credentials. They passed that examination with flying colours, by ripping apart a feared Italian side with unerring ability and flair.
Michael Carrick curled in the opener, Alan Smith shot home a second and Rooney added a third by finishing off a superb move. Cristiano Ronaldo then grabbed a brace, firing into the bottom corner and sliding home a Ryan Giggs cross, before Carrick smashed in our sixth goal of the night. Roma replied through Daniele De Rossi, but Patrice Evra ensured we finished on a high with a low shot that rounded off an amazing aggregate win.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently revealed Sir Alex was always convinced we’d win. “We lost 2-1 away from home and the manager was so happy. He said, 'We'll be all right, we'll win at home'. He was so confident in our abilities.”
3: UNITED 3 ATHLETIC CLUB 0 (6-5 ON AGG)
In our debut European Cup campaign, led by the pioneering Matt Busby, the fabled Babes travelled to the Basque country and served up an enthralling, entertaining match that ended in a 5-3 loss, with Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet and Liam Whelan all among the goals.
What followed was the first great comeback in our European history, played in the unusual surroundings of Man City’s Maine Road because Old Trafford did not have floodlights then (they were installed in time for our next fixture against Bolton).
The win arrived thanks to goals from Viollet, Taylor and Johnny Berry, prompting assistant manager Jimmy Murphy to say: "I cried when we scored the that third goal. I don't mind admitting it. Silly, isn't it? But this is the greatest night of my life in soccer."
The Reds kicked off at Old Trafford needing to overturn a two-goal deficit after a defeat at the Nou Camp two weeks earlier. And it was Ron Atkinson's men who took the lead after 20 minutes, with Bryan Robson's bullet header setting the tone for the 58,000 fortunate fans in attendance.
Five minutes into the second half, Barcelona's goalkeeper Javier Urruticoechea, parried straight into the path of Captain Marvel, who levelled the scores on aggregate. The winner came three minutes later when Frank Stapleton lashed the ball into the net and United advanced to the semi-finals.
“I can virtually remember every moment of the game,” Atkinson told us this week. “I’ve never ever been to any football match anywhere in the world that had an atmosphere like the one we had at Old Trafford that night. It was absolutely unbelievable.”
Memories are short in football, and history is often overlooked, but the achievement of beating PSG without 11 first-team players and by playing the best of our Academy cannot be underestimated. This result was nothing short of a miracle, and showcased everything that is great about United.
The Ligue 1 champions won resoundingly at Old Trafford in the first leg, with players like Kylian Mbappé and Marco Verratti producing a performance that justified the hype around their squad, and many pundits felt the tie was over before our trip to Paris. But nobody told Solskjaer or Mike Phelan, and an inexperienced squad went on to shock football in France.
Romelu Lukaku scored after two minutes and, although Juan Bernat equalised soon after, the Reds persevered and our Belgian striker netted again on 30 minutes. A tense second half followed and the home side showed their strength, but our heroes stuck together and found a last-gasp winner in dramatic circumstances: VAR spotted a handball from Presnel Kimpenbe and a penalty was awarded, teeing up Marcus Rashford to convert and secure our greatest European comeback.