United v Real Madrid: Whose ultimate XI is best?
Manchester United v Real Madrid is one of the most storied fixtures in European football, with a history dating back over 60 years.
From the Spanish club’s domination of the early years of the European Cup, through the great sides of Sir Alex Ferguson and Vicente del Bosque, and into the modern era, the two behemoths have housed some of world football’s greatest talents.
These names have often been on show when the clubs have gone into battle, which has occurred on 11 occasions - with three anniversaries landing this week, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
With that in mind, we’ve put a ‘greatest XI’ together for both United and Real, based on those who have played in those games.
Who do you think would come out on top? Scroll down to take a look...
Our 1968 goalkeeper Alex Stepney is unlucky to miss out to our current no. 1, David De Gea, between the sticks. The Spaniard, who began his career at Real’s city rivals Atletico, has come up against Los Blancos on three occasions, more than any other Reds’ keeper, and made several memorable saves during our 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in the 2013 Champions League last 16.
Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand, both of whom played against Madrid in 2003, are included in our back four, with Rio partnering Bill Foulkes, the hero of the 1968 semi-final tie. The Busby Babe only registered nine goals in 688 games for the Reds, but the equaliser in a 3-3 draw in Madrid ensured we made it to the European Cup final at Wembley which we would, of course, go on to win. The man who was captain of the side when Foulkes first played for United against Real, Roger Byrne, completes a strong-looking backline.
David Beckham, who would later go on to star at the Bernabeu, makes it into our XI through his virtuoso display from the substitutes’ bench against Madrid in 2003. The right midfielder struck a trademark free-kick and a late winner to complete a second-leg comeback, in one of his final outings at Old Trafford. In midfield, Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton, who played in 1957’s 2-2 draw, in the first European game at Old Trafford, partner each other, with Charlton’s 1968 team-mate George Best out on the left-wing. Bestie struck the only goal in the first-leg of our semi-final against Madrid that year, crashing home John Aston’s centre to give the Reds a significant lead to take over to the Spanish capital.
Another Red who also turned out in the white of Real is present in our attack. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored in both legs of our 2003 defeat, on his way to a tally of 44 in all competitions that season, elevating him to the pantheon of all-time United striking greats. The choice for his partner in our XI is a tough one, but Busby Babe Tommy Taylor – two in two against Real in 1957 and the only MUFC forward with a more prolific scoring ratio than Ruud – just gets the nod over Denis Law, who missed the second leg in 1968 through an injury that would keep him out of the Wembley final.
Sir Matt Busby just edges out Sir Alex Ferguson, by virtue of being the only United manager to get past the Spaniards in a two-legged tie.
United XI: De Gea; G. Neville, Foulkes, Ferdinand, Byrne; Beckham, Edwards, Charlton, Best; van Nistelrooy, Taylor.
United and Real's shared starsGallery
We take a look at eight players who have taken to the pitch for both the Reds and Real.
There’s an outstanding candidate for Real Madrid’s number one position: Iker Casillas. Although the Spanish World Cup winner was out of favour when we faced Los Blancos in 2013, he first came to the fore back in 2000 as a 18-year-old, helping Real emerge past United in the quarter-finals with a string of magnificent saves, on the way to becoming the youngest goalkeeper ever to play in a Champions League final. That victory, over Valencia, would be the first of an incredible 19 trophies Iker would win during a 16-year spell at the Bernabeu.
Madrid’s backline in our XI is dominated by players from their 2000 and 2003 victories over United, with the more defensively minded Michel Salgado on the right helping to provide balance for the ever-foraying Roberto Carlos on the opposite flank. Fernando Hierro, who began his career as a prolific midfielder before gradually retreating deeper, partners Sergio Ramos in an iron-clad central partnership, which boasts a combined seven Champions League titles.
Classic Match: United 1 Real Madrid 0
Stop scrolling and watch these highlights of our European win over Real Madrid at Old Trafford, held on 24 April 1968...
A galaxy of creative midfield players have crossed paths with the Reds while in the pristine white of Madrid over the years, including Luka Modric, Raymond Kopa and Luis Figo. We’ve opted to ignore those gilded names, though, in favour of Fernando Redondo, Zinedine Zidane and Francisco Gento. While Zidane’s name needs no introduction, only readers of a certain age will recall the greatness of Gento. Real Madrid’s version of Ryan Giggs, the man they called ‘Paco’ featured in every single one of Los Blancos’ first six European Cup triumphs as an outside left, but he plays a more withdrawn role in this XI. Redondo, meanwhile, was Madrid’s captain in their 2000 success at Old Trafford, superbly orchestrating the Spaniards’ midfield and sending the unfortunate Henning Berg for a picnic with a quite frankly ridiculous piece of skill, before teeing up Raul for the visitors’ third. After the game, Ferguson could only hold his hands up: "Redondo must have a magnet in his pants. He was fantastic, unbelievable."
In arguably the most formidable attacking line-up ever dreamed up, the man who Reds legend Paddy Crerand believes is the finest of all footballers, Alfredo Di Stefano, acts as a false nine, between Cristiano Ronaldo – once of this parish and Madrid’s record goalscorer – and his Brazilian namesake Ronaldo, who famously put the Reds to the sword in 2003 with his destructive hat-trick, forcing even the starchiest Mancunians to stand up and applaud his majestic individual brilliance. That players of the reputation of Raul, Karim Benzema and Kaka miss out is testament to just how many galacticos Real have boasted over the years.
Champions League and World Cup-masterminding coach Vicente Del Bosque pips Miguel Munoz, Jose Mourinho and Zidane to a place in Real's dugout.
Real Madrid XI: Casillas; Salgado, Ramos, Hierro, Carlos; Zidane, Redondo, Gento; Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Stefano, Ronaldo.