Manchester United’s Champions League group stage encounter with Barcelona in October of 1994 welcomed the big guns back to Old Trafford with the game more than living up to the hype.
When Manchester United won the inaugural Premier League title in 1993 it not only ended a 26-year wait for the top prize in English football it also meant the Reds earned the right to play in Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in almost three decades.
However, a combination of inexperience and naivety had ensured that Alex Ferguson’s men would crash out of the newly branded Champions League before Christmas as Turkish side Galatasaray embarrassed United’s stars with an away goals victory after they had overcome Honved in the First Round.
But winning the league title again in 1994 meant they would get another crack at the big boys the following season and they don’t come much bigger than Barcelona who were drawn with United in the group stage of the competition; setting up the one of the most eagerly awaited clashes at Old Trafford in years.
United had started their campaign brightly, beating Swedish champions Goteborg at home and drawing in the heated atmosphere of Istanbul against Galatasaray, who had ended their European dreams just 12 months earlier; but the game everyone was looking forward to was the clash against the Spanish champions on October 19.
As well as pitting their wits against one of the top names in Europe the clash would also ensure United would face one of the finest teams on the planet which included the likes of Romário, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman and were managed by former club legend and Dutch master Johan Cruyff.
And despite the quality of their opponents United were far from intimidated with Mark Hughes opening the scoring after just 19 minutes when he out-jumped Koeman and headed home at the Stretford end after some good work down the left from Lee Sharpe and nearly connected with another Sharpe cross moments later as the Reds turned the screw.
But United would pay for not taking their chances as a fine move, which was started deep in his own half by Ronald Koeman, saw Barcelona sweep forward with Romario latching on to a perfect through ball to slot the ball through Peter Schmeichel’s legs to level the match at 1-1 as the teams went in for half-time.
The home side never really recovered from that blow and just two minutes after the break found themselves trailing when another Koeman inspired move saw Barcelona take the lead through Bakero, who beautifully controlled the Dutchman’s cross before lashing the ball into the net.
With United staring at their first ever home European defeat they increased the pressure on the visitors and eventually levelled things up once more with 10 minutes remaining when, after some fine footwork from Roy Keane, Lee Sharpe was able to calmly flick the ball home with his heel to send the Old Trafford faithful wild with jubilation.
Not exactly the greatest result in the club’s history but what that epic encounter with Barcelona in October of 1994 did was to welcome back the big European nights to Old Trafford which had been sorely missed for so long while whetting the appetite of United fans for plenty more over the coming decades.