As Manchester United prepare for their penultimate group game in the Europa League tonight when Dutch side Feyenoord visit the Theatre of Dreams, big European nights under the lights at Old Trafford seem like a distant memory. The Reds last stellar tie on the European stage came last season and although it was a two-legged affair against Liverpool – which United eventually lost 3-1 on aggregate – it came at the last 16 stage of the Europa League, hardly mouth-watering. In this edition of Throwback Thursday, I take a look back at happier times in Europe as United recorded their biggest Champions League victory back in 2007 in the second leg of their quarter-final match up against Roma.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, United were well up against it, knowing full well that a Sir Alex Ferguson side had never overturned a first-leg deficit in the knockout stages in five previous attempts. The big talking point prior to kick-off was the inclusion of Alan Smith up top who was making only his fourth start of the season following his recovery from a horrific leg break and dislocated ankle suffered against Liverpool 14 months earlier in the FA Cup.
The Italian giants showed their attacking intentions early on as David Pizzaro and then Francesco Totti took aim from distance with both efforts fizzing just wide of Edwin van der Sar’s upright. After a few early scares, United were 1-0 to the good on 12 minutes, Michael Carrick with the goal and as things stood, Fergie’s men were going through on away goals. Carrick – an £18.6m summer acquisition from Tottenham Hotspur – collected an inside pass from Cristiano Ronaldo, took one touch out his feet before effortlessly stroking the ball around Brazilian keeper Doni.
Six minutes later and United were 2-0 up on the night and ahead on aggregate for the first time in the tie. A sweeping move saw Ryan Giggs collect the ball and with a first time pass that left Roma defender Cristian Chivu on his backside the Welshman found Smith bearing down on goal. The Yorkshireman coolly guided the ball past Doni with a side-footed half-volley and duly celebrated like a man who had scored his first goal for 18 months.
The Italian side were still reeling when the home side added a third moments later. From being 2-1 down at the start of play, United were now 4-2 up thanks to three goals in just seven minutes, we hadn’t even reached the 20 minute mark either! With the Roma defence backtracking, a darting run from Ronaldo found Smith who then helped the ball onto Giggs on the right-hand side. Wayne Rooney got in on the act as he swept home Giggs’ low cross to make it 3-0 to the hosts.
Ronaldo found the net either side of half time to make it 5-0. His first came just before the interval. Giggs found the Portuguese with a lovely through ball however Ronaldo still had a lot to do. He sized up Chivu before rifling the ball past Doni at the near post. The Reds started the second period much like they finished the first. A Giggs corner was cleared and then recycled to the Welsh wizard by Rooney, Giggs then drilled the ball across goal allowing Ronaldo to bundle home his second and United’s fifth.
Carrick then doubled his account for the evening with an effort that matched, if not bettered his first-half strike. The midfielder received the ball from left-back Gabriel Heinze before nonchalantly guiding the ball into the top right corner, Doni once again, was helpless. Daniele De Rossi pulled one back for the visitors but it was merely a consolation, if that. United weren’t done though as defender Patrice Evra completed the rout with another long-range effort 10 minutes from time. United were through to the semi-finals of the competition with a 8-3 aggregate victory. Sublime stuff. United were excellent. They looked like scoring with every attack.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the victory as the “best night of European football we’ve had here (Old Trafford).” The Scotsman said:
“It was a fantastic performance by every one of our players. The speed of our play and our penetration was absolutely superb.
“That’s absolutely the best night of European football we’ve had here.”
The Reds faced another Italian side in the last four in the form of AC Milan however, despite taking a first-leg lead, were knocked out when they lost 3-0 in the San Siro. Milan went on to win the competition, beating Liverpool in the final (which is always nice), which was funnily enough held at Old Trafford.