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Manchester United and FC Barcelona have always been European heavyweights powerhouses and meetings between the pair have been encounters that have lived with supporters of both clubs ever since.

Their first meetings may have been in the European Cup Winners' Cup, but were no less impressive than the two ties they have played in the Champions League in more recent seasons.

The tie this season is, arguably, the most important of all the games between the Red Devils and the Blaugrana as the stakes are at an all time high with a place in Moscow awarded to the winner. There is no talk of the financial implications of victory, but instead these matches will be about the essence of the game with prestige, pride and glory for the triumphant club.

There are no scores to settle, however, as both sides have two wins to their names from their previous seven games, but that does not tell half the story of what those matches meant and how ingrained in the clubs' histories they have become. Mutual respect is a given and looking back through the archives it is no surprise that neither camp are making any bold predictions.

1983-84 European Cup Winners' Cup - Quarter Final

Diego Maradona was in his prime and just his appearance at Old Trafford was being hotly anticipated as the new star of world football was expected to run United ragged and steer the Catalans towards the semi finals of the competition, but that did not happen. The Champions League may be all-powerful today, but two decades ago it was a highly-rated competition as only one place per country was granted in the European Cup, while the UEFA Cup was often seen as the most difficult trophy to win. United were also nothing like the force that they currently are, having spent year in the silverware wilderness while their arch rivals Liverpool dominated the domestic and continental scene. Barcelona were not doing much better for themselves as they were still one season away from ending an 11-year run without winning the Spanish league title.

The capture of Maradona lifted the Blaugrana's profile around the world once again and led Ron Atkinson's side to believe that it was the Argentinian who would have to be stopped. In the first leg in Camp Nou, it was not the Albiceleste hero who had a hand in the visitors' downfall but rather their own Graeme Hogg who put through his own net to give Barça the lead. Juan Carlos Pérez Rojo added a second in the final minute and Barcelona appeared set to enjoy a comfortable trip to England. Instead, Manchester United were to enjoy one of the most memorable European nights in their history. Maradona failed to light up Old Trafford as a Bryan Robson-inspired home side stunned their visitors. The England midfielder scored twice to level the score on aggregate only for Barça to pull themselves together as they began to play. But there was a twist in the tale as Norman Whiteside's knockdown found Frank Stapleton and he nodded in the winning goal.

1991 European Cup Winners' Cup Final

History now shows that without the FA Cup triumph a year before this match Sir Alex Ferguson may well have been out of a job. That may have been his first domestic success, but the encounter with Barcelona in Rotterdam's De Kuip stadium could have been the spark that led to the domination of the 1990's. While the Red Devils went on to be all-powerful in England, the Barça side that they defeated morphed into Johan Cruyff's legendary Dream Team, as 12 months after losing in Holland, the Blaugrana were lifting the European Cup for the first time in their history after beating Sampdoria at Wembley. The majority of stars in that game werre on display against Manchester United, but could not muster en equaliser after going two goals behind, despite the late sustained spell of pressure.

Just as Robson had been seven years before, Mark Hughes was the hero of the day as he showed Barcelona what attracted them to him in the first place when they signed him in 1986. While the Welshman's powerful style saw him fail to impress in la Primera, it helped United in the final as he scored twice to help the Red Devils become the first English team to win a European trophy since the end of the country's five-year ban from continental competition. Steve Bruce thought that he had put the English team ahead only for Hughes to race in a prod the ball over the line from point-blank range, but there was no doubting his second goal as hammered a shot into the far corner of hte net leaving Carlos Busquets with no chance. Ronald Koeman reduced the arrears ten minutes from time with a free-kick, but United held on despite some intense pressure in the final minutes from the Blaugrana.

1994-95 Champions League - Group Stage

Sir Alex Ferguson has stated that Manchester United's early years among the trophies were defined by games against Manchester United. The lessons learned from the tie in the 1994-95 campaign proved to invaluable to Scot and his ever-improving team. For the Blaugrana, they had seen their Dream Team suffer a humiliating defeat in the Champions League final the season before as they went down 4-0 against AC Milan in Athens. That reverse spelt the beginning of the end for Cruyff at Camp Nou as his team failed to win anything else before his departure in 1996. But the Dutchman still had the beating of United as he guided the Blaugrana to their first victory over the Mancunian outfit as they put on a master class in Camp Nou after the opening encounter ended in a draw at Old Trafford.

While the two big guns would be expected to cruise through the group stages if they were paired in this era, 13 years ago both trailed behind IFK Gothenburg, with United not even qualifying for the next stage, while Barça finished as runners-up. After losing to the Swedes, Barcelona travelled to Old Trafford and earned a morale-boosting 2-2 draw. The highlight of the game came when Brian McClair's cross was met by Lee Sharpe and the youngster produced a delightful back-flick to put the ball into the far corner of the net. In the second game, Barça were led by a rampaging Hristo Stoichkov whose continuous running at the United back line saw his side run away with an incredible 4-0 victory The Bulgarian scored the first and third goals of a night hat also saw Romario and Albert Ferrer beat the keeper. That unfortunate custodian was not Peter Schmeichel, however, as Ferguson inexplicably chose to field Gary Walsh in order to rest the Dane.

1998/99 Champions League - Group Stage

Four years later the teams produced two of the most memorable encounters in Champions League history and this time it was United that progressed from the group while Barça finished third and were eliminated from the competition. Once again there was a team that superseded both as Bayern Munich ended up on top and it was the Germans that were to face United in a dramatic final at the end of the season. Both Barcelona and United only won two matches in the group and all of those came against a hapless Brondby side and they were separated by the fact that Ferguson's men drew twice with Bayern and Barça lost both their games. Louis van Gaal's team did have the consolation of going on to retain the Spanish league title, while the Red Devils marked their most successful campaign ever by lifting the Champions League, the Premiership title and the UEFA Cup.

Both games between them ended 3-3 and anyone that was either or both will not have forgotten them. In the first match at Old Trafford, Ryan Giggs nodded United ahead before Paul Scholes added a second from a rebound to put the hosts on control. Sonny Anderson reduced the arrears. David Beckham's rise to prominence continued as he scored a superb free-kick after setting up the opening two goals, while the visitors needed penalties from Luis Enrique and Giovanni to earn a share of the spoils. The second match in Camp Nou was even more open affair as both sides cold have scored six each, Ferguson later admitted. Anderson, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Rivaldo all scored to make it 2-2 before Yorke met a Beckham cross to nod in his second and Rivaldo levelled with a spectacular overhead kick.

Not one tie between Manchester United and Barcelona has seen either side ever go out to earn a bore draw and if this season's games are anything like the previous meetings then the tie should be as classic as everyone is predicting.
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