The tie of the round is finally here : Man Utd v Real Madrid tonight in the second leg of their Champions League Second Round tie, with the game nicely poised for both sides after their 1-1 draw in the Bernabeu three weeks ago.
In recent memory for United supporters, there are painful memories of Real Madrid visiting Old Trafford, with Madrid knocking out the Reds when they were holders in 2000 and then losing on the night but going through on aggregate in 2003.
As ever, the memory goes back further and for United supporters in particular the semi final of 1968 evokes many romantic memories. Back in ’68, Sir Matt Busby confessed on the eve of the second leg – with his team having won the first leg at Old Trafford 1-0 – that United had been focussed on winning the European Cup and it was that distraction that resulted in them relinquishing their grip on the First Division. “The slip in the league could be the spur and the players were all of that opinion both when we trained and when we discussed this European Cup match”, confessed Busby, “This cup Manchester United wants to win most of all. It is and has been uppermost in our minds. It is something we want to bring back to England.”
United were in a perilous position at half time in the second leg, 3-1 down on the night and 3-2 down on aggregate, before a storming comeback and goals from David Sadler and Bill Foulkes provoked a headline of “Attacking Defenders Take United to European Cup Final”. Clearly, United can’t make the final if they qualify tonight yet with Robin van Persie going through a rare lean spell and a selection quandary over which forwards Sir Alex intends to play it could well be the case that the likes of Jonny Evans or Patrice Evra, who have both been among the goals this season, might summon the spirit of 68 and inspire a similar repeated headline for tomorrow’s paper.