Manchester United are opening their Champions League campaign with a ‘blockbuster’ fixture for only the third time, having typically always started the group stage by facing a favourable opponent.
In Paris Saint-Germain, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are meeting last season’s finalists and a side who have often made short work of the opening round of the competition in recent years.
It has been more than 20 years since United faced such high calibre opposition in their very first group game, with Barcelona the last when they visited Old Trafford in September 1998 – the 3-3 draw that night, one of a pair against the Catalans that season, remains iconic.
Juventus two years earlier, when they were reigning champions, is the only other example of a truly top opening opponent in 24 seasons competing at the elite European level, post-1992.
While there has been a handful of key comings and goings in Turin – Zinedine Zidane, Alen Boksic and Christian Vieri were the new faces replacing Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Paulo Sousa – Juve were still heavily fancied to lift the trophy again.
Boksic scored the only goal of the game in Turin, with Juve returning to the final, where they lost to Borussia Dortmund. United themselves had been knocked out by Dortmund in the semis.
That defeat in Italy is still one of only two opening Champions League group games that United have lost. The other came in September 2015 when Louis van Gaal’s team were beaten 2-1 by PSV Eindhoven, a game that is mostly remembered for Luke Shaw suffering a horrific broken leg.
After the competition was re-branded and modernised from the original European Cup, United played their first season back at this level since 1969 in the 1993/94 campaign. At that time, it was structured slightly different to now and Sir Alex Ferguson’s team didn’t reach the group stage, which was actually the third round following two opening knockout ties.
United’s very first Champions League group stage opponent was Swedish side Goteborg in September 1994. It was a 4-2 home victory at Old Trafford, with goals from Ryan Giggs (2), Andrei Kanchelskis and Lee Sharpe, a perfect start, although United ultimately failed to progress.
Over the years, United have played 22 opening group stage fixtures in the Champions League and won 13 of them. Aside from the aforementioned defeats, there have been nine draws.
In the two most recent seasons competing in the Champions League group stage, United have recorded successive 3-0 victories, both against Swiss opponents – Young Boys in 2018/19 and Basel in 2017/18. In September 2013, a David Moyes-led United put four goals past Bayer Leverkusen.
United’s biggest win to start a Champions League group stage was the 5-0 thrashing of Panathinaikos in September 2003, a game in which current boss Solskjaer scored, alongside Mikael Silvestre, Quinton Fortune, Nicky Butt and Eric Djemba-Djemba.
United have scored five in an opening group game on two other occasions, both also in the early 2000s. There was a 5-2 win over Maccabi Haifa to kick off the 2002/03 group stage, which produced Diego Forlan’s long-awaited first goal, and a 5-1 win against Anderlecht in September 2000, when Andy Cole scored a hat-trick to set a new club record for European Cup goals.
Despite a relative lack of elite opponents over the years, United’s most common results to kick off a Champions League group stage have been 1-0 wins or 0-0 draws – four of each.
They have beaten Galatasaray (2012/13), Besiktas (2009/10), Sporting CP (2007/08) and Lille (2001/02) by a single goal, while there have also been four opening goal-less draws against Rangers (2010/11), Villarreal (2008/09 & 2005/06) and Croatia Zagreb (1999/00).
Manchester United Opening Champions League Group Stage Results:
Man Utd 4-2 Goteborg (1994/95)
Juventus 1-0 Man Utd (1996/97)
Kosice 0-3 Man Utd (1997/98)
Man Utd 3-3 Barcelona (1998/99)
Man Utd 0-0 Croatia Zagreb (1999/00)
Man Utd 5-1 Anderlecht (2000/01)
Man Utd 1-0 Lille (2001/02)
Man Utd 5-2 Maccabi Haifa (2002/03)
Man Utd 5-0 Panathinaikos (2003/04)
Lyon 2-2 Man Utd (2004/05)
Villarreal 0-0 Man Utd (2005/06)
Man Utd 3-2 Celtic (2006/07)
Sporting CP 0-1 Man Utd (2007/08)
Man Utd 0-0 Villarreal (2008/09)
Besiktas 0-1 Man Utd (2009/10)
Man Utd 0-0 Rangers (2010/11)
Benfica 1-1 Man Utd (2011/12)
Man Utd 1-0 Galatasaray (2012/13)
Man Utd 4-2 Bayer Leverkusen (2013/14)
PSV 2-1 Man Utd (2015/16)
Man Utd 3-0 Basel (2017/18)
Young Boys 0-3 Man Utd (2018/19)