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Epic Manchester United: Incredible Details of the Triumphant ’99 Season

On the 10th of June 2023 in Istanbul, Pep Guardiola led Man City saw off a stubborn Inter Milan team to become only the second English team and the twenty-second European team to win the continental treble. This was the first time an English team would be completing the astonishing feat since Manchester United’s 1999 triumph, and while the memories of City’s success might still be fresh in our hearts, it’s almost impossible to forget the Red Devils’ incredible 99 Season.

The records set by Alex Ferguson’s side are still being discussed today in what is widely regarded as one of the finest club seasons in the sport’s history. Here, we’ll take you on a pleasant trip (unless you’re a Bayern fan) down memory lane and share incredible details of that triumphant season.

Road to Premier League Glory

Manchester United’s start to the 1998–99 FA Premier League campaign was rough. The team had struggled in the preseason friendlies losing to Birmingham and Aberdeen while drawing Norwegian side Vålerenga in their Scandinavia tour.

Their first league game was at Old Trafford, where David Beckham’s late free-kick goal helped them salvage a point against Leicester City. The following week saw United record another draw away at Upton Park, with the highlight of the game being the West Ham fan’s constant taunting of David Beckham for his infamous sending off against Argentina in the 98 World Cup. United went off to win their next two home games against Charlton Athletic and Coventry City, with new signee Dwight Yorke scoring in both games.

The team then suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to rivals Arsenal after going a man down due to Nicky Butt’s second red card of the week following his sending off against Barcelona a few days prior. After five games played, the Red Devils found themselves at midtable.

Wins against rivals Liverpool and Aston Villa propelled them to second on the table going into the international break. They continued on their fine run of form with heavy wins over Wimbledon and Everton. This fine form was followed by a rocky December that saw United record only one win at home to Nottingham Forest. However, unknowingly to many, the Red Devil’s shocking 19 December loss 2-3 Old Trafford loss against Boro would be their last of the season.

They kicked off January with a 4-1 win at home to the Hammers with a brace from Andrew Cole. This kicked off the team’s five-game unbeaten run that ended with a fierce draw to Arsenal. 

On the 16th of May 1999, 55,189 were at Old Trafford to witness Beckham and Cole’s goals that completed United’s comeback against Spurs and clinched them the title. It was a must-win game for them as Arsenal had defeated Aston Villa and were on course for the second consecutive Prem title. Some experts said that strategy which Arsenal had used looked like a bluff (so-called Sztuka Blefowania which often use some fans both for gambling and football strategies) and this comparing with poker is quite close. The bluffing tactic is often used in football even now, when both teams try to messed up an opponent in order for not showing some players on the main team, as it is used in poker tournaments for messing up our opponent that he makes a mistake and loses.

The Magic of the FA Cup

The quality of Manchester United’s 1998–99 FA Cup run is one the reasons why their treble win is respected highly. The Red Devils were paired with very tough opponents, with their only consolation being that most of the games were home draws. They faced four Premier League teams, three of which were the biggest teams in the League.

They kicked off the FA Cup campaign on the 3rd of January with a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough with goals from Andy Cole, Dennis Irwin, and Ryan Giggs. Three weeks later, goals from Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjær helped United see off an impressive Liverpool after having gone down inside the opening five minutes. Their next opponent Fulham, though a second division side, were ones to respect, having already seen off two Prem sides. But a goal from Cole was enough to eliminate the London side.

Another London side awaited them in the quarterfinals, and after a grueling encounter that saw two men sent off, the game ended in a tie, and a replay was set at Stamford Bridge. This time, a Yorke brace was enough to secure a semi-final spot against another London side.

Like with Chelsea, the first game against the Gunners at Villa Park ended in a goalless draw, but a memorable extra-time strike from Giggs in the replay fixture was enough to book United a Wembley place. 

The final against Newcastle, however iconic, was less difficult for United, with goals from Sheringham and Scholes enough to secure United their second trophy in the space of a week.

An Unforgettable and Unbeatable UCL Run

After defeating Polish champions ŁKS Łódź in the second qualifying round, Manchester United were placed in the group of death alongside Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Brøndby. United failed to beat any of the big sides with four draws but hammered Brøndby in both fixtures for a combined 11-2 aggregate. They later finished second in the group, a point behind Bayern Munich.

The knockout phase was undeniably going to be magical. A club that has never won at an Italian ground was set to play two Italian teams in the Quarter and Semi-Finals. A first-half Yorke brace at Old Trafford gave United confidence in their travels to Milan, with a late Scholes strike securing at San Siro ensuring the Red Devils were unbeaten against Inter Milan.

Next up was Italian champions Juventus who were easily one of the best teams at the time. It took an unforgettable extra-time strike from Ryan Giggs to keep United’s hope alive as they managed to secure a 1-1 draw at home to the Old Ladies in the first leg. 

The second leg, however, would be one the world will come to remember for years. A Filippo Inzaghi brace inside the first eleven minutes at the Stadio delle Alpi dealt a serious blow to United’s hopes of making the finals. In fact, to many, the game was over. But goals from Roy Keane and Dwight Yorke in the first half completely changed the look of the game. The Devils started to believe and dominate, and in the 84th minute, Andy Cole tapped in United’s third to silence the Stadio delle Alpi and book a Camp Nou place.

That Magical Night at Camp Nou

After having already faced Bayern Munich twice in the season without any victory, Man United knew it would be a long ride for them at Camp Nou. Worse, two starting midfielders and key players, Keane and Scholes were suspended for the game. 

Fergie’s technical acumen came into play with the Scottish legend replacing the two suspended stars with Blomqvist and Butt. He moved Giggs from the left wing to the right and employed David Beckham in a more central role.

Once again, Man United conceded an early goal with Mario Basler’s freekick beating Peter Schmeichel in the sixth minute. This was followed by immense pressure from the German giants forcing multiple Schmeichel saves and hitting the goalposts on at least two occasions. The game looked set and done until the second minute of extra time when Bayern failed to properly clear Beckham’s corner, leading to Sheringham squeezing a goal past Kahn for a late equalizer.

Barely seconds after the equalizer, United won another corner, with Beckham finding the head of Sheringham, who flicked it to Solskjær to complete one of the most shocking comebacks in UCL history and win Man United the treble.

The Bottom Line

The 1999 Manchester United, led by Sir Alex Ferguson and captained by the great Roy Keane, did what had never been done in English football when they clinched the treble at Camp Nou on the 26th of May 1999. Here, we took a trip back to the past to explore some of the key moments in that amazing treble season.

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