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28th Jan 2018

Manchester United’s greatest team only started together once

This is a surprise

Robert Redmond

Andy Cole

Alex Ferguson built three great Manchester United teams in his 26 years at the club.

The first was the double-winning side of the 1993/94 season, featuring brilliant players such as Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs. Ferguson added Roy Keane to the team that won the title the previous season, Eric Cantona was at his peak – scoring 25 goals in 49 games – and United were dominant.

They finished the season eight points ahead of Blackburn Rovers and put four past Chelsea to win the FA Cup final at Wembley. It was United’s toughest team under Ferguson, as aggressive and physical as any of their opponents, but with fantastic footballers and a sprinkle of genius from Cantona.

The 1998/99 team is arguably United’s greatest ever side, as they completed the club’s best season ever, winning an unprecedented treble. Schmeichel, Irwin, Keane and Giggs remained from the ’94 side, youth-team graduates Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville became established players, Dwight York and Andy Cole formed a deadly strike partnership and the team achieved several dramatic, last-minute victories throughout the season.

Defeat to Middlesbrough in December 1998 was their last loss that season, a season which ended with two stoppage time goals in Barcelona the following May, and United’s first European Cup victory since 1968. No English team had won the league, FA Cup and Champions League treble before them, and no team has come close since.

Ferguson’s final great team was between 2006 and 2009 and reached its high-point winning the Champions League in May 2008, beating Chelsea on penalties in Moscow. That side was built on rock-solid foundations – Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Edwin van der Sar were consistently excellent, as was Patrice Evra. In midfield, Scholes was still brilliant, while Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves provided craft and energy. However, the team will undoubtedly be remembered for its fluid front-three – Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The three forwards were sensational at different spells during the season, and Ronaldo was named world player of the year on the back of his performances.

United fans of a certain age can recall the starting line-up for each of these great teams. For the 1994 vintage it was, Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs; Cantona and Hughes. The team that started the 2008 Champions League final was Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Scholes, Hargreaves; Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo.

The 1999 team, United’s most successful and arguably greatest side, was, Schmeichel; Gary Neville, Johnsen, Stam, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs; Yorke, Cole. However, as Opta’s Duncan Alexander has highlighted, this team only played together once in the Premier League, a 1-0 victory away to Coventry City in February ’99.

So, the starting team widely considered to be United’s best ever only actually took to the field together once in the top-flight, (they also started United’s 2-0 victory over Inter Milan in the Champions League quarter-final that season).

Ferguson often played Henning Berg ahead of Ronny Johnsen for European games, Nicky Butt was regularly used in midfield and Jesper Blomqvist played 38 games for the club that season.

It turns out, the famous XI’s of recent times rarely played together. As Alexander writes, the Arsenal “Invincible” team – Lehmann; Lauren, Cole, Campbell, Toure; Pires, Gilberto Silva, Vieira, Ljungberg; Bergkamp and Henry – only started two Premier League games together.

Chelsea’s strongest starting XI from their title-winning season in 2005 is widely regarded to have been: Cech; Paulo Ferreira, Gallas, Terry, Carvalho; Lampard, Makelele, Robben, Duff; Gudjohnsen and Drogba. However, this famous team never started a Premier League game together.

United’s revered 1994 team only started six Premier League games together, and the side that started the 2008 Champions League final had never played together before. It seems, our memory can play tricks on us, and lead us to forget the squad players who regularly featured for these famous teams.

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