Manchester United 1998-99: The best wins of Ferguson's treble from Turin to Barcelona
Undimmed by the passage of time and present-day struggles at Old Trafford, Manchester United's 1999 treble remains the greatest single-season achievement in English club football history. While Manchester City's current domestic dominance is one of towering points totals and smashed records, Alex Ferguson's finest hour was one built upon a death-or-glory knife edge.
From Birmingham to Barcelona via Turin, a United side packed with household names secured their legacy in unforgettable style. To mark the 20th anniversary of a remarkable triumph, we look back at some of the signature wins in a campaign that came to define Ferguson's Old Trafford dynasty.
Manchester United 2 Liverpool 0 (Premier League, September 24)
Never mind three trophies, United were yet to claim three league wins by the time bitter rivals Liverpool arrived at Old Trafford in late September and Ferguson's men had been beaten 3-0 by reigning champions Arsenal four days earlier. Denis Irwin hammered in a 19th-minute penalty after fellow Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer was penalised for handball and Paul Scholes thrashed left-footed into the top corner 11 minutes from time to crown a trademark counter-attack. The victory launched a three-match winning streak – United were up and running.
Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1 (FA Cup fourth round, January 24)
Tottenham knocked a much-changed United out of the League Cup in December and Liverpool looked set to end their FA Cup ambitions after Michael Owen nodded in an early opener. Dwight Yorke converted Andy Cole's knockdown from a floated David Beckham free-kick to level in the 88th minute and, following some neat footwork from Scholes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pounced in stoppage-time – a theme we'll return to later.
Nottingham Forest 1 Manchester United 8 (Premier League, February 6)
Forest's day did not look like it could get much worse when Solskjaer trotted on to replace Yorke in the 71st minute, United already 4-1 to the good at the City Ground. The "Baby-Faced Assassin" duly pilfered four goals in the final 10 minutes of the contest as United clinically and mercilessly pulled their ill-equipped foes to pieces.
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2 (FA Cup semi-final replay, April 14)
Three days on from a forgettable 0-0 draw, the two outstanding sides of their era in English football produced an all-time classic. Beckham gave United a 17th-minute lead with a sublime 25-yard strike but Arsenal were in the ascendancy when Denis Bergkamp's deflected equaliser was followed by a second yellow card for Roy Keane. United's race looked to be run when Phil Neville brought down Ray Parlour in the box, only for Peter Schmeichel to save Bergkamp's 89th-minute penalty. Of course, Ryan Giggs unforgettably settled matters in extra time with a virtuoso solo goal and the treble march was truly on
Juventus 2 Manchester United 3 (Champions League semi-final, April 21)
A week on from his early bath at Villa Park, United captain Keane took centre stage at the Stadio delle Alpi. The tie was locked at 1-1 after the Old Trafford leg and Filippo Inzaghi's quickfire early double left the Red Devils with a mountain to climb. Keane converted a towering near-post header to reduce the arrears and, even though a foul on Zinedine Zidane earned a booking that would rule him out of the final, the Republic of Ireland midfielder turned in a colossal performance. Cole set up Yorke for the equaliser and, typically, roles were reversed for the winner. Ferguson's men were bound for Barcelona.
Manchester United 2 Tottenham 1 (Premier League, May 16)
United did not taste defeat in the Premier League after the turn of the year, although from the start of April onwards, they alternated draws and wins over a seven-match sequence in the top flight. It left the door ajar for Arsenal on the final day and Les Ferdinand gave Spurs a 24th-minute lead. The hosts laid siege to the Tottenham goal and Beckham arrowed in a superb finish to level matters before half-time. Shortly after the restart, Cole coolly lifted the ball over goalkeeper Ian Walker and United had their fifth title in seven seasons.
Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0 (FA Cup final, May 22)
Scholes joined Keane in being suspended for the Champions League final, meaning Ferguson could unleash the England midfielder upon an overmatched Newcastle at Wembley without any concern. After sliding in a pass for Teddy Sheringham's 11th-minute opener, Scholes secured United's third domestic double of the decade by drilling in Sheringham's lay-off from the edge of the box.
Bayern Munich 1 Manchester United 2 (Champions League final, May 26)
The final part of the treble appeared a bridge too far for a United team stretched by injury and suspension. Mario Basler caught out Schmeichel with an early free-kick but the Premier League champions were indebted to their goalkeeper thereafter. Schmeichel in turn was grateful to see second-half attempts from Mehmet Scholl and Carsten Jancker come back off post and bar respectively. Outplayed but only a goal behind, United still had Fergie Time to play with. Sheringham and Solskjaer did the rest.