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Istanbul defeat: Amongst United’s worst-ever European losses?

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Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Champions League debutants Istanbul Basaksehir at the start of November represented a new low in the managerial reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The former United striker – also a Champions League winner in 1999 – has naturally shouldered most of the blame, but every United manager before him has also experienced some very low moments on the continental stage. Here are six that stick in the memory, but how do they compare?

L 1-0 Videoton (1985)

Back in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup, Manchester United had already had fair warning not to underestimate opponents from an ‘inferior’ league, when another Hungarian team called Rába ETO Győr held them to a 2-2 draw in the first round. United already led 3-0 on aggregate from the first leg at home, so still went through, but this should have served as the lesson they needed to avoid a possible upset.

After scraping through the subsequent rounds, United faced Videoton in the quarter final first leg at Old Trafford, and squeaked through with a 1-0 win. They then lost the away leg 1-0, as shown below, and went out via penalty shootout.

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Some fans with longer memories will hope that the current crop of players can look at how their predecessors moved on from humiliations such as this. Navigating all of the sports wagering opportunities currently around, it’s clear to see that Manchester United are still among teams that sustain the interest of bettors. Yet presently they do so for the wrong reason, having recently failed to win any of their first four home league games of the season for the first time since 1972.

D 0-0 Torpedo Moscow (1992)

Back in 1992, only the English champions were permitted to enter the newly-rebranded Champions League. After finishing second in 1991/92, United were consigned to a UEFA Cup berth, but were among the front runners to win it. However, the Red Devils barely troubled their first-round opponents Torpedo Moscow, despite boasting explosive talents such as Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis. After 240 drab, goalless minutes, United were eliminated via penalty shootout.

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Caption: United’s all-time record vs Russian opposition.

L 3-1 Goteborg (1994)

Two years on, United were double winners after defending their Premier League crown and claiming a landslide FA Cup final win. Unlike today, where United’s title credentials are questionable, there was seldom a year in the 1990s when they were not a watertight bet for the title. In 1994, however, humble Swedish side Goteborg rendered all of that moot on a night of shock and awe.

While there were a couple of key players absent during the defeat, with Gary Walsh standing in for usual goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, there can be no excuses. Future United signing Jesper Blomqvist opened the scoring for Goteburg after just 11 minutes, and though United equalized after the hour mark, two quickfire goals for Goteborg and a Paul Ince red card sealed the result.

L 3-0 Maccabi Haifa (2002)

Similarly to the Goteborg farce, United played with a second-string team on the night of this defeat, but still the lack of composure from the Red Devils was truly alarming. Maccabi’s Yaniv Katan opened the scoring, and Raimondas Zutautas added a second with a thunderous shot from 35 yards. Future Premier League cult hero Yakubu Aiyegbeni rounded off via the penalty spot, following a grievous mistake from stand-in United keeper Ricardo.

L 1-0 Celtic (2006)

A blood-and-thunder clash between two British teams should always bring out the best in both parties. By the autumn of 2006, United had re-established themselves as a genuine title contender after three years of London rule, but anybody using the title race of 2006/07 as an excuse for this understands little of the club’s philosophy.

A Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick and a penalty save from Artur Boruc sealed a shock 1-0 win for Celtic, who played against a United team that was full players who had won everything imaginable under Sir Alex Ferguson over a 15-year period.

L 2-1 Astana (2019)

Only last year, Solskjaer suffered a bad result of a similar caliber to the Istanbul humiliation. Again, a lack of leadership and experience was to blame, along with travel fatigue after an exhausting long-haul trip to deepest Kazakhstan. This result ended a run of 15 Europa League games without defeat for United, while Astana ended a run of six consecutive defeats in the Europa League.

How does Istanbul result compare?

United were playing with a strong team against Istanbul Basaksehir, which arguably puts it above the defeats to Astana, Goteborg and Maccabi Haifa in terms of embarrassment. Beyond that, it becomes a matter of opinion based on expectations surrounding the club. Perhaps more alarming than the actual Istanbul result was the nature of the goals they conceded, and there can be no doubt that darker nights lie ahead unless the root cause of United’s inexplicable woes – in spite of their massive expenditure – is addressed urgently.