The 1990–91 season was Manchester United’s 89th season in the Football League, and their 16th consecutive season in the top division of English football.

After winning the FA Cup the previous year to end a five-year trophy drought and claim their first major trophy under the management of Alex Ferguson, United went on to achieve more success by lifting the European Cup Winners’ Cup – their first major trophy since their European Cup triumph 23 years earlier – by beating Barcelona 2–1 in Rotterdam, with Mark Hughes scoring both goals. It was the first season back in European competitions for English clubs following the lifting of the ban which had been imposed back in 1985 due to the Heysel Stadium disaster.

Hughes was voted PFA Player of the Year, while promising young winger Lee Sharpe was voted PFA Young Player of the Year. Fellow winger Ryan Giggs, aged 17 and said to be the club’s finest young prospect since George Best, signed a professional contract in late November, and soon broke into the first team, making two league appearances and scoring one goal. A new arrival at the club was full-back Denis Irwin, signed from Oldham Athletic for a fee of £625,000 in the close season. Following his impressive performance in the previous season’s FA Cup final replay, Les Sealey’s loan move became permanent on a one-year contract, and he was the club’s first choice goalkeeper for the season, but left on a free transfer at the season’s end and signed for Aston Villa.

United also reached the League Cup final for the second time, but suffered a shock defeat to Sheffield Wednesday (managed by former United boss Ron Atkinson). In the league, United improved upon the previous season’s 13th-place finish, but erratic form meant that they failed to mount a title challenge and finished sixth and were below neighbours Manchester City for the first time in more than a decade. Their defence of the FA Cup ended in the Fifth Round when they lost 2–1 to Norwich City.

Assistant manager Archie Knox resigned late in the campaign to take the same role at Rangers, and was replaced by Brian Kidd.

It was the final season at Old Trafford for veteran defender Viv Anderson, who had failed to reclaim his place in the first team and was sold to Sheffield Wednesday in January 1991. Winger Ralph Milne, who had not played a first team game for the club for nearly two years, was given a free transfer at the end of the season. Colin Gibson, who had rarely been selected since the 1988-89 season, was sold to Leicester City just before Christmas.

Goalkeeper Gary Walsh, who stood in for the injured Les Sealey in several late season games, made his first appearances for United in three years.

Lee Martin, the hero of the previous season’s FA Cup final, suffered a back injury and appeared in less than half of the season’s games, as Alex Ferguson chose Denis Irwin as his regular right-back and Clayton Blackmore as his regular left-back. Striker Mark Robins, another star of the cup run, had a less successful season, with fewer first team opportunities and just five goals in all competitions, despite some promising performances in the autumn.

 

Pre-season and friendlies

Date Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
1 August 1990 Bury A 0–0 7,162
3 August 1990 Cork City A 0–0 8,000
5 August 1990 Waterford United A 4–0 Hughes, Anderson, Robins, Sharpe 4,750
8 August 1990 Derry City A 1–1 Robins 9,710
11 August 1990 Irish League N 3–0 McClair, Hughes, Wallace 10,037
13 August 1990 Bohemians A 3–0 Robins (2), Wallace 13,878
15 August 1990 Rangers A 1–0 Beardsmore 31,818
20 November 1990 Celtic H 1–3 Hughes 41,658

FA Charity Shield

Date Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
18 August 1990 Liverpool N 1–1 Blackmore 44′ 66,558

First Division

Date Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance League
position
25 August 1990 Coventry City H 2–0 Bruce 57′, Webb 70′ 46,715 4th
28 August 1990 Leeds United A 0–0 29,174 3rd
1 September 1990 Sunderland A 1–2 McClair 70′ 26,105 6th
4 September 1990 Luton Town A 1–0 Robins 24′ 12,576 4th
8 September 1990 Queens Park Rangers H 3–1 McClair 3′, Robins (2) 62′, 81′ 43,427 3rd
16 September 1990 Liverpool A 0–4 35,726 6th
22 September 1990 Southampton H 3–2 McClair 20′, Blackmore 61′, Hughes 62′ 41,288 3rd
29 September 1990 Nottingham Forest H 0–1 46,766 5th
20 October 1990 Arsenal H 0–1 47,322 7th
27 October 1990 Manchester City A 3–3 Hughes 37′, McClair (2) 80′, 83′ 36,427 6th
3 November 1990 Crystal Palace H 2–0 Webb 11′, Wallace 19′ 45,724 6th
10 November 1990 Derby County A 0–0 21,115 6th
17 November 1990 Sheffield United H 2–0 Bruce 65′, Hughes 86′ 45,903 6th
25 November 1990 Chelsea H 2–3 Wallace 23′, Hughes 72′ 37,836 7th
1 December 1990 Everton A 1–0 Sharpe 64′ 32,400 7th
8 December 1990 Leeds United H 1–1 Webb 49′ 40,947 7th
15 December 1990 Coventry City A 2–2 Hughes 5′, Wallace 89′ 17,106 9th
22 December 1990 Wimbledon A 3–1 Bruce (2) 69′ (pen.), 88′ (pen.), Hughes 80′ 9,644 7th
26 December 1990 Norwich City H 3–0 Hughes 54′, McClair (2) 69′, 90′ 39,801 6th
29 December 1990 Aston Villa H 1–1 Bruce 17′ (pen.) 47,485 6th
1 January 1991 Tottenham Hotspur A 2–1 Bruce 37′ (pen.), McClair 90′ 29,399 5th
12 January 1991 Sunderland H 3–0 Hughes (2) 8′, 41′, McClair 15′ 45,394 5th
19 January 1991 Queens Park Rangers A 1–1 Phelan 83′ 18,544 5th
3 February 1991 Liverpool H 1–1 Bruce 26′ (pen.) 43,690 5th
26 February 1991 Sheffield United A 1–2 Blackmore 52′ (pen.) 27,570 5th
2 March 1991 Everton H 0–2 45,656 5th
9 March 1991 Chelsea A 2–3 Hughes 33′, McClair 62′ 22,818 6th
13 March 1991 Southampton A 1–1 Ince 57′ 15,701 5th
16 March 1991 Nottingham Forest A 1–1 Blackmore 38′ 23,859 5th
23 March 1991 Luton Town H 4–1 Bruce (2) 7′, 47′, Robins 70′, McClair 83′ 41,752 5th
30 March 1991 Norwich City A 3–0 Bruce (2) 18′, 74′ (pen.), Ince 30′ 18,282 5th
2 April 1991 Wimbledon H 2–1 Bruce 54′, McClair 88′ 36,660 5th
6 April 1991 Aston Villa A 1–1 Sharpe 63′ 33,307 5th
16 April 1991 Derby County H 3–1 Blackmore 22′, McClair 66′, Robson 85′ 32,776 4th
4 May 1991 Manchester City H 1–0 Giggs 22′ 45,286 6th
6 May 1991 Arsenal A 1–3 Bruce 90′ (pen.) 40,229 6th
11 May 1991 Crystal Palace A 0–3 25,301 6th
20 May 1991 Tottenham Hotspur H 1–1 Ince 7′ 46,791 6th
Pos Club Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
5 Manchester City 38 17 11 10 64 53 +11 62
6 Manchester United 38 16 12 10 58 45 +13 59[2]
7 Wimbledon 38 14 14 10 53 46 +7 56

Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points

FA Cup

Date Round Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
7 January 1991 Round 3 Queens Park Rangers H 2–1 Hughes 19′, McClair 74′ 35,065
26 January 1991 Round 4 Bolton Wanderers H 1–0 Hughes 79′ 43,293
18 February 1991 Round 5 Norwich City A 1–2 McClair 37′ 23,058

League Cup

Date Round Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
26 September 1990 Round 2
First leg
Halifax Town A 3–1 Blackmore 25′, McClair 87′, Webb 88′ 6,841
10 October 1990 Round 2
Second leg
Halifax Town H 2–1 Bruce 42′ (pen.), Anderson 58′ 22,295
31 October 1990 Round 3 Liverpool H 3–1 Bruce 36′ (pen.), Hughes 37′, Sharpe 81′ 42,033
28 November 1990 Round 4 Arsenal A 6–2 Blackmore 2′, Hughes 44′, Sharpe (3) 44′, 75′, 78′, Wallace 81′ 40,844
16 January 1991 Round 5 Southampton A 1–1 Hughes 78′ 21,101
23 January 1991 Round 5
Replay
Southampton H 3–2 Hughes (3) 51′, 61′, 79′ 41,903
10 February 1991 Semi-final
First leg
Leeds United H 2–1 Sharpe 67′, McClair 80′ 34,050
24 February 1991 Semi-final
Second leg
Leeds United A 1–0 Sharpe 90′ 32,014
21 April 1991 Final Sheffield Wednesday N 0–1 77,612

Cup Winners’ Cup

Date Round Opponents H / A Result
F–A
Scorers Attendance
19 September 1990 Round 1
First leg
Pécsi Munkás H 2–0 Blackmore 9′, Webb 17′ 28,411
3 October 1990 Round 1
Second leg
Pécsi Munkás A 1–0 McClair 77′ 17,000
23 October 1990 Round 2
First leg
Wrexham H 3–0 McClair 40′, Bruce 42′ (pen.), Pallister 59′ 29,405
7 November 1990 Round 2
Second leg
Wrexham A 2–0 Robins 31′, Bruce 35′ 13,327
6 March 1991 Quarter-finals
First leg
Montpellier H 1–1 McClair 1′ 41,942
19 March 1991 Quarter-finals
Second leg
Montpellier A 2–0 Blackmore 2′, Bruce 47′ (pen.) 18,000
10 April 1991 Semi-finals
First leg
Legia Warsaw A 3–1 McClair 36′, Hughes 54′, Bruce 67′ 20,000
24 April 1991 Semi-finals
Second leg
Legia Warsaw H 1–1 Sharpe 28′ 44,269
15 May 1991 Final Barcelona N 2–1 Hughes (2) 68′, 75′ 50,000

Squad statistics

Pos. Name League FA Cup Rumbelows Cup Europe Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
GK Australia Mark Bosnich 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
GK Scotland Jim Leighton 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
GK England Les Sealey 31 0 3 0 8 0 8 0 1 0 51 0
GK England Gary Walsh 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 0
DF England Viv Anderson 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 3 1
DF Wales Clayton Blackmore 35 4 3 0 9 2 9 2 1 1 57 9
DF England Steve Bruce 31 13 3 0 7 2 8 4 1 0 50 19
DF Northern Ireland Mal Donaghy 17(8) 0 0 0 3(4) 0 2(3) 0 1 0 23(15) 0
DF Republic of Ireland Denis Irwin 33(1) 0 3 0 7(1) 0 6 0 1 0 50(2) 0
DF England Lee Martin 7(7) 0 1 0 2(2) 0 3(2) 0 0 0 13(11) 0
DF England Gary Pallister 36 0 3 0 9 0 9 1 1 0 58 1
DF England Neil Whitworth 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
MF England Russell Beardsmore 5(7) 0 0 0 1 0 1(1) 0 0 0 7(8) 0
MF Scotland Darren Ferguson 2(3) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2(3) 0
MF Wales Ryan Giggs 1(1) 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1(1) 1
MF England Paul Ince 31 3 2 0 6 0 7 0 1 0 47 3
MF Soviet Union Andrei Kanchelskis 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
MF England Mike Phelan 30(3) 1 1 0 7(1) 0 8 0 1 0 47(4) 1
MF England Bryan Robson 15(2) 1 3 0 5 0 4 0 0 0 27(2) 1
MF England Lee Sharpe 20(3) 2 3 0 7 6 6(2) 1 0 0 36(5) 9
MF England Neil Webb 31(1) 3 2 0 7 1 6 1 0 0 46(1) 5
MF England Paul Wratten 0(2) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0(2) 0
FW Wales Mark Hughes 29(2) 10 3 2 9 6 7(1) 3 1 0 49(3) 21
FW Scotland Brian McClair 34(2) 13 3 2 9 2 9 4 1 0 56(2) 21
FW England Mark Robins 7(12) 4 0(1) 0 0(3) 0 2(1) 1 0(1) 0 9(18) 5
FW England Danny Wallace 13(6) 3 0(1) 0 1(3) 1 2(1) 0 1 0 17(11) 4