Time is slowly but surely ticking down until August, you’ve checked the fixtures you want to attend, been and bought your new shirt and are probably letting your thoughts drift towards who you may want in your fantasy football team (whilst promising yourself you’ll definitely keep an interest in your team after the first fortnight of the season).
If like me, you’re chomping at the bit for the new campaign to get underway then here’s five of United’s best opening fixtures from recent years.
Manchester United 4-1 Arsenal, Division One, August 19th 1989
We all probably remember this one, if not only because of the bemusing sight of prospective new United chairman Michael Knighton attempting to win favour with the Stretford Enders by modelling a snazzy new United sweatshirt (available now from the Old Trafford Souvenir Shop, I mean, Megastore) and showing off his questionable ball juggling skills.
Once the circus act had finished, United started the season as they meant to go on, the 89/90 campaign was barely two minutes old when Steve Bruce crashed into the Arsenal penalty area and planted Lee Sharpe’s corner kick into the bottom right of John Lukic’s net, David Rocastle equalised for the reigning Division One Champions and at half time, the evenly balanced game remained a contest.
All that changed in the second half as United ran rampant, putting the title holders to the sword and regaining the lead early in the second half thanks to a Mark Hughes goal. New signing Neil Webb introduced himself to the Old Trafford faithful by lashing a sublime volley past Lukic to make it 3-1 with just over ten minutes to go. The Gunners were well and truly spent by the time Brian McClair atoned for his first half penalty miss to make sure of a resounding 4-1 scoreline late in the day.
Despite the encouraging start, we all know how the 89/90 season would pan out, Alex Ferguson (allegedly) clung to his job by the skin of his teeth before steering United to the FA Cup, the dark ages looked like they were, slowly coming to an end.
Norwich City 0-2 Manchester United, FA Carling Premiership, August 15th 1993
Just a few months on from the famous Monday night at Carrow Road when United tore into their hosts with an astonishing 20 minute, three goal salvo which helped the Red Devils on the way to ending the mammoth 26 year wait for a League Championship, United found themselves back at the home of the club who had a great chance of becoming the surprise inaugural Premier League Champions, Norwich City.
Much like the win in April, this was another dominant performance which signalled to rest of the Premier League that United were not about to give up their position at the head of the table anytime soon.
The two scorers on the day epitomised how much the winds of change had swept through Old Trafford. Ryan Giggs, still only 19, opened the scoring after 25 minutes before Bryan Robson, firmly in the twilight of his United career, tucked home Mark Hughes’ backheel in the second half to give United the first of the 27 wins of a season in which they would lose only four matches on the way to recording the club’s first ever ‘double’ triumph, adding the 1994 FA Cup to the Premier League crown which they won for a second consecutive year.
Wimbledon 0-3 Manchester United, FA Carling Premiership, August 17th 1996
Twelve months on from being told they would ‘never win anything with kids’, United began their defence of the Premier League title with what on paper looks like a fairly routine win over their South London opponents.
United were pretty much home and hosed thanks to a powerful Eric Cantona volley and a second half Denis Irwin effort which was the product of an excellent combination with his compatriot Roy Keane. The headlines were well and truly written in 87th minute however as David Beckham firmly implemented himself into the public consciousness, a position he has rarely relinquished some 20+ years later.
Beckham, as yet uncapped by England, picked up Brian McClair’s pass just inside his own half and unleashed a lob which hung in the air for what appeared to be an eternity before sailing into the net over the head of a helpless Neil Sullivan in the Dons goal.
The result gave United a winning start to their title defence which ultimately helped them towards retaining the crown, despite spending a large part of the season outside of the title race before finally winning the league on Merseyside having not relinquished top spot after acquiring the position in early February.
Manchester United 2-0 Newcastle United, FA Carling Premiership, 20th August 2000
Having won the previous season’s title at a record breaking 18 point canter, you could be forgiven for going into the 2000/2001 season confident of United winning a third consecutive Premier League Championship.
Newcastle, in the first full season under the management of Bobby Robson, were hopeful of the good times returning to St. James’ Park but soon found themselves undone thanks to Norwegian defender Ronny Johnsen exposing their defensive frailties by heading home David Beckham’s corner mere seconds after Jaap Stam had forced a top quality save from Magpies keeper Shay Given.
A combination of wasteful finishing coupled with a decent goalkeeping display from Given prevented United from extending their lead whilst Old Trafford debutant Fabien Barthez was called into action to make an impressive save from Rob Lee. Newcastle eventually succumbed to a second half goal from their former hero Andy Cole following an exquisite collaboration with Ryan Giggs which gave United an unassailable 2-0 lead.
The win set United on a run which would not see them taste defeat until their October 1st 1-0 reverse away at Arsenal although the result did little to derail the title charge, which ultimately ended with the trophy staying at Old Trafford for a third consecutive season, extinguishing any talk that a shift in power was imminent, for the time being at least.
Manchester United 5-1 Fulham, Barclays Premier League, 20th August 2006
Tabloid talk leading into the commencement of the 2006/2007 season was centred around how Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were going to co-exist following the highly publicised red card Rooney had received during the World Cup quarter final between England and Portugal and the small spat the two players had engaged in prior to Rooney getting his marching orders.
Any rumours of a fall out were quickly dismissed as Rooney and Ronaldo combined to mastermind a devastating opening 20 minute period of the 06/07 curtain raiser in which United found the net four times with Rooney netting the third goal quickly followed by Ronaldo tapping in the fourth to add to Louis Saha’s seventh minute opener and Ian Pearce’s own goal.
Rio Ferdinand scored an own goal of his own but the misdemeanour did little to dampen United’s fire, especially when Rooney made the scoreline even more emphatic by adding a fifth not long after the hour mark.
The result set United on their way to ending a difficult few years of London rule in the top flight and sealing their first Premier League title since 2003 at the end of a season that on another occasion might have seen the glorious Treble repeated had it not been for Chelsea ruining United’s return to Wembley by winning the FA Cup Final in extra time or for AC Milan taking advantage of a tired United in the semi final of the Champions League.
Before I leave you, here’s one or two honourable mentions.
2003/2004: Ryan Giggs nets a magnificent free kick and Cristiano Ronaldo debuts as we sweep Bolton aside 4-0 at Old Trafford.
2005/2006: Wayne Rooney returns to Goodison Park to put his former club to the sword and set United on the way to recording a 2-0 opening day win.
2013/2014: David Moyes lures us all into a false sense of security as Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck score a brace apiece in the first post-Fergie Premier League match, a 4-1 away win over Swansea.
Hopefully we’ll be able to add to these past victories on August 13th at Old Trafford against West Ham.