Manchester United hope history repeats itself

In 1991, Sir Alex Ferguson was still plain Alex Ferguson. He was building his empire, slowly but surely. Having secured United's first trophy in five years by winning the 1990 FA Cup, a foray into Europe reaped rewards.

United were still a work in progress. They had much of the team that would be classed as one of the great United sides with the likes of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes providing a tough and talented spine.

Many parallels with the 1991 United

Yet they were still some way from challenging for the league. A bit like Jose Mourinho's team now.

In 1991 United finished 6th, the same position as this season. In 1991, United fished 24 points behind Arsenal, the same amount that United lagged behind Chelsea. United reached the League Cup final in 1991, as they did this year.

In 1991 they lost to Sheffield Wednesday, but Mourinho's United have at least brought that trophy home. Ferguson's men were able to put their disappointment behind them and beat Barcelona. Mourinho will hope that the League Cup is not the only 'major honour' he ends up with.

The Cup Winners' Cup was probably the lesser of the three European trophies at the time. After all, United finished 13th in the league in 1990. That is the equivalent of Stoke City this year. You still had to win the FA Cup mind, but it shows the type of teams that could qualify.

Yet in those days the competitions were proper competitions. It was the luck of the draw and games played over two legs in knockout fashion. No groups, and no dropping into to other competitions. If you were knocked out, you stayed out.

Safe passage for United

United did well in terms of the draw. They faced Pecsi Munkas (Hungary), Wrexham, Montpellier and Legia Warsaw before they faced Barca in the final. The Catalans had defeated Juventus in their semi final.

Although United were heading in the right direction, this would be a big ask. On a soaking wet night in Rotterdam, they rose to the challenge. Two goals by Hughes had United cruising, but a late Ronald Koeman goal made for a nervy finale.

United were the only representatives of England in any European competition, as the ban for English had only been partially lifted. So to win the competition at the first time of asking and for the first time in their history was a wonderful achievement.

And United now stand on the brink of creating history once more. The Europa League, or UEFA Cup as it once was, is the only trophy United have never won. It is fair to say, they are a work in progress just as Ferguson's boys were.

United favourites on Wednesday

Except this time, United will be the favourites. Ajax were one of the teams that profited from UEFA's revamp of European competitions, being knocked out of the Champions League and still being able to participate in the Europa League.

Ajax were knocked out by Rostov in the qualifying round. United conquered their conquerors in the quarter final of the Europa League. If that is anything to go be United have the collateral form! Despite Ajax coming from the Champions League, United are stronger on paper.

It will not be a walk over though. Ajax narrowly missed out on another League title, finishing just behind Feyenoord, while United toiled badly at times this season.

Mourinho has been banging on for some time about how fixture congestion has been cruel, but in all honesty his players have virtually had three weeks off. There will be no excuses.

After the 1991 triumph, the progression continued. Although they only won the League Cup in 1992, they finished 2nd in the League. Two years later they would reach the Holy Grail and finally win the League once again.

In the post Ferguson era there has been little sign that United are headed in the right direction. Mourinho has changed that. There is work to be done, but if history does repeat itself and United can reach the summit in the next two years, most fans would be delighted.

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