Analysing Man Utd’s Champions League record since Ferguson left

Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League following a disastrous defensive display at RB Leipzig this week, a 3-2 defeat to the Bundesliga side eliminating the Red Devils at the Group Stage.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will now drop into the Europa League and it marks yet another unimpressive campaign amongst Europe’s elite, their fortunes having faltered both and home and abroad since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.


Ferguson’s side dominated the Premier League for much of his glittering reign at Old Trafford, whilst the club were also perennial contenders for the Champions League and were twice crowned as champions of Europe under his guidance.

United reached three finals in just four seasons between 2008 and 2011, though those days seem ever more distant given the struggles of the current crop.

Following their latest elimination we’ve decided to look back at the club’s recent record, analysing Manchester United’s Champions League record since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement:

2013/14 – Quarter-final

Manchester United entered the 2013/14 campaign as champions of England with Ferguson having retired on a high, leading the Red Devils to a record-extending 20th top flight title before anointing David Moyes as his successor.

Moyes’ had won plenty of plaudits having spent more than a decade at Everton, though his reign at Old Trafford proved ill-fated as he struggled to replicate the success of his iconic predecessor.

United slumped to their lowest league finish in the Premier League era and their fortunes in the Champions League were not much better, despite navigating the group stage impressively, finishing unbeaten in a group containing Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad.

Moyes’ side were handed a favourable draw in the last 16 with a meeting against Olympiakos, though needed a Robin van Persie hat-trick to inspire a memorable second leg comeback after losing the first encounter 2-0 in Greece.

United reached the last eight but found a meeting with holders Bayern Munich a step too far, losing 4-2 on aggregate to the Germans despite Patrice Evra’s stunning strike at the Allianz Arena.

2015/16 – Group Stage

Louis van Gaal’s appointment in 2014 briefly galvanised the side who claimed a top four finish during his first season in charge, enough to secure a return to Europe’s elite for the 2015/16 campaign.

United lost their opening group stage fixture at PSV Eindhoven despite a goal from summer signing Memphis Depay against his former side, though recovered to take eight points from their next four fixtures to sit second in the group ahead of a final fixture with group leaders Wolfsburg.

Van Gaal’s side only needed to match PSV’s result against CSKA Moscow to qualify for the knockout stages, but despite taking the lead through Anthony Martial slipped to a late defeat in Germany, Naldo’s header securing a 3-2 win for Wolfsburg.

That result – coupled with a PSV victory – condemned United to the Europa League, where they were eliminated in the last 16 by Premier League rivals Liverpool in what was the first-ever European meeting between the two sides.

2017/18 – Last 16

Van Gaal was replaced by Jose Mourinho in 2016, and while the Portuguese could only manage a sixth-placed finish, they secured qualification to the Champions League by lifting the Europa League against Ajax in Stockholm.

United’s return to the Champions League began impressively as they breezed into the last 16, winning five of their six group stage fixtures and securing victories over the likes of Basel, CSKA Moscow and Benfica.

Mourinho’s side were drawn to face Sevilla in the first knockout round and headed into the tie with the Spaniards as favourites, whilst their position was strengthened following a goalless draw away from home in the first leg.

United, however, were dreadful in the return at Old Trafford to crash out of the competition, a lacklustre and uninspiring performance resulting in a 2-1 defeat as substitute Wissam Ben Yedder scored twice to put Sevilla through.

It was a visible demonstration of just how far the Red Devils lagged behind Europe’s elite.

2018/19 – Quarter-final

United featured in successive Champions League campaigns for the first time since Ferguson’s retirement in 2018/19, with Mourinho having guided the club to a runners-up finish in the Premier League – a feat he memorably declared amongst his greatest in management.

Mourinho’s side were unable to build on that season and a disappointing start to the campaign saw the Portuguese sacked in mid-December, despite guiding the club into the Champions League’s knockout stages after finishing second in a group containing Juventus, Valencia and Young Boys.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as interim manager led to an upturn in form and the Norwegian earned himself the permanent position in March, his appointment coming after a history-making result in the last 16.

United became the first side in Champions League/European Cup history to lose a home first leg by two or more goals and progress, overturning a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford to progress on away goals with a 3-1 victory in Paris.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice at the Parc des Princes before Marcus Rashford’s 94th-minute penalty sealed a historic victory in the French capital, earning the Red Devils a quarter-final clash with Barcelona.

Solskjaer’s side were outclassed over two legs against the Catalans, however, losing 4-0 on aggregate in the last eight.

2020/21 – Group Stage

So here we are, United’s latest early elimination and one that looked improbable given the club’s brilliant start to the group stage campaign.

Solskjaer’s side were handed a daunting looking group after being pitted against last season’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain and semi-finalists RB Leipzig, alongside the intriguing threat of Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir.

United got off to a dream start with an upset win against PSG in France, Marcus Rashford proving the scourge of the Parisians once more with a late winner at the Parc des Princes.

Rashford was the hero again as Leipzig were thrashed 5-0 in their second group stage fixture, scoring a hat-trick in a fine team performance to put the Red Devils firmly in control of the group.

Their fortunes began to unravel, however, following a dreadful defeat in Istanbul as some embarrassing defending saw the club humbled by the Champions League debutants in Turkey.

United bounced back to comfortably beat Basaksehir in the return fixture, but another loss – this time at home to PSG – left them needing a result at Leipzig in their final group stage clash.

Just a point would have been enough to secure progress, but some woeful defending extinguished their hopes of reaching the knockout stages, conceding twice in the opening 13 minutes and failing to recover despite a late rally.

It’s now Europa League football once again for United who face a difficult task to return to Europe’s elite next season, their days as Champions League contenders seemingly ever more distant with each passing season.

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See also – Five youngest debutants in Champions League history

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