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01st Jun 2017

Sir Alex Ferguson reveals the tactical change that won the 1999 Champions League final

Ferguson spotted something and made a crucial change...

Robert Redmond

You might have thought there was no real tactical plan involved in Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League final victory, given the dramatic way the game was won.

Ferguson was without his two best players for the final in Barcelona, the club’s first European Cup final since 1968, when Sir Matt Busby’s team featuring George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton beat Eusebio’s Benfica at Wembley.

The United manager had to plan for Bayern Munich without Roy Keane, his captain, and Paul Scholes, his most gifted player, due to suspensions picked up in the comeback victory over Juventus in the previous round.

Nicky Butt and David Beckham started in central midfield, with Jesper Blomqvist and Ryan Giggs on the wings. United, like their opponents Bayern Munich were going for a treble of league, cup and the Champions League.

But the suspensions of Keane and Scholes really stretched United’s resources, with David May and Jonathan Greening on the bench.

The game at the Nou Camp also started terribly for Ferguson’s side. Mario Basler curled the ball around the United wall, and past Peter Schmeichel, to give Bayern a lead after just six minutes.

United never got going in the game, and survived two scares late in the second half, with Bayern twice hitting the cross bar.

With all hope appearing lost, two substitutes, in stoppage time, stepped up and won the Champions League for United.

First, in the 91st minute, Teddy Sheringham, who had scored just four goals until that point in the season, guided home Giggs’ scuffed shot from Beckham’s corner.

And then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he always seemed to do, won the game and the trophy for United.

The club secured a historic treble of trophies and completed the perfect comeback in the best season they’ll ever have.

It might appear like tactics went out the window. Through determination, luck, and their opponents dropping off, United won the game on what would have been Busby’s 90th birthday.

Of course, that’s all true, but it doesn’t explain the whole story.

Ferguson sat down with UEFA recently for a wide-ranging interview, and his tactics in the 1999 final came up. United ended the game with three strikers – Solskjaer, Sheringham and Dwight Yorke – and this was something the Scot had prepared for.

The former United manager had spotted that Bayern would substitute their wingers to protect a lead and drop back. Ferguson took advantage of this.

“In the 1999 final against Bayern, we did really well in terms of how Bayern operated because they always took (Alexander) Zickler and Basler off when they were winning games,” Ferguson said.

“Then they would have a tighter midfield, but it did allow me to play three up. We got a bit of luck on the equalising goal, but from that moment on I knew we were going to win, because Bayern were down on their knees by that time. The impact of scoring so late affected them really badly.”

Ferguson also spoke about the mindset of his squad, and how they never gave up.

“We had so many last-minute goals in my time that it wasn’t an accident,” the 75-year-old said.

“If you’re 1-0 or 2-0 down, there’s no point in seeing out the game and saying: ‘Well, we played well’. You may as well gamble your life away, because it’s worth it.”