Barcelona and Manchester United meet in the Europa League this week, a glamour tie between two teams boasting rich heritage in continental competition.
The two clubs share eight Champions League titles between them and have won a further 12 Europa Leagues, Cup Winners’ Cups and UEFA Super Cups combined. Two of the biggest sides in the game, it promises to be a mouth-watering showdown ahead of the first leg in Spain.
Hughes scored 47 goals in 121 appearances for Manchester United and was named as the PFA Young Player of the Year after a breakout 1984/85 season in which the club won the FA Cup. The following summer he made the switch to Spain, as part of a British revolution under Terry Venables at the Camp Nou.
Hughes and Gary Lineker signed for the Spanish giants, joining Scotland’s Steve Archibald at the Camp Nou. As Lineker impressed, Hughes struggled. He scored just five goals during a disappointing debut season and was allowed to leave on loan for Bayern Munich.
He returned to Manchester United in a then club record deal worth £1.8 million in 1988 and shone during his second spell at the club. Hughes won two league titles, was twice named as the PFA Player of the Year, and scored 116 goals in 352 games, including a double against former club Barcelona as United won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1991.
The son of Barcelona legend Johan, there was understandable expectation when Cruyff broke into the Spanish side. Under the management of his father, Cruyff initially impressed during his debut season with Barcelona in 1994/95 with nine goals in 28 league appearances.
He was unable to build on that start however, and departed in 1996 to sign for Manchester United. The Dutchman won the Premier League title during his first season in England, but endured an injury-ravaged four seasons at Old Trafford.
A loan move to Celta Vigo saw Cruyff miss out on the second half of United’s 1998/99 treble season and he departed on a free transfer in 2000, having made just 57 appearances for the club.
Laurent Blanc signed for Barcelona to work with Johan Cruyff, but saw the Dutch coach sacked soon after agreeing to join the club from Auxerre. He spent just one underwhelming season in Spain, in which he lifted the Supercopa de España, Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, but struggled with injuries.
With a home World Cup looming the following summer, he returned to France with Marseille in 1998. Blanc formed part of Les Bleus’ victorious side on home soil and later spent two seasons at Inter Milan before a move to the Premier League.
Sir Alex Ferguson sought the signing of Blanc as an experienced replacement for Jaap Stam, though the 35-year-old was on the decline at the time of his arrival into English football. He spent two seasons with the Red Devils and made 75 appearances, before retiring after the club’s Premier League title success in 2002/03.
Larsson had become a Celtic legend during a decorated career in Scottish football, a period which saw the Swedish striker ignore overtures from Europe’s top clubs to win four league titles and score 242 goals in just 313 games.
The lure of Barcelona proved too strong as Larsson reached the latter stages of his career however, and he joined the Spanish giants on a free transfer in 2004. He scored 19 goals in 54 appearances across two seasons, as Frank Rijkaard’s team returned to the top of the European game with back-to-back league titles and Champions League success. Larsson came off the bench to assist both goals as Barcelona came from behind to beat Arsenal in the latter final.
After collecting the game’s biggest club honour, Larsson returned to his native Sweden with his career appearing to wind down. However, a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson persuaded the forward to join Manchester United on loan in 2006/07. He scored just three goals in 13 appearances, but established himself as a cult favourite as United won the Premier League title.
“On arrival at United, he seemed a bit of a cult figure with our players,” Ferguson later wrote in his autobiography.
“They would say his name in awed tones. For a man of 35, his receptiveness to information on the coaching side was amazing. At every session he was rapt. He wanted to listen to Carlos Queiroz, the tactics lectures, he was into every nuance of what we did.
“In training, he was superb, his movement, his positional play. His three goals for us was no measure of his contribution. In his last game in our colours at Middlesbrough, we were winning 2-1 and Henrik went back to play in midfield and ran his balls off.
“On his return to the dressing room, all the players stood up and applauded him and the staff joined in. It takes some player to make that kind of impact in two months.”
Manchester United looked to La Masia to sign Gerard Pique as a teenager, agreeing a deal for the defensive prospect on the promise of a faster route to first-team football. Pique made his debut as a teenager and spent four seasons with the Red Devils, but made just 23 appearances due to the presence of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at centre-back.
He featured 13 times as United won a Premier League and Champions League double in 2007/08, before opting for a return to his native Barcelona.
Introduced instantly into the side as a regular, his debut season in Catalonia saw Barcelonawin a historic treble under Pep Guardiola with Pique one of just four players to have won consecutive Champions League trophies with different clubs.
It began an era of glittering success, as Pique became a Barcelona legend. Eight league titles and three Champions League trophies sit among his honours, while just four players have ever made more than the centre-back’s 616 club appearances. He called time on his career earlier this season, as one of the best defenders of his generation.
The last line of defence during Barcelona’s greatest ever era, Victor Valdes came through the club’s academy ranks to become a Blaugrana favourite.
Valdes made 535 appearances for Barcelonaand won 21 titles, including six La Liga crowns and three Champions League winners’ medals. No goalkeeper has ever made more appearances for the Catalans than Valdes, who won a joint-record five Zamora Trophies during his time at the Camp Nou.
After a decorated career with Barcelona he departed in search of a new challenge in 2014, signing for Manchester United on a free transfer. However, he made just two appearances for the Red Devils with David de Gea established as the first-choice goalkeeper at Old Trafford.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s career runs like a roll call of Europe’s top clubs. Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United have all called on the services of the Swedish superstar.
Ibrahimovic has found success – and goals – at almost every port of call, though his failure to make a lasting impact at Barcelona is perhaps the biggest blemish on his résumé. Signed in a mammoth deal worth £59m plus Samuel Eto’o in exchange, he scored 21 goals during his debut season.
Add in La Liga, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and Club World Cup winners’ medals and on the surface level all appears good, but Lionel Messi’s desire for a central role and an increasingly fractious relationship with Pep Guardiola saw his time at the Camp Nou come to a premature end.
He signed for AC Milan, initially on loan, after just one season in Spain, before a goal-laden period at PSG. In search of his next challenge, a 34-year-old Ibrahimovic signed for Manchester United on a free transfer in 2016.
He silenced doubts over his ability to succeed in English football with a 28-goal season, a haul which included a match-winning double in the League Cup final. United also won the Europa League, but Ibrahimovic’s season – and effectively career with the club – was curtailed after he sustained a serious knee injury in April.
He departed having scored 29 goals in 53 appearances and with England ticked off on his bucket list of Europe’s top leagues.
Alexis Sanchez became the most expensive Chilean footballer of all time when completing a move from Udinese to Barcelona in 2011.
Across three seasons in Spain the forward impressed, as he scored 47 goals in 141 appearances and won both La Liga and the Copa del Rey among his honours. However, the arrivals of Neymar and Luis Suarez pushed Sanchez down the pecking order and he departed to sign for Arsenal in 2014.
His time with the Gunners was his most successful in terms of individual performances, as he scored 80 goals across four seasons to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s finest footballers.
Manchester United believed the club had secured a coup after agreeing a deal to sign Sanchez, capitalising on his contract situation to sign the forward in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan head to north London.
It proved a disastrous transfer, as Sanchez struggled badly at Old Trafford. He looked a shadow of the player who had been so impressive at Arsenal and scored just three league goals in 18 months. To little surprise, the Red Devils soon cut their losses.
Memphis Depay arrived at Manchester Unitedwith a growing reputation, having shone since coming through the ranks at PSV Eindhoven. The Eredivisie’s leading scorer the previous season, expectations were high upon his arrival at Old Trafford.
The winger failed to make the desired impact however, struggling for form under both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. He scored just twice in the Premier League and was allowed to leave for Lyon after just 18 months at the club.
Depay rebuilt his reputation in France with 76 goals in 178 appearances for Lyon, form which saw Barcelona make their move for the Dutchman. He joined the club on a free transfer in 2021 as the cash-strapped Catalans sought cost-efficient signings and scored 13 goals during his debut season.
The arrival of Robert Lewandowski last summer saw Depay deemed surplus to requirements and he was sold to Atletico Madrid in January 2023.