In the grand style of the intro to the magnificent Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, this is the story of a time long ago: the early to mid-90s. This is a fixture that stirs up memories of that era, a time when naïve English clubs were routinely knocked out of European competitions by their more streetwise foreign opponents. After winning their first league title for 26 years, Manchester United were after their first European Cup since 1968, and hopes were high when they were drawn against Turkish no-hopers Galatasary in the second round (the group stage was a year away from being introduced). Things did not go as planned, Galatasary drawing 3-3 at Old Trafford in the first leg and then holding United to a 0-0 draw in Hell in the second, going through on away goals. A year later, they were drawn together in the group stages but again United made an early exit – alongside the Turks – as they finished third behind Barcelona and Gothenburg. But that was a different time. The landscape has changed. You don't see United dumped out early any mo... oh.
Right, let's try that again. A year ago, this is a match that would have been viewed as a gimme for United, the cynics rolling their eyes at them being drawn in yet another straightforward group. Yet following last year's debacle in Europe, there is a more cautious air around Old Trafford, a desperation to avoid humiliation again. Galatasary, Braga and Cluj are United's companions from now until December. The path looks simple enough to navigate. So did one blocked by Benfica, FC Basel and Otelul Galati and United ended up finishing third and were consigned to Thursday nights on Channel Five in the Europa League, in which they were torn apart by Athletic Bilbao.
It's hard to create an aura, it's hard to lose an aura and it's hard to get it back once weaknesses become evident. Of course United are far from that point – generous assessments might suggest that last season's struggles were anomalous – but suddenly they seem less scary. Where once Old Trafford was an impregnable fortress for foreign sides, certain cracks started to appear last season and Ajax, Bilbao, Benfica and Basel, encouraged to attack, were all rewarded for boldness that would have been beyond them in previous years. Galatasary have been given the blueprint. Although having said that, if Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa click for United, everything that has been written above will be rendered obsolete by 9.30pm tonight. And let's face it, there's a strong chance that's going to happen. It would not be the first or last time it did.
Required reading before kick-off: a Rob Smyth epic on the night Manchester United went to Hell and back. No wonder Roy Keane was a man possessed when Galatasary returned to Old Trafford a year later. Maybe United's current No16 will emulate him this evening.
Kicking off: 7.46pm.
Here are your teams. Or, to be more precise, the teams of Manchester United and Galatasary. They're not yours at all.
Man Utd: De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Nani; Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Anderson, Hernandez, Welbeck, Cleverley, Fletcher.
Galatasaray: Muslera; Eboue, Nounkeu, Kaya, Balta; Altintop, Felipe Melo, Inan, Amrabat; Burak Yilmaz, Bulut. Subs: Ceylan, Cris, Aydin Yilmaz, Elmander, Riera, Baytar, Colak.
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)
Have you ever wanted to discover what your 16-year-old self was like? Well you should have set up a Bebo account - like Andy Carroll did. Here are the thoughts of a young Boxer in all their glory. Particular highlights are his favourite film and his greatest fear. What a state.
An email. "Even if you were a Turkish policeman, would you start a fight with Cantona and Keane?" says Colin Sebastian. "I wouldn't."
Here come the teams. Manchester United are in their gingham monstrosity, looking like they should be modelling for Topman. Galatasaray are unforgivably wearing tracksuit tops over their yellow shirts. As they walk out, there's muted applause around the ground, save for the din being created by the travelling fans.
United get us going, attacking from left to right. A correction about the shirts: Galatasaray are in white, not yellow. They're on the attack straight away, Altintop haring away down the right flank and sending in a weak cross that Vidic cuts out. Evra's pass back to his captain is short though and Yilmaz nips in and goes down under a clumsy challenge from Vidic. The German referee has a long look at it and decides not to award a penalty to the visitors.
3 min: After some aimless United pressure, every touch greeted by piercing whistles from the Turkish fans, we finally get a look at the penalty incident and it looks like United have got away with one. In front of the Stretford End. Vidic was nowhere near the ball and definitely caught Yilmaz's heel.
4 min: A confident enough start from Galatasaray. It is silent inside Old Trafford.
5 min: United threaten for the first time, Nani zigzagging in and out of challenges from the right, before playing a reverse pass intended for Van Persie on the right of the area. It's behind the Dutchman though and Valencia's cross is blocked out for a throw-in. That's a waste. From there, Galatasaray counter, breaking through the non-existent United midfield, but Amrabat is caught offside.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Galatasaray (Carrick, 7 min): This should go some way to settling United's nerves and it's a beautifully executed goal. Muslera had already been called into action moments before this, denying Nani, who tried to chip him when he was through on goal but this time there was nothing he could do. Carrick loped forward from the right and then found Kagawa on the edge of the area. The Japanese midfielder took a touch and then poked a cute pass through to Carrick, who stepped past Muslera. The goalkeeper nearly brought him down - it would have been a penalty and a red card - but Carrick stayed on his feet and tapped the ball into the empty net. United sliced the Turks open at will there.
10 min: Galatasaray almost hit back immediately with a sumptuous effort from Amrabat. This is so unlucky. He was granted acres of space to storm up the left flank and run at an exposed Jonny Evans. Once he reached the edge of the area he cut inside on to his right foot and bent a delicious effort past De Gea and on to the top of the bar. United lead but their defence looks far from secure, partly because it is being given no protection by the midfield. United have gone back to the future. "Why don't Man Utd have anyone in midfield who can tackle?" says Brian Russell. "Carrick and Valencia and Nani don't and Schole just shouldn't, for the sake of his opponnets femurs. Do you think we could get passed to death in Europe this year?"
13 min: Desperate to silence Brian Russell, Michael Carrick stops Felipe Melo in his tracks with a perfectly timed slide tackle. "Come now Jacob, what's wrong with Topman and Bebo!?" says Ryan Dunne. "We can't all be Big London Hipsters. What's next, critcising alcopops!?! Aside from which, is it not rather sweet that the young Andy had a Disney film as his favourite movie, instead of the more,er, 'adult' flicks that your average 16 year old boys is a fan of? Almost makes up for that snake 'joke'."
14 min: Nani skews a dreadful shot well wide from 25 yards out. Meanwhile it looks like the evening could be over for Umut Bulut, Galatasaray's star striker. He's hobbling and limping about after taking a knock and Johan Elmander is getting ready.
16 min: Bulut goes off and here comes Johan Elmander, the former Bolton striker.
18 min: We've missed Emmanuel Eboue. Carrick released Valencia down the right flank but the winger produced a woeful cross, sending it dismally past Van Persie in the middle. That should have been that but instead Eboue allowed the ball to clang against his leg in hapless fashion, conceding a needless corner. He responds with a big goofy smile.
19 min: Although the smile would have been wiped off Eboue's face if United had scored again thanks to his folly. Indeed they went close as a loose ball nearly broke to Kagawa in the six-yard box. He would have scored but for a crucial last-ditch challenge from Nounkeu.
22 min: From Galatasaray's first corner of the night, Melo powers a header over from 12 yards out. "I don't know about a Bebo account, but Sir Alex paid £7m for a Bebe account and hasn't been able to use it since," honks Mark Judd.
23 min: There's a stoppage in play as Melo gets treatment after taking a blow to the head from Carrick. He should be fine to continue.
24 min: Van Persie twists and turns and sends a gaggle of defenders hither and tither before teeing up Valencia on the right. His drives a cross into the middle and Muslera is all-a-flap in the six-yard box. Fortunately for him, his defenders deal with the resulting scramble.
26 min: Galatasaray carried a real threat in the opening 15 minutes and could have scored twice but have lost their way since Bulut went off injured. United are looking increasingly comfortable, albeit without actually playing that well.
28 min: Inan hangs a free-kick up towards Elmander and Evans and Vidic handily get in each other's way, resulting in Galatasaray's second corner of the night. Evans and Vidic have a Hart and Kompany style debate over whose fault it was. This time it's the captain who wins. The corner is cleared as far as Alintop on the edge of the area. He lines up a shot - he can hit them - but a deflection takes the sting out of his effort.
30 min: Van Persie swings in a corner from the right. Nani heads over. Isn't that the wrong way round? "Not watching the game but I'm wondering what has Felipe Melo been like?" says Rob McKay. "The last I heard of him was him being the next big thing in Italy as he signed for Juventus for daft money. I'm thoroughly convinced that the writers of the now defunct Calcio Italia never actually watched Serie A." He's not done too much. There's time yet for him to have a Holland-style meltdown though.
31 min: Galatasaray streak through the United midfield again, Alintop bursting through the middle with no one bothering to get in his way. He feeds Eboue on the right but with team-mates waiting in the middle he selfishly shoots from a tight angle. It's deflected high and wide. The corner is a mess. Where's the United midfield? Have United picked a midfield tonight? Did they ever buy that midfielder?
32 min: Kagawa sashays into the area on the left and almost manages to somehow wriggle through. He falls under a challenge from Nounkeu just as it looked like he was about to shoot and appeals for a penalty but again Wolfgang Stark is unmoved. This time the defender appeared to get the ball.
35 min: "If one wishes to run the risk if eye damage from that horrid layout, one can read a message posted on young Andy's page from a forlorn "Kenny Daglish" (sic.) who, after noting that he is currently unemployed, asks the young snake owner 'Why did you do it to me, Andy? WHY?'," says Michael Shaffer. "Sigh, young love can be so foolish and expensive."
37 min: Altintop tries to score with a free-kick from 35 yards. Guess what happened.
38 min: The United crowd are growing increasingly edgy. Passes are being misplaced, runs aren't being tracked and Galatasaray are utterly dominant. Another sloppy pass from Evra is seized upon by Amrabat on the right. He hares past Evra and is fouled on the right byline the left-back, who picks up a booking.
39 min: From the resulting free-kick, United are caught completely cold. With everyone expecting a centre into the middle from Inan, the midfielder pulled the ball back to Altintop on the edge of the area, the midfielder's low shot fizzing this far past the right post with De Gea rooted to the spot. United need to wake up. They are going to pay for this sooner or later.
43 min: This is all too reminiscent of United's travails in Europe last season. Their midfield simply doesn't look up to it.
43 min: "One of the most widely used intelligence test in the world is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and it takes a few hours to complete," says Liam Moseley. "I have invented a much quicker way to ascertain someone's intellect by one question. "Do you rate Michael Carrick?" My friend next to me is an idiot." Hang on - did he say yes or no?
45 min: United are now officially All Over The Place. Scholes, who is painfully off the pace, is caught dawdling in his own half by Altintop. His team-mates make runs to the left and right to open up space through the middle but just as he elects to pull the trigger on the edge of the area, Carrick's sliding challenge does enough to put him off and Altintop's shot slices well off target. Carrick was a bit lucky not to be penalised for a foul actually.
Half time: Manchester United 1-0 Galatasaray. Wolfgang Stark brings an end to a very uncomfortable first half for Manchester United, who have a slender and barely deserved lead thanks to Michael Carrick's early goal. Galatasary can count themselves very unlucky not to be leading, having hit the bar and been denied a clear penalty in the first minute. United should bring on that central midfielder they signed in the summer.
46 min: Off we go again, Galatasaray getting the second half underway. Their fans are still singing. Aren't their throats sore?
47 min: This is better from United. Nani diddles his way in from the right and pokes a pass to Kagawa, who dances past one challenge but sees his low shot deflected wide by Kaya. He looked certain to score there. Fine defending.
49 min: Altintop goes close yet again. He didn't quite get hold of his low drive from 25 yards but he still had a scrambling De Gea wide as the ball dribbled wide of the left post.
50 min: What a clown. Nani suddenly mistakes himself for the
John Terry referee and bends down to pick the ball up, deciding it was too flat. Only problem being that no whistle had gone and play was still going, meaning Nani was penalised for handball. Good job he didn't do that in United's area, even if he was right about the flatness of the ball.
52 min: PENALTY TO MANCHESTER UNITED! Rafael's burst into the area and is caught by Yilmaz. Will Van Persie chip it?
53 min: NANI'S SHOCKING PENALTY IS SAVED! After his recent faux-pas against Southampton, Van Persie is off penalty duties but there's no change in the end result. Nani steps up with absolutely no conviction at all and tries to kid Muslera with a faltering run-up. No dice. Muslera stands his ground, so Nani panics and freezes, rooted to the spot. Suddenly he realises he'd better do something, especially as nearly every other player is in the area, and finally he places a low effort towards the bottom-left corner but Muslera is behind it all the way.
54 min: The evening grows even more farcical. Now they've lost the ball. This is the Champions League. Surely they have more than one ball.
55 min: The ball is back. Let the entertainment continue!
56 min: How are Galatasaray not level at least? Altintop whips a devilish ball into the box from the right and Inan flicks a glorious header across goal. It looked like it was going to loop into the far corner but dropped agonisingly past the left post with De Gea beaten.
58 min: Felipe Melo goes into the book for one foul too many. "So that's three penalties United have had this season and three misses too," notes Rajiv.
59 min: Nani's corner from the left is nutted over by Vidic from close range, although it seemed to be helped on its way by Muslera. It's a goal-kick to Galatasaray nonetheless.
60 min: Nani shoots. It's blocked. Van Persie volleys. It's over.
61 min: Vidic is booked for leading with his arm in an aerial duel with Yilmaz. There wasn't much in that. That's soft.
62 min: Blimey. Barcelona are losing 2-1 at home to Spartak Moscow. Tito out!
63 min: Galatasaray replace Amrabat with Emre Colak.
66 min: Eboue is down - I know - with what appears to be a knee injury.
68 min: Eboue is back. Try to contain your surprise.
69 min: Van Persie has not been in the game at all but I put that down to the flimsiness of United's midfield. They have been unable to feed Kagawa, while Valencia and Nani have been frustratingly careless on the flanks.
71 min: United finally put a move together worthy of note as Kagawa and Nani combine to send Evra through on goal but he pulls his effort wide. Although apparently it was down to the touch of a Galatasaray defender, so it's a corner to United. From which...
72 min: David De Gea makes a superb double-save to preserve United's lead! This was genuinely world class from the young Spanish keeper. United took the corner short, Nani found on the right side of the area. He claimed he was tripped by a defender but Wolfgang Stark told him to get up and as United protested, Galatasaray played to the whistle and broke against a faltering United defence. Yilmaz was played through and hammered a shot at De Gea, which be beat away. The rebound came out to Colak on the left and his venomous drive was incredibly pushed over by De Gea. What a save. From the corner, Galatasaray waste another chance, Melo hooking a volley over.
74 min: Suddenly Galatasaray find themselves exposed in defence, Nani skittering through on the left. But his pass to Van Persie, who was in the clear, was behind the Dutchman, forcing him to check back and the chance was gone.
79 min: Darren Fletcher gets a huge ovation from the United crowd as he makes his return from 10 months out with illness, replacing Paul Scholes. Galatasaray bring on Aydin Yilmaz for Felipe Melo.
81 min: Van Persie is booked for a sprawling lunge on Elmander on the right. That's his final contribution. He's replaced by Javier Hernandez.
82 min: The pressure is hardly incessant but United can't get out of their half at the moment. They have been thoroughly unconvincing from the first minute tonight. Forget drawing, Galatasaray are unlucky not to be ahead.
84 min: Danny Welbeck replaces Shinji Kagawa.
85 min: Nani hoicks a ball over the top of the Galatasaray defence for Hernandez but his clipped effort over Muslera goes well wide of the left post.