Van Gaal returns to St. James' Park; 18 years after Newcastle-Barcelona clash

St James Park Two

Louis van Gaal heads back to St. James Park tonight - the stadium where his Barcelona side lost 3-2 to Newcastle in 1997.

Given Newcastle's recent history, it's easy to forget that they were once mixing it with the big boys in the Champions League.

The Magpies currently lie in 11th place in the Premier League table, and are almost playing out the rest of the season before they can hire a new manager.

Tonight, they face Manchester United at St. James' Park, in a game which sees Louis van Gaal return to the home of the Magpies - almost 18 years after his Barcelona side were beaten by Newcastle in one of the most famous Champions League games in history.

Barcelona were littered with world class stars then, just as they are now. Luis Figo, Luis Enrique, Sonny Anderson and Rivaldo were all part of van Gaal's side and, in a Group C clash in September 1997, they were faced with a trip to the North East to take on Kenny Dalglish's Newcastle.

Few gave Newcastle a chance against the Spanish giants, but those same people were left stunned by a stirring performance from the Magpies.

A 22-minute hat-trick from the controversial, cartwheeling Colombian cult hero Faustino Asprilla, two of which were fine headers from Keith Gillespie crosses, put Newcastle 3-0 up - and left 36,000 Geordies in dreamland.

The night had already seen quite enough drama but, in true Newcastle fashion, fans were left tearing their hair out as Luis Enrique pulled one back for Barcelona before Luis Figo set up a nervy finale in the dying seconds.

Newcastle and Dalglish managed to hang on and claim a famous victory in what remains one of the most remarkable Champions League games of all time, while the win lives long in the memory of Newcastle fans who were there to witness it.

Yet whereas that night against Barcelona saw Newcastle call upon the likes of John Barnes, Jon Dahl Tomasson and of course Asprilla, current manager John Carver has to make do without players of that ilk.

Whether it's Moussa Sissoko, Ayoze Perez or Papiss Cisse, one of the Newcastle players needs to harness their inner Asprilla and create a night reminiscent of the one almost 18 years ago - and send van Gaal away from Tyneside empty handed yet again.

He has been back since that famous evening, with Barcelona and AZ Alkmaar, but that contest from 1997 will still be giving him nightmares.

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