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St Etienne were a good side back then, but I don't expect a Manc to know anything about history.
In 1974/75 St Etienne lost to Bayern Munich in the semi-final (Bayern went on to win the European Cup)
In 1975/76 St Etienne lost in the final to Bayern Munich.
In 1976/77 (as you've said) they lost in the quarters to Liverpool (who went on to win the Cup).
Benfica and Bayern were always in the mix during th 70's and 80's, and Monchengladbach won the German title in 1970,1971,1975,1976 and 1977 ahead of Bayern Munich (who you coincidentally seem to be saying were a hard team for ManU but easy for Liverpool even though Bayern were not the same force in the 1990's that they were in the 70's - their golden period was the early 2000's).
Barcelona weren't the team they are now in the 1990's, so you can cross them off your 'hard' ManU games. In the 1997/98 European Cup they finished bottom of their group which boasted the might of Dynamo Kiev, PSV and Newcastle (Barca won 1, drawn 2, lost 3).
In 1994/95 Barca lost to PSG in the quarters, and didn't get to that stage again until 1999/2000 when they lost to Valencia in the semi's.
Inter Milan hardly register on the meter in the 1990's, Juve were getting to the end of their golden period by the late 90's, Bayern were on the rise towards theirs, and you managed to miss Real Madrid who were the real force at that time.
Leverkusen weren't a bad side - granted they had lost some of their top players from the 2001/02 season when they knocked us and you out and lost in the final, but they were a bit like Galatasaray when they knocked you lot out in the 90's. Oh, and Leverkusen topped Real Madrid's group that season (beating them 3-0 at home and drawing 1-1 in Madrid.
Juventus, Chelsea and Milan were 3 of the best (and were each favourites for the cup before we beat them - as were Barca this year. btw - this one's not over yet, and I for one am counting no chickens.)
It's difficult to say whether the new format is easier than the old format. When you played knock-out all the way through, and only got in when you had won your own title there was more pressure, and it was harder to give players experience of European competition because there were no dead games at the end of group stages, or some of the duck-eggs who get in now.
Travelling to far-flung foreign places was not as easy as today, and teams were not as accommodating to away sides especially the further east you went. Facilities were not up to scratch, and for plaers who had little experience of travelling abroad (unlike the jet-setters of today) it would be quite intimidating.
Now, you do tend to get the cream of Europe in the latter stages, but the seeding system is of help to the top sides. ManU may find soon that dropping out of the top group in the seedings will make things a bit more difficult in the group stages.
The fact still remains that 5 European Cups is a great achievement, and to win thm in 3 different decades makes it more of an echievement - only Real Madrid (50's,60's,00's), and Milan (60's,90's,00's) have done the same. Liverpool won all of theirs with dfferent teams of players too whereas often when teams have won a few European Cups they have been with almost the same team as in previous years.
If runners-up from domestic leagues had been in the European Cup during the 70's and 80's we'd probably be on out way to ten by now.