Top 10 Champions League performances this century
10. Milan 0-2 Arsenal, 2008
No English side had ever defeated AC Milan at San Siro, and Arsenal travelled to the reigning champions feeling they’d missed their opportunity to take command of the tie in the first leg, when Emmanuel Adebayor hit the bar late on.
Arsene Wenger named a very cautious starting XI, with Emmanuel Eboue and Abou Diaby on either side of the midfield, but it proved effective as Arsenal competed with Milan’s diamond in the centre of the pitch, upsetting Andrea Pirlo’s rhythm and denying Kaka space to work in.
It took 84 minutes for the first goal of the game, with Cesc Fabregas’ long-range strike, before substitute Theo Walcott teed up Emmanuel Adebayor for the second. This was Paolo Maldini’s final European game, and marked the end of Milan’s mid-2000 dominance of the European Cup.
9. Chelsea 4-2 Barcelona, 2005
After a fiery first leg win for Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Chelsea took control with a stunning first half performance at Stamford Bridge – finding themselves 3-0 up thanks to goals from Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff.
Chelsea cut through Barcelona with pace and power, exposing their high defensive line and dominating the midfield battle – Xavi, Deco and Gerard were no match for the strength of Lampard and Claude Makelele, while Gudjohnsen played a clever midfield role so effectively that Barcelona bought him the next summer.
Ronaldinho’s two goals – the second was his legendary swipe with the outside of his foot, from a standing position – got Barcelona back in the game, but John Terry’s late header settled the tie.
8. Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid, 2009
Liverpool had played with tactical skill and discipline for their 1-0 first leg victory at the Bernabeu, with Yossi Benayoun scoring a rare header to snatch a vital away goal. Many suspected Rafael Benitez would order Liverpool to play a familiar defensive, cautious game in the second leg – but instead they dominated from the start, and fully deserved such a big win.
Former Atletico striker Fernando Torres returned from injury to constantly storm past Fabio Cannavaro, effectively marking the end of the Italian defender’s period as a top-class defender. Steven Gerrard had one of his famous European nights at Anfield, while the likes of Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena made surprise contributions.
Real’s standout performer was Iker Casillas – summing up Liverpool’s dominance – with the likes of Arjen Robben, Raul and Wesley Sneijder invisible throughout.
7. Barcelona 4-0 Bayern Munich, 2009
Barcelona were highly impressive in La Liga, but it was difficult to put their domestic achievements into context until they’d convincingly defeated a fellow European heavyweight.
This was that performance: Bayern had been thrashed 5-1 by eventual Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg the preceding weekend, and looked nervous from the start – they found themselves 4-0 down at half-time, thanks to Barcelona’s unparalleled front three of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o, who constantly broke with astonishing pace.
The second half finished goalless – but that was merely an example of Barcelona killing the game through tiki-taka, in the manner they’ve done dozens of times since.
6. Deportivo 4-0 Milan, 2004
Milan were the reigning champions and would reach the final the following season too – and with a 4-1 first leg lead heading to the Riazor, were confident of triumphing in a Champions League campaign where many big sides had already fallen.
But Depor completed the most remarkable two-legged turnaround in modern European Cup history, thumping Milan 4-0. Walter Pandiani spearheaded the side and opened the scoring, but Milan’s problem was Depor’s three attacking midfielders – Juan Carlos Valeron, Albert Luque and Victor provided great pace and drive, with Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf overrun, and Rino Gattuso unable to dominate the midfield zone solo, making a mistake to allow Fran in for the fourth.
Like the following season’s final defeat against Liverpool, Milan were guilty of switching off and conceding too much pressure having been in a commanding position.
5. Manchester United 7-1 Roma (2007)
Roma were proving popular across Europe with their impressive midfield ball retention and their fluid, flexible forward line – but Manchester United produced a powerful performance, upping the tempo to pin Roma inside their own half.
Cristiano Ronaldo obviously played a starring role, but two underrated performers were equally crucial. Michael Carrick helped United command the midfield zone with the type of performance that underlines why he’s always been appreciated in Italy, scoring two wonderful goals, and Alan Smith made a rare start upfront as an old-fashioned battering ram of a number nine.
Roma barely got a kick in the opposition half – although Daniele De Rossi’s volleyed consolation goal was so impressive that he received a polite round of applause from around Old Trafford.
4. Manchester United 2-3 Real Madrid (2000)
After a goalless first leg in Madrid, the scoreline makes it seem like this was a tight game – but Real raced into a three-goal lead, and United never threatened to score the four goals they needed to progress.
United were the defending champions but were outfoxed by a technically and superior Real Madrid side – Sir Alex Ferguson deployed a standard 4-4-2 system but United were exposed between the lines, with Raul, Savio and Steve McManaman constantly finding space.
The star performer was Fernando Redondo, who dominated the midfield zone with an outstanding all-round display, while his famous backheel around Henning Berg, and subsequent cross to Raul, might be the most famous assist in Champions League history.
3. Juventus 3-1 Real Madrid (2003)
Juve had controversially lost 2-1 in the first leg in Madrid, but thrashed the reigning champions in the return leg.
This was the era of the Galacticos, with Zinedine Zidane returning to his former club – but Real had no match for the brilliant front three of Pavel Nedved, Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet, who all scored in a superbly confident Juventus display.
Gianluigi Buffon also played a starring role with a crucial penalty save from Luis Figo, but Nedved’s breakaway goal moments later confirmed Juventus’ victory, and established the Czech playmaker as the world’s best player at that period. Zidane’s late consolation was an irrelevance, as Juve demonstrated that selling the Frenchman to bring in Buffon and Nedved had been an astute decision.
2. Bayern 4-0 Barcelona (2013)
Barcelona have been the dominant force over the last five years of European football, but Bayern Munich are the team of the season, winning the Bundesliga amazingly early and dispatching Arsenal and Juventus with confident first leg performances.
Bayern have been highly influenced by Barcelona in recent years, and regularly post possession statistics to prove they’re the second-best passers in Europe – but they didn’t attempt to take Barca on at their own game, instead focusing upon power, set-pieces and counter-attacking once Barcelona pushed forward in the second half.
The tie isn’t over – Bayern switched off dangerously against Arsenal in the second round – but a four-goal advantage is substantial, and more to the point, thoroughly deserved.
1.Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United (2011)
Barca had defeated United two years previously with a performance that eventually looked comfortable, but had actually been extremely nervy until Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring against the run of play.
This was Guardiola’s Barcelona at their best – they dominated the centre of the ground with Lionel Messi dropping deep in his ‘false nine’ position, while David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez provided pace from wide areas. Each of those three forwards found the net, while each of the three midfielders – Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets – provided an assist.
It felt like Barcelona could have won by more – but they concentrated on ball retention in the second half, barely allowing United out of their own half. European finals are rarely won so convincingly, and this remains the best European Cup performance of the modern era.
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November 6th, 2018 by Simon A