English club’s top five Champions League performances: after Chelsea’s victory, we ask: was that the greatest ever?
After Chelsea’s heroic performance in the Nou Camp last night against Barcelona, the Upcoming Sport takes a look at some of the best recent performances by English clubs in the Champions League.
1. Champions League Final 2005 – Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (Liverpool won on penalties)
Perhaps the greatest ever European Cup tie took place in the Final of the competition back in 2005 at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium. Veteran defender Paolo Maldini gave the Rossoneri a first-minute lead, before a double from ex-Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo looked to have given the Italian giants an unnasailable half-time advantage.
However, Rafael Benitez’s side came storming out of the blocks in the second half and three goals in a miraculous seven-minute spell from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso leveled up the Final.
The drama wasn’t finished there though as Jerzy Dudek’s fingernail somehow kept out Andriy Shevchenko’s effort from merely a yard out. That forced penalties and the Pole saved from the same man in the shoot-out to ensure a fifth European Cup for Liverpool in the most dramatic of circumstances.
2. Champions League Final 1999 – Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich
It certainly wasn’t the most vintage of Manchester United performances, not by any means, but the style in which they secured their second European Cup in Barcelona will never be forgotten.
Trailing to Mario Basler’s first-half goal, legendary Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel had managed to keep United’s hopes alive with a string of vital saves, whilst the woodwork had also come to the Red Devils’ rescue.
Sir Alex Ferguson then opted to send both Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on and it proved to be the most inspired of substitutions. With three minutes of added time signalled, Sheringham’s strike on the turn leveled proceedings before David Beckham’s corner was flicked on by Sheringham into the path of Solskjaer, who stuck out a leg to divert the ball into the top corner.
United had reached the promised land. They were Champions of Europe for the second time, and had secured a historic treble.
3. Champions League Semi-Final 2012 – Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate)
Last night’s incredible achievement by the men from Stamford Bridge has to be included on this list. Many are still getting their heads around it this morning, Chelsea have just knocked out Barcelona.
You have to say it to barely believe it, but Roberto Di Matteo’s team of heroes managed to achieve what many had predicted as the impossible. Their decorated opponents had won two of the last three Champions League Finals and had the reached the Semi-Final for a fifth straight year.
Chelsea on the other hand, were just starting to run into some decent form under Di Matteo after a turbulent two-thirds of the season, a season in which they still may fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
However, the Blues produced one of the greatest ever defensive displays to keep Barcelona at bay in the second period with just ten men. Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta had given Barcelona a 2-0 lead on the night, and 2-1 on aggregate, either side of John Terry’s red card.
The tie looked over but Ramires struck with an exquisite chip just before half-time to put Chelsea back in the driving seat. Lionel Messi then struck the bar with a penalty and the post from outside the area, before the visitors broke away.
Fernando Torres, of all men, the misfiring £50 million striker, ridiculed for much of the season, bore down on Barcelona’s goal, rounded Victor Valdes and rolled the ball into the empty net to send the Chelsea fans situated high up in the gods, into absolute raptures.
Graeme Souness described it as “the greatest night in Chelsea’s history”. It’s hard to argue with that.
4. Champions League Semi-Final 1999 – Juventus 2-3 Manchester United (Manchester United won 4-3 on aggregate)
In the same treble season of ’99, Manchester United looked to be heading out of the Champions League after a Filippo Inzaghi double left them with a mountain to climb in Turin.
Roy Keane halved the deficit with a header but was then booked, meaning United’s Captain Fantastic was to miss the Final, even if the visitors could complete a remarkable turnaround.
At that point, the hot-headed Irishman came into his own. He continually drove his side forward and just after the half-hour mark, Dwight Yorke headed past Angelo Peruzzi to put Sir Alex Ferguson’s team back in the driving seat.
They still had to soak up notable Juve pressure in the second period, before with six minutes remaining, Yorke rounded the goalkeeper and Andrew Cole tapped the ball into the unguarded net.
Manchester United had completed a sensational comeback and were through to their first European Cup Final in 31 years.
United’s success also ended a barren run for English teams in Europe; it was the first time a club from these shores had made it through to Europe’s showpiece match for 14 years.
5. Champions League Last 16 1st leg 2006 – Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal
Although it was only a last-16 tie, the scale of this achievement by Arsenal should not be overlooked.
This was the era of Real Madrid’s Galacticos. Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Brazilian Ronaldo and Raul were all in the team. Granted, they did have Thomas Gravesen, but no English club had ever won at the Bernabeu.
Arsenal were experiencing their most turbulent season yet under Arsene Wenger, having been unbeaten Premier League champions just 18 months before.
The summer departure of Patrick Vieira had severely affected the Gunners, and they were in an intriguing battle with close rivals Spurs to qualify for the Champions League the following season.
They did possess though, arguably the greatest player on the planet at that time, Thierry Henry.
The Frenchman terrorised the Madrid defence all night as Arsenal, with an 18-year-old Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings in midfield, dominated proceedings from start to finish.
Henry grabbed the only goal after a mesmerising run from near halfway. He evaded the challenges of four defenders, before placing his left-foot shot beyond Iker Casillas.
It was a classic goal, on a wonderful night for Arsenal.
They drew 0-0 in the return game at Highbury to complete the job, and went on to reach the Final where they were narrowly beaten by Barcelona.