The draw for the Champions League last 16 has been made but even the more intriguing ties such as Atletico Madrid and Chelsea will have a hard time meeting the standards of the best Champions League knockout games ever. We’ve only included games from the Champions League era, so apologies to anyone hoping for a dose of European Cup nostalgia. Without further ado, here are the top 5.
Top 5 – Best Champions League knockout games ever
5. Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United (2010/11, final)
Most of the games in our list of the best Champions League knockout matches ever were exciting matches which swung from end to end. Not this one, however. The 2011 final is just included because it was an absolute masterclass from a Barcelona side well and truly in their pomp.
United, who were on home soil at Wembley, started the match well but, as time ticked on, Barca gained more and more control of the game but without seriously testing Edwin Van der Sar in between the sticks. At least that was the case before Xavi cut the United backline wide open with a pass that was almost unreadable. He, of course, made it look easy and Pedro did the rest as he gave Van der Sar the eyes to roll home for a 1-0 lead. Even at this early stage – the game was 27 minutes old – a way back looked unlikely.
After all, Barcelona were hardly the easiest side to get the ball off but Wayne Rooney was central to a Barca-esque equaliser on 34. United won the ball in the middle third off a Barcelona throw and when Rooney got half a yard, a couple of quickly exchanged passes saw him arrive in the box to power into the onion bag. It was seen as game on but it never was. Barcelona were too good. Lionel Messi, who was later named man of the match for a magical display, put the Spanish side back in front and that was that. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men never looked like levelling again and it was settled on 69 when David Villa shaped a beauty into the top corner.
4. Barcelona 6-5 PSG (2016/17, last 16)
That Barcelona side felt untouchable and six later there was a similar feeling as they welcomed French champions PSG to the Nou Camp. Barca were once again the favourites to win the tournament with Neymar now lighting things up alongside Messi. What happened in Paris could not have been forecast, not by anyone. PSG started brightly and took a deserved lead through Angel Di Maria who left Marc Andre ter Stegen rooted to the spot as his freekick went up and down to nestle in the inside side netting.
Julian Draxler thumped a second past the Barca keeper on 40 before Di Maria put away another pearler for 3-0 after the interval. The French side weren’t done though and Edinson Cavani bagged a fourth on 71. Luckily for Barca, PSG didn’t threaten again. At the end of the first leg, Barcelona were not only on the canvas but the count was at nine too. The second leg hardly seemed worth watching.
The Nou Camp crowd got an early boost three minutes into the return leg, however, when Luis Suarez scored a scrappy opener. It was still 4-1 on aggregate though so Barca had their work cut out. PSG were restricting their opponents to efforts from distance and neither Messi or Neymar had their shooting boots on meaning things were pretty comfortable for Kevin Trapp in the PSG goal, until Layvin Kurzawa had a shocker on 40 to allow Barca to make it 4-2. PSG weren’t done with their naïve behaviour though and on 50 Messi dispatched a penalty to leave just a goal between the pair.
The momentum had well and truly swung back to Barcelona but PSG though still carried a threat and Cavani slapped a half volley into the roof of the net, leaving the Catalonians with another three goal mountain to climb in the final half hour to advance. That was still the case with two minutes left despite the visitors having chances to put the game well and truly to bed. PSG would live to rue the missed chances.
Neymar delivered a special free kick on 88 before he tucked away a spot kick in injury time after Suarez was dragged down in the box. Still, away goals had PSG going through before Sergi Roberto got on the end of Neymar’s ball over the top to turn in the winner with almost the last kick of the match. Barca had won 5-1 on the night. They were through.
3. Liverpool 4-3 Barcelona
Blimey. It feels like all we’re writing about is Barcelona. Don’t worry, third on our list of the greatest Champions League knockout games ever didn’t go in their favour!
There aren’t many teams that go to the Nou Camp and have more possession than their hosts but that’s exactly what happened on May 1st 2019. Liverpool had more of the ball, more corners and more shots but came away with nothing but a hefty defeat courtesy of another dazzling display from Messi. In fairness, it was a former Red who got the Catalan side up and running as Suarez stole a yard on his marker; he celebrated too much to the disgust of a fair few Liverpool fans.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had been decent but for their finishing. Ter Stegen had a good game but there were several chances where he shouldn’t have been given a chance and Barca are not the most forgiving side. Messi made it 2-0 and a sumptuous free kick made it three before the end. Barca were through, weren’t they?
They do say something special happens at Anfield on European nights. After watching the second leg of this tie, it’s hard argue otherwise. Liverpool were dead prior to kick off. They were soon resuscitated though and a lot of blame can be apportioned to ter Stegen. The first goal came just seven minutes in when the keeper parried into the path of Divock Origi. The second from Georginio Wijnaldum squirmed straight through him and although there was nothing he could do about Wijnaldum’s header, which came just two minutes after the Dutchman’s first on 56, he wasn’t blameless for the fourth either. This time the whole Barcelona defence switched off as Origi turned home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quickly taken corner. It was pandemonium in the stands.
2. Manchester City 6-6 Monaco (2016/17, last 16)
When you talk about exhilarating football the first leg these two sides served up at the Etihad is precisely what you mean. It was sensational. The opening stages of the game were end to end with perhaps the visitors having the best chances but it was Raheem Sterling who opened the scoring as he hooked in from close range. It should have been the cue for City to tighten up but within a matter of minutes Radamel Falcao headed in for Monaco before an 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe ran in behind to rifle into the roof of Willy Caballero’s net.
Falcao had the chance to extend Monaco’s lead but struck a tame penalty low to Caballero’s left and he would live to regret it as Sergio Aguero found the net as Danijel Subasic failed to deal with a relatively straight forward strike from the Argentine. Still, you can’t let mistakes keep you down and Falcao dinked a delightful effort into the City net just three minutes later. City were angered. Aguero hooked in from a corner 10 minutes later and with 13 minutes left John Stones made it 4-3 before Sane added icing to the cake.
After a breakneck first leg, the instructions were surely to keep it tight in the opening exchanges but within eight minutes there was just a goal in it. Mbappe was the scorer. The youngster then flashed a strike beyond Caballero only for it to be ruled out for offside but on the half hour the tie stood at 5-5. Monaco put together a neat move down City’s right and Fabinho calmly passed Benjamin Mendy’s cutback into the corner. City, who offered little in attacking sense that night, got their noses back in front when Sane gleefully tucked in a loose ball only for Tiemoue Bakayoko to nod home from a set piece for 6-6. City scored six but it counted for nothing. Away goals saw them eliminated.
1. AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2004/05, final)
There’s no argument that the Miracle of Istanbul is well worth number one spot on our list of the best Champions League knockout games ever. It’s often forgotten but Liverpool nearly went out of the competition in the group stage as they sneaked second place ahead of Olympiakos. Meanwhile, Milan beat Barcelona to top spot before sweeping aside Man United and their bitter rivals Inter on route to the showpiece game.
On paper, there was no contest. AC Milan were by far the better team. It looked like playing out that way too when Paolo Maldini gave the Italian giants a first minute lead. Liverpool were far from toothless in the early exchanges but Milan were a constant threat and, by half time, Hernan Crespo had added a further two goals leaving Rafa Benitez’s men with a seemingly impossible job in their hands with the second 45 still to come.
Of course, the rest is history. Man of the match Steven Gerrard pulled one back on 54 before a low drive from Vladimir Smicer just two minutes later had the match well and truly alive. Then, by the hour mark, parity was unbelievably restored. Midfield tough man Gennaro Gattuso bundled Gerrard over in the box as the now Rangers boss drove from deep and although Xabi Alonso saw his spot kick saved by Dida he tucked away the rebound. Fast forward through some Jerzy Dudek heroics and penalties were upon us where, yep, the Polish shot stopper channelled Bruce Grobbelaar to perform further heroics. Liverpool where European Champions. Somehow.
There you have it the best ties in Champions League knockout history. So, class of 2020, what have you got?
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