© Getty Images
With it more and more likely that the 2020 UEFA Champions League and Europa Leagues will be canceled, I wanted to look back at the past decade’s best Champions League comebacks. Because who doesn’t love a comeback when you’re down and out with no light at the end of the tunnel and out of nowhere, there’s a spark of life that leads to something special? Those are the moments we remember; a mark in history that we look back on and enjoy (unless it was against your team lol). So here are the top five comebacks in the Champions League from the 2010s.
#5 Ajax 5 vs Real Madrid 3 2019 Round of 16
Real Madrid doesn’t just lose at the Bernabeu let alone lose 4-1, except they did in March 2019 against Ajax. Los Blancos led 2-1 from the first leg in Amsterdam but collapsed in front of their fans at home. Ajax, in the middle of their Cinderella storied run to the Champions League semi-finals, produced a masterclass in the Spanish capital. Goals from Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, Dusan Tadic, and Lasse Schone handed Madrid their biggest ever European defeat. The electric Dusan Tadic, the provider of his side’s first two goals, then added a brilliant third as he whipped an effort into the top corner from the edge of the area. This shock exit for Madrid meant that they wouldn’t be lifting the Champions League for the fourth time in a row after winning it the past three years. Thank you, Ajax, for giving us a new champion.
#4 Roma 4 vs Barcelona 4 (Roma advanced on Away Goals) 2018 Quarterfinals
After losing 4-1 to Barcelona at Camp Nou, nobody gave AS Roma a chance in the second leg of the 2018 Champions League quarterfinals. But the Italian side left Lionel Messi and company shellshocked by winning 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico, with the all-important third goal scored by defender Kostas Manolas. Roma manager, Eusebio Di Francesco, acknowledged before the match that his team needed a “miracle” to advance. They got the start they needed when Edin Dzeko controlled an over-the-top pass between two defenders after six minutes and poked in his sixth goal in this season’s competition. It stayed 4-2, but then near the hour mark, Dzeko earned a penalty that Daniele De Rossi converted, which set the stage for Manolas’ late header. It was the first time that Roma has reached the last four since it lost in 1984 to Liverpool in the final on penalties in its own stadium. This is also the third year in a row that Barcelona was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
#3 Borussia Dortmund 3 vs Malaga 2 2012 Quarterfinals
After a goalless first leg in Spain and the start the second leg appearing to have no hint of the drama to come, the home crowd was silenced when Joaquin Sanchez scored from 20 yards for Malaga. Dortmund equalized shortly before the break, punishing Malaga for squandering possession with a finish from Robert Lewandowski at the end of a brisk counterattack. Then in the 82-minute substitute, Eliseu looked to have scored Malaga’s winner for Malaga. That all changed when the clock struck the 90th minute. The home crowd was sent into raptures as Marco Reus slotted home a goal into an empty net from eight yards after the ball ran fortuitously into his path to tie the game in the 91st minute. Still, Dortmund needed one more to advance. They would get that goal from the unlikeliest of players – defender, Felipe Santana, as he pounced after a huge scramble inside the penalty box, giving Dortmund the win. Dortmund’s obvious joy was in stark contrast to the emotions of the defeated Malaga players who were mere seconds away from advancing to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Dortmund would then go on to defeat Real Madrid 4-3 in the semis but ultimately lost to hated rival, Bayern Munich, 2-1 in the final. Malaga, on the other hand, had the opposite effect, as they were related to the second division in 2018 after 10 seasons in the top flight of Spanish football.
#2 Liverpool 4 vs Barcelona 3 2019 semi-finals
Liverpool was outclassed by Barcelona at Camp Nou, losing 3-0 to the Lionel Messi-inspired Catalans, and the idea of them keeping a clean sheet at Anfield felt incredibly fanciful. But they did precisely that: scored four goals in the process to send shockwaves across the world. Divock Origi started the unlikely revival, tapping home from close range after seven minutes, but it was only when substitute, Georginio Wijnaldum, scored twice in the space of 122 seconds after the break that the tie truly swung in Liverpool’s favor. Barcelona was rattled and even Lionel Messi was unable to steady the ship before Origi struck again with the goal that would decide the tie on aggregate after Trent Alexander-Arnold caught the visitors’ defense napping from a corner. It’s the first time since 1986, when Barcelona knocked out Gothenburg in the old European Cup, that a team having recovered a three-goal first-leg deficit won a semi-final in this competition, Barca, for the second year in a row, was knocked out of the Champions League after having a three-goal lead after leg one, being beaten 3-0 by Roma in the quarter-finals after winning the first leg 4-1. Their wait for a first final since 2015 continues. Liverpool ultimately went on the lift the Champions League in 2019, ending their 14-year European trophy drought with a 2-0 win against Premier League rival, Tottenham.
#1 Barcelona 6 vs Paris Saint-German 5 2017 Round of 16
In first place on this list, it’s Barcelona’s epic 6-1 win over PSG at Camp Nou in March 2017. Having an entire game to score four goals is pretty tough – but to get three of them, then to have that target moved again so you have to score another three in 30 minutes, is almost implausible. To give you a clue as to what happened, PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg in France; a humiliation. Then, in the second leg in Spain, Barca had taken a 3-0, but, then Edinson Cavani scored an away goal for PSG in the 62nd minute, making it 5-3 and meaning Barcelona would have to score three more goals, almost certainly knocking them out, right? That’s how it stayed until the 88th minute, then Neymar scored a free-kick and a penalty, three minutes apart making it 5-5. PSG still went through based on the away goal rule. But the unthinkable thing happened in the 95th minute. Neymar, who produced the best performance of his entire career, chipped the ball to Sergi Roberto, whose winning goal sent the entire stadium into raptures as Barcelona had done the IMPOSSIBLE. It was an utterly extraordinary night and has to be the greatest comeback ever seen in the Champions League. “It was a horror movie, not a drama,” said Luis Enrique afterward, when his pulse had dropped to triple figures.