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A History of Comebacks in the Champions League


A History of Comebacks in the Champions League

This week’s Champions League Round of 16 fixtures treated fans with a special comeback from Real Madrid in their first-leg game against Liverpool.

Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah put Liverpool 2 - 0 up within the first 15 minutes, making it look like Jurgen Klopp’s men were in control of the tie. However, within seven minutes Vinicius Jr scored his first to start the comeback, another goal for him had Real Madrid on level terms going into half time.

The second half saw Real dominate, Eder Militao scoring once and Karim Benzema grabbing a brace, giving Real Madrid a 5 - 2 lead, one of the great comebacks of this Champions League campaign.

This game reminded many of the great drama the Champions League has become notorious for, but what are the best ones the competition has to offer?

La Remontada

The 2016/17 Round of 16 saw Barcelona face PSG. The first leg at the Parc des Princes saw PSG run away with a 4 - 0 lead with Angel Di Maria scoring twice and Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani grabbing the other two, Barcelona only managing one shot on target. The French team travelled to the Camp Nou with one foot already in the Quarter Finals, but they came face to face with “La Remontada”.

The Spanish translation of Remontada is ‘the recovery’ or ‘the comeback’, and Barcelona’s against PSG was particularly impressive. Luis Suarez showed Barcelona’s intent in the game, scoring in the third minute, followed by Layvin Kurzawa's own goal before half time. When Messi converted his penalty in the 50th minute, the comeback looked likely, though Cavani’s goal only sought to add to the challenge, putting PSG 5 - 3 up on aggregate.

As the match was drawing to a close, the comeback was looking less and less likely until Neymar Jr scored in the 88th minute. From there he converted his penalty in additional time to draw Barcelona level, however, at this stage PSG would still be progressing on away goals.

In the 95th minute, Sergi Roberto toed the ball past Kevin Trapp, setting the Camp Nou alight and giving Barcelona a 6 - 5 lead on aggregate, sending them through to the Quarter Final and completing one of the best comebacks in Champions League history.

The Spirit of Istanbul

Liverpool have featured in many Champions League comebacks, but none more famous than “that night in Istanbul”. The Reds had beaten Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea in the knockout rounds to reach the 2005 Champions League Final where they met Italian giants AC Milan.

Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool had a nightmare first half, first conceding a Paolo Maldini goal in the first minute and then two Hernan Crespo goals within the first 45 minutes. This disaster of a first half made it look impossible that Liverpool would win their fifth Champions League title.

However, Steven Gerrard bagged a goal within the first ten minutes of the second half, Vladimir Smicer scoring two minutes later and Xabi Alonso scored in the 61st minute, bringing Liverpool back level, one of the fastest turnarounds in the competition.

This meant the Final was sent to penalties when neither team could find the back of the net again. Only Jon Tomasson and Kaka could convert for AC Milan whereas Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse and Smicer all converted giving Liverpool the comeback win and their fifth Champions League. This is one of many Liverpool comebacks, with one other particularly notable mention being their comeback against Barcelona in the 2018/19 season where they overturned a 3 - 0 first-leg loss with a 4 - 0 win at Anfield.

Chelsea vs Napoli

An underrated Champions League comeback is that of Chelsea’s Round of 16 comeback against Napoli. In the first leg, a poor Chelsea side slumped to a 3 - 1 loss in Italy despite scoring first. Juan Mata opened the scoring with an important away goal before Ezequiel Lavezzi bagged a brace and Edinson Cavani secured the third for Napoli.

The first-leg result, along with their poor Premier League form, cost Andre Villas-Boas his role at Chelsea, with former player Roberto Di Matteo coming in as caretaker. The second leg at Stamford Bridge was intense, but Chelsea had to attack the game in order to complete the comeback.

Didier Drogba scored in the first half, followed by John Terry in the opening minutes of the second half. This drew Chelsea level, but within eight minutes Gokhan Inler scored for Napoli, putting them back ahead and grabbing an important away goal. Frank Lampard converted his penalty which took the tie to extra time where Branislav Ivanovic at the end of the first half to secure the comeback win and progression to the Quarter Final for Chelsea, where they’d go on to win the entire competition that season.

And Solskjaer Has Won it!

Manchester United entered the 1999 Champions League final at Nou Camp in search of an unprecedented treble - the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, so far, the ultimate achievement in English football.

In their way, stood Bayern Munich, a side steeped in history and in contention to complete their own treble in the same campaign. The two had already clashed in Group D in the 19998/99 season on two occasions, with nothing to separate the pair, having drawn 2-2 in Munich and 1-1 in Manchester.

United hadn’t won the competition since the days of Sir Matt Busby in 1968, however, this was all about to change, but, in dramatic fashion.

The Red Devils fell behind to a Mario Basler free kick in the sixth minute of the game. As the game went on, United were failing to find their rhythm in the match, as Paul Scholes and Roy Keane were suspended for the final following yellow cards picked up in the Reds’ dramatic 3-2 win at Juventus in the semi-finals. Bayern hit the crossbar through Carsten Jancker and Mehmet Scholl, timely breaks to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

However, the Scot masterminded a comeback, subbing on Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In the 91st minute of the game, a David Beckham corner caused havoc in the Bayern penalty area, with Giggs striking a ball from the edge of the penalty area, before Sheringham diverted the Welshman’s miss-hit shot into the corner.

Just two minutes later, United reached the promised land, as Beckham swung in another inviting corner from the left-hand side, with Sheringham flicking the ball across goal at the near post, which was duly met by Solskjaer who fired the ball home to take the trophy back to Old Trafford. Bayern were left stunned, prompting Samuel Kuffour to beat the turf in anguish, ironically to this day, this remains as the only time that United have beaten outright in a European tie.