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Champions League: Ranking the best champions of the last 10 years

With the Champions League group stage back, Hansi Flicks’s Bayern Munich side will look to retain their title, after overcoming European rivals Paris Saint Germain to lift the 2020 Champions League trophy.

The German club won their sixth European Cup, it was a Munich side that really found its stride in December onwards after ex-manager Niko Kovac was dismissed. Flick won 19 out of Bayern’s last 20 Bundesliga games and went unbeaten in Europe to complete Bayern’s second treble in history.

With this seasons competition up and running, we have looked at the last 10 winners and ranked them 1-10.

The criteria: Focusing on a team’s all-round performance, how the team performed in their domestic leagues and cup competitions, which team’s ceiling were the highest? We are trying to answer the question if all the previous winners were placed into a mini super-league, who would win?

10. 2011/2012 CHELSEA

Manager: Roberto Di Matteo
Premier League: 6th
FA Cup: Winners
League Cup: Quarterfinals
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Frank Lampard (11) Daniel Sturridge (11)
All comps: Frank Lampard (16)

Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Cech, Bosingwa, D. Luiz, Terry (C), A. Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou, Mata, Sturridge, Drogba

A sixth-place league finish was Chelsea’s lowest finish in the Premier League since the 2001/2002 season. Manager Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March, just eight months into his tenure, after being given a three year contract in the summer of 2011. Roberto Di Matteo took over as caretaker manager and had a magical run, helping Roman Abramovich complete his mission. Chelsea had broken through in Europe and won their first UEFA Champions League.

The Blues showed remarkable resilience to win the 2012 UEFA Champions League. Trailing 2-0 to Barcelona in the semi-finals, the writing looked to be on the wall for the visitors when, having had their 1-0 first-leg lead wiped out by Sergio Busquets, captain John Terry was sent off in the 37th minute. Leaving them with back four of Ramires, Jose Boswinga, Bransilav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole.

Andrés Iniesta promptly put Barcelona in front on aggregate. Chelsea pulled a goal back with a delicious chip from Ramiers to have them in position to go through to the final, before Fernando Torres ensured the victory with his goal on the break in added time. Gary Neville – who was working commentary for ITV – summed up Chelsea’s season nicely saying when Torres scored, “it’s written in the stars.”

A Didier Drogba inspired Chelsea went on to beat Bayern Munich in the final on penalties in ‘The Allianz Arena’ – Munich’s home stadium.

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9. 2015/2016 REAL MADRID

Manager: Zinedine Zidane
La Liga: 2nd
Copa Del Rey: Round of 32
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Cristiano Ronaldo (35)
All Comps: Cristiano Ronaldo (51)

Starting XI: (4-3-3) Navas, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos (C), Marcelo, Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo,

The Zinedine Zidane era begun at Real Madrid in January 2016, replacing the un-popular Rafa Benitez. Madrid were revitalised, winning their last 12 La Liga games of the season, including a 1-2 win over Barcelona – ending their rivals 39-match unbeaten run.

Despite winning the Champions League and finishing the season 2nd in La Liga, with 90 points and 110 goals scored, this side somehow still left you wanting more. A 2-0 defeat to Wolfsburg at home in the UCL quarterfinals first leg looked to have confirmed the critics fears, but Madrid rallied behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick in the second leg.

The Champions League final saw Madrid beat derby rivals Atlético Madrid for the second time in three seasons in a European final that went to penalties after finishing 1-1 after extra time. Los Blancos won on penalties 5-4.

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8. 2017/2018 REAL MADRID

Manager: Zinedine Zidane
La Liga: 3rd
Copa Del Rey: Quarterfinals
Supercopa de Espana: Winners
UEFA Champions League: Winners
UEFA Super Cup: Winners
FIFA Club World Cup: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Cristiano Ronaldo (26)
All Comps: Cristiano Ronaldo (44)

Starting XI: (4-3-1-2) Navas, Carvajal, Ramos (C), Varane, Marcelo, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo

A third-place finish in La Liga (only three points above fourth place Valencia and 17 behind champions Barcelona) was by all accounts a massive under achievement domestically. Often criticised for downing tools in the league, Madrid lost five games to teams below them in the table.

The Bernabeu based outfit did rise to the occasion in Europe winning their third European cup in a row. Helped by a Gareth Bale over-head kick in the final – one of the best goals in Champions League history – as Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1.

The big European night’s was once again where Real Madrid buoyed by Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and co. – rose to the occasion, finding a way to win against all odds, like few sides in football history.

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7. 2013/2014 REAL MADRID

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
La Liga: 3rd
Copa Del Rey: Winners
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: C
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ristiano Ronaldo (31)
All Comps: Cristiano Ronaldo (51)

Starting XI: (4-3-3) Casillas (C), Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao, Modric, X. Alonso, Di Maria, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo

New manager Carlo Ancelotti, along with world record-breaking signing Gareth Bale, helped Real Madrid win the cup double, however Real fell short in the league to cross city rivals Atletico Madrid, who won their first La Liga since the 1995-96 season. Barcelona finished 2nd and the fact that Los Blancos still conspired to finish behind the side managed by Gerardo Martino – who fell on his sword immediately after the season – would have been considered failure by any rational measure.

But manager Ancelotti guided Real to their first European Cup final in 12 years and ended their desperate chase for La Decima as Real won their 10th European cup. Inspired by a clutch, Sergio Ramos’ 93rd minute header in the final, breaking the hearts of an Atletico side who had taken the lead in the 36th minute through a Diego Godin goal. Real turned on the style in extra time as goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo secured a 4-1 victory.

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6. 2018/2019 LIVERPOOL

Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Premier League: 2nd
FA Cup: Third Round
League Cup: Third Round
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Mohamed Salah (22) Sadio Mane (22)
All Comps: Mohamed Salah (27)

Starting XI: (4-3-3) Alison, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson (C), Mane, Salah

This was the season where Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool took the leap from pretenders to contenders. Becoming European Champions for the sixth time, defeating Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium 2-0 in the final.

The season marquee performance was one of Anfield’s most historic nights in history – Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final turning round 3-0 deficit from the first leg. Klopp’s men inspired by thousands of roaring Red fans – rattled, shook and ran riot on a sheepish Barca side, seemingly unaware of the gegenpressing, heavy metal football, they should have seen coming from Liverpool.

This Liverpool side could withstand pressure, counterattack with speed, retain possession, dominate the ball, defend set pieces, score from set-pieces, win football games when they were playing badly and be electric to watch when playing well. The European cup was followed by the Club World Cup and the Premier League title in 2019-20.

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5. 2016/2017 REAL MADRID

Manager: Zinedine Zidane
La Liga: Winners
Copa Del Rey: Quarterfinals
UEFA Champions League: Winners
UEFA Super Cup: Winners
FIFA Club World Cup: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Cristiano Ronaldo (25)
All Comps: Cristiano Ronaldo (42)

Starting XI:(4-3-1-2) Navas, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos (C), Marcelo, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo

To footballing purists, philosophers and tacticians, placing this Real Madrid side in the pantheon of all-time great sides has been a complicated question. After all, there was no clear footballing style, no clear tactical identity, no reliance on Gegenpressing, or Juego de Posicion. They were not a world class defensive team, nor a world class offensive team. They were a collection of superstars led by a former superstar turned manager in Zinedine Zidane, the perfect man to coach such a talented group of individuals. The 2016-17 season was Zidane’s best at Madrid as they won the League and European Cup – their third in four seasons.

Beating Juventus 4-1 in a final that was predictably orchestrated by Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored in a third different Champions League final and finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 12 goals. Ronaldo swept in Dani Carvajal’s pass after 20 minutes, before Mario Mandzukic levelled with one of the great Champions League final goals, firing a sublime overhead kick beyond Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Real were unstoppable after the break, counter attacking with devastation, restoring their lead through Casemiro’s deflected shot before Ronaldo scored at the near post from a cross by the outstanding Luka Modric. Juan Cuadrado was sent off for a second caution after a clash with Sergio Ramos, before substitute Marco Asensio emphasised Real’s superiority with a precise finish in the last minute.

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4. 2019-2020 BAYERN MUNICH

Manager: Hansi Flick
Bundesliga: Winners
DFB Pokal: Winners
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Robert Lewandowski (34)
All Comps: Robert Lewandowski (55)

Starting XI: (4-3-3) Neuer, Kimmich, Boateng, Alba, Davies, Thiago, Goretzka, Muller, Gnabry, Lewandowski

Niko Kovac started the season as Bayern Munich’s head coach, but after an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt was sacked in November. Replaced by Hansi Flick, Bayern were a joy to watch, playing a compact 4-3-3 formation with a super-duper high defensive line and aggressive pressing system. Ending the season winning 29 out of their last 30 games in all competitions. Looking unbeatable at times, the highlight being an 8-2 thrashing of Lionel Messi’s Barcelona team where it felt as if Bayern could score fifteen.

They beat PSG 1-0 in the final to claim their second treble in club history, the club’s sixth as champions of Europe, pulling them even with Liverpool, one behind Milan and six behind Real Madrid.

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3. 2014/2015 BARCELONA

Manager: Luis Enrique
La Liga: Winners
Copa Del Rey: Winners
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Lionel Messi (43)
All Comps: Lionel Messi (58)

Starting XI: (4-3-3) Ter-Stagen, Alves, Mascherano, Pigue, Alba, Rakitic, Busguets, Iniesta (C), Neymar, Suarez, Messi.

The MSN: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar JR will go down, arguably, as the greatest front three in history. In the 2014-15 Champions League, two of the competition’s three top scorers were Messi and Neymar, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, finishing on 10 goals each. Suarez, who had begun the season banned, scored seven, including a goal in the final. While in La Liga the trio scored a combined 81 goals – to put that in perspective the rest of the squad scored 26 goals between them that season in the league.

A change of philosophy saw head coach Luís Enrique set his team up to bypass the midfield, a big change after the swash-buckling pass and move football of Pep Guardiola. A 1-0 loss to Real Sociedad in early January, had the club in crisis with one-poll reporting that 68% of Barcelona fans wanted a change of manager, amid reports of Enrique’s relationship with Messi breaking down.

Barcelona rebounded and by the end of the season, they were unquestionably the best team in Europe. Barcelona had beaten the champions of Holland (Ajax – group stage), England (Manchester City – Round of 16), France (PSG – quarter-finals), Germany (Bayern Munich – semi-finals) and Italy (Juventus – final).

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2. 2012/2013 BAYERN MUNICH

Manager: Jupp Heynecks
Bundesliga: Winners
DFP Pokal: Winners
DFL Supercup: Winners
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Mario Manduzkic (15)
All Comps: Thomas Muller (23)

Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Neuer, Lahm (C), Dante, Boateng, Alaba, Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Robben, Muller, Ribery, Mandzukic

For Bayern Munich, momentum had been building. There had been the 2010 final defeat by Inter Milan under Louis Van Gaal, then in 2012, in their own stadium they were defeated by Chelsea on penalties in a game they dominated. Finishing the season runners up in all three major competitions – Champions League, Bundesliga and DFP Pokal.

The 2012/13 season was the best in their history, maybe the best in German football league’s history. Bayern won the Bundesliga with 91 points, losing only 1 game all season. Five of the club’s players were nominated for the Ballon d’Or shortlist – Phillip Lahm, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Franc Ribery and Arjen Robben.

This Bayern side was one of the most complete sides of the last 20 years, able to win through aggressive pressing, dominating possession or counter attacking. It was the latter that saw them wipe the floor  – 7-0 on aggregate over two-legs – with a Barcelona team featuring Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Bayern had only 34% possession in the 4-0 home win and 40% in the away leg. The first leg 4-0 win was Barcelona biggest defat in Europe since 1997.

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1. 2010/2011 BARCELONA

Manager: Pep Guardiola
La Liga: Winners
Copa Del Rey: Runners-Up
Supercopa de Espana: Winners
UEFA Champions League: Winners
Top Scorer: League: Lionel Messi (31)
All Comps: Lionel Messi (53)

Starting XI: (4-3-3) Valdes, Alves, Puyol (C), Pigue, Abidal, Xavi, Busguets, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa

Guardiola’s 2009 treble winners were clearly a world class team, helping to revolutionise the game of football and repopularise possession play at a time when football had shifted and become very defensive.

Individually, David Villa and Pedro were arguably not the same talents as the Samuel Eto’o and Thiery Henry of 2011 — many would also tell you Yaya Toure was a better player than Sergio Busquets.

But collectively, the 2010-11 side was far superior. This side had a clear footballing identity; managed by a disciple of Johan Cruyff, the reinterpretation of a false-nine, with technical, tidy, diminutive midfielders who could dominate games, heavy pressing out of possession, a high-defensive line and a sweeper-keeper.

The ‘modern game’, you could argue, was born with this Barcelona side.

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The Champions League final 3-1 masterclass over Manchester United, where three midfielders collected assists – Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets – and three forwards scored goals – Pedro, Messi, Villa – was where Barcelona’s football reached peak virtuoso, having 22 attempts on goal to Man United’s four and 68 per cent of the possession.

“They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.”Sir Alex Ferguson

Read – UCL Stalwarts: The five managers who’ve coached 6 or more different sides in the Champions

Read Also – Five times Lionel Messi lit up the Champions League

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