Sometimes football just doesn’t adhere to the expected script with few things more compelling viewing that an unforeseen comeback.
Liverpool face a mammoth task to reach the Champions League quarter-finals this week, as the Reds look to recover from a heavy first leg defeat to Real Madrid. Three goals down from the first leg at Anfield, progress for Jurgen Klopp’s side would see them add another chapter to the category of incredible Champions League comebacks.
Down but not quite out, Liverpool might take heart from some of the greatest Premier League fightbacks in the competition’s history.
Here are five of the best Champions League comebacks by English teams.
Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich (1999)
Manchester United’s hopes of a historic treble appeared to be dwindling as the 1999 Champions League final reached the final minutes, with Bayern Munich in control and chasing a treble of their own.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had produced a stunning comeback to beat Juventus in the last four, but in the absence of suspended captain Roy Keane trailed the final as the game entered stoppage-time.
In a last roll of the dice the Red Devils sent goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel into the Bayern box for a late corner, with the presence of the giant Dane causing panic in the penalty area. David Beckham’s delivery was only half-cleared, with Ryan Giggs turning the ball back into the box. The Welshman’s scuffed shot landed at the feet of Teddy Sheringham, who struck a late leveller when United had appeared dead and buried.
🔴 #OTD in 1999, pure drama in Barcelona as Manchester United complete treble with last-gasp win 🏆🏆🏆#UCL | @ManUtd pic.twitter.com/xVnJ9ItRr7
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 26, 2020
Extra-time appeared imminent, but from kick-off United regained possession and won another corner. Beckham’s delivery was met by the head of Sheringham, whose flicked effort was steered in by the outstretched toe of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to crown United champions of Europe.
Bayern had led for 85 minutes of the contest through Mario Basler’s free-kick, but fell to a dramatic defeat that saw United claim what no English club has achieved before or since – a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2005)
The word Istanbul is often referenced when discussing famous footballing comebacks, with the Turkish city the stage for one of the Champions League’s most thrilling nights.
Liverpool’s first final in three decades turned into a nightmare across the opening 45 minutes at the The Ataturk Stadium, as AC Milan ran riot to take a commanding lead. Paolo Maldini opened the scoring inside just 52 seconds with the fastest ever final goal, before Hernan Crespo’s double saw the Rossoneri lead 3-0 at the break.
“As I walked towards the dressing room, I was suffering from a depressing combination of despondency and humiliation,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said in Carra: My Autobiography.
“I couldn’t bear to lift my head up and glimpse the faces in the crowd, or the banners and red jerseys scattered around the Ataturk. I looked towards the floor and saw nothing but endless dejection. My dreams had turned to dust.
⏪ 2005: THAT Liverpool comeback against AC Milan in in Istanbul… @LFC | #UCLdraw pic.twitter.com/yHm3QtTGTH
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 26, 2021
“I feared we’d create history for the wrong reasons, at the receiving end of a record defeat, by five or six. Keeping it at 3-0 and at the very least restoring some respectability was all that mattered to me now.”
Liverpool, however, were not done. The half-time introduction of Dietmar Hamann helped shackle the influential Kaka, before a stunning six-minute spell changed the game. Steven Gerrard’s header gave the Reds hope, before Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso levelled the game in a frantic burst.
Liverpool rode their luck to reach a shootout as Jerzy Dudek made an astonishing double save from Andriy Shevchenko, before the Pole made penalty stops from Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko to crown the Reds champions of Europe for a fifth time. Had it been a film script, it would have been branded far-fetched.
Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (2012)
Chelsea’s comeback against Napoli kick-started the club’s run to a first Champions League success, after a second-leg fightback booked the Blues’ place in the quarter-finals.
The west Londoners had endured a troubled period with Andre Villas-Boas sacked as manager following a first leg loss in Naples, as Chelsea crashed to a 3-1 defeat.
Roberto Di Matteo was brought in as caretaker boss and led Chelsea to a remarkable turnaround. Didier Drogba and John Terry goals put the Blues ahead in the tie on away goals, but Gokhan Inler’s brilliant strike sent the travelling Napoli fans wild at Stamford Bridge.
Frank Lampard’s penalty then forced extra-time, before Branislav Ivanovic powered home a dramatic winner to send Chelsea into the last eight. It was a win which began the club’s run of momentum, one which ended with a first European Cup success after beating Bayern Munich in the final.
Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (2019)
For pure, unadulterated, Champions League drama the 2018/19 semi-finals will be almost impossible to beat.
Both ties were packed full of incident and excitement, as two incredible comeback tales set up an all-Premier League meeting between Tottenham and Liverpool in Madrid. The former faced Ajax in the last four and it was the Dutch side who looked in pole position to reach the decider.
Erik ten Hag’s exciting young team had beaten Juventus and Real Madrid to reach the last four and raced into a three-goal aggregate lead against Spurs, as efforts from Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech in the return built on Donny van de Beek’s winner in north London.
Not since the glory years of the mid-nineties had Ajax had such an impressive team in Europe, but dreams of a final appearance crumbled across an incredible second half in Amsterdam. Lucas Moura’s quick-fire brace brought the scores level on the night and set up a thrilling finish, with the Brazilian completing a perfect night as he struck a stoppage-time third to send Spurs through.
Moura became just the fifth player to score a Champions League semi-final hat-trick, while his winner – scored deep into stoppage-time – saw Spurs become the first team to come from two goals down and win a Champions League semi-final since Manchester United in 1999.
Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (2019)
Liverpool have a long history of special European nights at Anfield, but perhaps none can top the club’s battering of Barcelona in 2019.
Despite an impressive performance, Jurgen Klopp’s side had fallen victim to Lionel Messi’s magic in the first leg, as the Argentina international scored twice to earn Barcelona a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou.
Never before had a team recovered a three-goal deficit in a Champions League semi-final, while only three teams had ever done so in a Champions League knockout tie at any stage.
Divock Origi’s early goal lifted the atmosphere on Merseyside, before substitute Georginio Wijnaldum swung the game after his introduction from the bench. The midfielder scored twice in 122 seconds as the Reds relentlessly chased a comeback, with Barcelona rattled at the intensity of their hosts.
Belief growing, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quick-thinking led to a winner for Liverpool as the defender’s corner caught the visitor’s defence sleeping, allowing the unmarked Origi to turn home the Reds’ fourth of the evening.
Barcelona – who had suffered a second-leg collapse at Roma the previous season – were stunned and shell-shocked, unable to find a response as Anfield celebrated a famous European night.
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