Every year the UEFA Champions League sees Europe’s elite battle it out for the biggest prize in club football. While certain giants of the sport, such as Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona, often assert their dominance, recent years have seen a number of spectacular against-the-odds, near impossible comebacks. Here, UCFB’s Hollie Earlam ranks the ten best turnarounds in the competitions history…

10. Barcelona 5-1 Chelsea (aggregate 6-4), 2000

YouTube video

An astounding first-leg performance by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge gave them breathing space against the Spanish champions, arriving at the Camp Nou with a comfortable 3-1 lead.

But two first half-goals from Rivaldo and Luis Figo for Barcelona set the stage for an almighty showdown, to which the Blues responded with a bending strike by Tore Andre Flo, posing an unlikely twist in the tale. With seven minutes to play Chelsea looked set to soar through to the semi-finals.

But a nail-biting finale, including a missed penalty followed by an exquisite strike by Dani Garcia for the home side, dragged the game into extra-time. Then 99 minutes in, the Spaniards were awarded another penalty, and this time Rivaldo didn’t miss. The home side finally asserted their dominance, firing in a fifth goal on the night and winning the electrifying tie 6-4 on aggregate.

9. Read Madrid 1-4 Ajax (aggregate 3-5), 2019

YouTube video

Spanish giants Madrid beating Ajax 2-1 in Amsterdam came as no great shock, as their reign over European football looked to extent itself further.

The prospect of Madrid capitulating and conceding twice at the Bernabeu seemed almost implausible, but they were stunned by a masterclass from this fearless young Ajax side. A scintillating performance from the visitors saw them hammer home three goals in just over an hour, severely denting the hopes of the then-European champions. A 70th minute strike from Marco Asensio sparked a brief revival for the home side, but two minutes later the game was killed off following a magnificent free-kick from Lasse Schone.

For the first time in four years, Real Madrid were knocked out of the Champions League.

8. Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 AC Milan (aggregate 5-4), 2004

YouTube video

When Deportivo La Coruna went 1-0 up in Italy, a silenced crowd at the San Siro Stadium feared they may witness a European upset. But that brief moment of doubt was quashed by an exquisite performance by the home side, who put four past their Spanish visitors. Normality was resorted.

The second-leg, however, veered far from the parameters of normal. No team had ever come from three goals down to win a Champions League quarter-final, but Deportivo seemed unfazed by the huge task ahead and stormed to four goals of their own, edging out the champions of Europe in a remarkable turnaround of events.

Now 17 years on, with Deportivo playing in the third tier of Spanish football, it remains one of the club’s greatest ever moments.

7. Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (aggregate 5-4), 2012

YouTube video

Following a crushing 3-1 defeat in Italy, Chelsea were at the peak of their crisis under the management of Andre Villas-Boas. The Blues swiftly appointed new manager Roberto Di Matteo in his place, hoping it would give them a fighting chance at Stamford Bridge for the last-16 tie.

It was a reliance on the old favorites’ as Didier Drogba and John Terry breathed life back into Chelsea either side of half-time. A 55th minute Napoli goal severed the Blues’ hopes, but Frank Lampard struck home from the penalty spot to take the game to extra-time. Just as penalties beckoned, Branislav Ivanovic lashed the ball into the roof of the net and sent Stamford Bridge wild.

Two months later Chelsea lifted the European Cup for the first time in their history. What a comeback it turned out to be.

6. Roma 3-0 Barcelona (aggregate 4-4, Roma win on away goals), 2004

YouTube video

When Edin Dzeko dragged Roma back into this tie at the Camp Nou, he injected belief into his shackled team. But when Luis Suarez struck past Tomas Svedkauskas for Barcelona seven minutes later, the tie was surely over.

At 4-1 down going into their home tie of this quarter-final, Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco had one piece of advice for his players: don’t concede. It was Dzeko again, who’d given Roma the gift of an away goal, who broke the deadlock. Now it was game on.

After De Rossi thumped his penalty into the back of the net to give Roma a second, Barcelona threatened with menacing play from Lionel Messi and Suarez. But as time continued to press on, so did Roma, and in the 82nd minute the Stadio Olimpico exploded following a perfectly executed header from Kostas Manolas.

“We are heroes!” sang Francesco on the night, and it was difficult to argue with him.

5. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999

YouTube video

As the unstoppable giants of English football, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United had already secured the Premier League and FA Cup double. But success in Europe continued to elude them – the Reds hadn’t won the tournament since 1968.

In one of the tightest, tensest Champions League finals in the competitions history, Bayern led for 84 minutes. But if there’s anyone who knows the importance of stoppage time, it’s Sir Alex.

United’s remarkable refusal to admit defeat saw them draw level in stoppage time via substitute Teddy Sheringham. And it was another substitute, current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who squeezed in the winner for the Reds just a minute later to secure the famous trophy and a famous treble, in one of the most dramatic finales of all time. No English team has completed the treble since.

4. Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (aggregate 4-3), 2019

YouTube video

When Liverpool lost 3-0 at the Camp Nou, mainly thanks to a Lionel Messi masterclass, the chances of them scoring them overcoming the Catalans’ in the second leg seemed miniscule; the chances of keeping a clean sheet at Anfield almost impossible.

“We score, Liverpool need FIVE!” bragged Barcelona’s official twitter account.

But an early goal by Divock Origi gave the Reds a glimmer of hope, before half-time substitute Georginio Wijnaldum fired in two goals in two minutes, to send Anfield wild. With the home side in the ascendancy and Barcelona crumbling, it was the quick thinking of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Origi from a corner that saw Liverpool complete the most incredible of comebacks and send the Reds into the final for the second successive year, where they overcame Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur.

3. Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (aggregate 3-3, Tottenham win on away goals), 2019

YouTube video

2019 was the year for comebacks, and just a day after Liverpool stunned Barcelona it was Tottenham’s turn to provide the semi-final drama.

54 minutes into the second-leg in Amsterdam, Tottenham were trailing 3-0 on aggregate to Ajax and needed nothing short of a miracle to cling onto their Champions League hopes. With star striker Harry Kane missing due to injury, Spurs looked down and out and were being measurably outclassed by the home side.

But a stroke of genius from Lucas Moura transformed the tie. Two quick-fire second half goals from the Brazilian reignited the team, and he carved his name into the club’s history books when he completed his hat-trick in the 95th minute with the last kick of the game.

Mauricio Pochettino broke down in tears, falling to his hands and knees, and even Kane couldn’t resist sprinting onto the pitch to celebrate, as Tottenham secured a place in the Champions League final for the first time in history.

2. Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain (aggregate 6-5), 2017

YouTube video

When PSG stunned Barcelona with a 4-0 thrashing in 2017, many claimed it marked a symbolic change – the overturning of the historic, all-conquering legends in favour of football’s nouveau riche.

Yet from the moment Luis Suarez scored less than three minutes into the match, the turnaround seemed possible. A clumsy own goal and a Lionel Messi penalty left the Spaniards needing just one goal, but a 62nd minute belter from Edinson Cavani for the Parisians was an unexpected complication in the narrative. The home side now needed to score three goals and not concede with less than half an hour remaining.

With 87 minutes on the clock PSG’s place in the last eight seemed secure, only to be unraveled by a late hounding of Kevin Trapp’s goal. A Neymar free-kick, followed by a penalty, spurred life back into Camp Nou, and at 95 minutes the stadium erupted as Sergi Roberto’s volley took them through to the quarter-finals, winning 6-5 on aggregate.

Barcelona proved, in the most dramatic of fashions, they weren’t on their way out just yet.

1. AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties), 2005

YouTube video

There have been recoveries from greater deficits, and recoveries in more ostentatious fashions, but there remains no game quite like the 2005 final in Istanbul. Liverpool, a side whose years of dominating English and European football were almost a distant memory, faced the towering presence of Carlo Ancelotti’s A.C. Milan – strong favourites for the tie.

The Italians ran riot in the first half, and the Reds were lucky to just be 3-0 down at half-time, with a number of Reds’ fans choosing to leave the stadium at half-time.

But captain Steven Gerrard was not about to give up on his beloved club. The Scouse skipper threw Liverpool a lifeline with a 53-minute header, and only a minute later Vladimir Smicer scored a second. Xabi Alonso then scored on the rebound from a penalty to remarkably level the score.

Milan dominated extra-time, but Liverpool’s newfound grit could not be broken. The Italians had a horror-show in the penalty shoot-out, leaving the trophy in touching distance for the Reds. The goalkeeping heroics of Jerzy Dudek then won it for English side, dramatically saving Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty. To this day, Istanbul serves as a constant reminder in football that it’s never truly over until the final whistle.