You have to give it to UEFA.: the Champions League is now more entertaining than ever. When Arsenal lost 5-1 to Bayern, we barely had the time to digest the drama before Manchester City and Monaco produced another stunner. And then it was Barcelona and PSG’s turn. All great matches for their own reasons. But what Barcelona and PSG made over two legs was history: could it be the best comeback over two legs of all time?
Let’s see. Here are the best comebacks over two legs in European football:
8. Chelsea – Napoli, 2012
Chelsea had lost 3-1 in Italy with Andre Villas Boas at the helm. Two weeks later, Boas had been sacked and Di Matteo had been appointed caretaker manager. Amidst those changes, Chelsea completed one of the Champions League most spectacular comebacks.
Drogba opened the score in the 29th minute. Terry doubled up at the tick of the second half. With Napoli’s Inler reducing the deficit and Lampard’s penalty kick conversion, the match entered extra time.
Chelsea went for it. Branislav Inavovic found himself staring at the keeper from around the penalty spot with the ball rolling towards him, inviting him to shoot. He unleashed a powerful shot. It was done, 4-1.
7. Bayer Leverkusen – Espanyol, 1988
This match is a wet dream for symmetry lovers. It happened in the UEFA Cup in 1988. Trailing 3-0 from Spain, Leverskuson cruised to 3-0 at their own Ulrich-Haberland Stadium to push the match into extra time and penalties.
And when Falkenmayer missed Leverkusen’s first penalty and Espanyol scored their first two, qualification for the Germans slipping away like an antelope dashing away from some rustling leaves.
Surprisingly, they scored their next three while Espanoyl squandered all of their rest, thus Leverkusen completed a stunning and memorable European comeback in the second leg.
6. Arsenal – Inter, 2003
It was in 2003 when Arsenal traveled to Milan to play Inter after having lost 3-0 at home in Champions League group stages. While this team would later complete an undefeated season that year, the main doors of Europe’s fortress remained securely up.
On the night however, Thierry Henry’s assets drove Arsenal to a historic demolition of Inter, 5-1. Henry opened the score before Vieri equalized. Then Ljungberg put Arsenal ahead once again before a terrific solo effort by Henry and goals by Edu and Pires carved the final result in front of disbelieving Italian fans.
5. Deportivo – Milan, 2004
A five pound note would have earned you a million if you guessed this result. Trailing from a 4-1 defeat in Italy, Deportivo La Coruna produced one of Europe’s biggest upsets to throw the defending champions out of the tournament.
Milan had not conceded a single goal in the tournament until this match, but they couldn’t stop an avalanche of four that night in a defeat which even Carlo Ancelotti found hard to explain.
A goal each by Pandiani, Valeron, Luque and Fran left stars such as Seedorf, Shevchenko, Gattuso, Maldini and Nesta scratching their heads in the end.
4. QPR – Partizan, 1984
Entering the jam-packed Partizan stadium must have evaporated every drop of confidence the QPR players had gathered from their first left 6-2 victory over the Serbians in this UEFA cup meeting from 1984.
Later QPR described the atmosphere: “I have never seen a crowd who could generate so much electricity. It became too much for our youngsters to cope with it.”
Spurred on by some 50,000 crazed Serbian fans, Partizan went on to win 4-0, completing a spectacular and historic comeback to win the tie with on away goals.
3. Real Madrid – Borussia Monchengladbach, 1985
The Real Madrid website claim the word ‘impossible’ is missing from the Santiago Bernabeo dictionary. No wonder, with historic matches such as the one against Borussia Monchengladbach in the UEFA Cup Last 16 from 1985. The victory inspired the Spanish giants to win the entire tournament.
Having lost 5-1 in Germany did not deter the Merengues. A brace each by the deadly front two Jorge Valdano and Santillana carved the 4-0 win, with Santillana scoring a dramatic last goal in the final minute to throw fans into anti-gravitational joy.
2. Barcelona – PSG, 2017
See it to believe it. This has never happened in the Champions League before. On a dark Catalan night in France, the twitter trolls rejoiced in devising their ways to humiliate Barcelona following an empathic PSG win by 4-0.
But in this mythic internet battle, the believers would win. Crazy sometimes is true.
Barcelona were leading 3-1 with time quickly running away. In fact, they looked more surrendered than up for fight at that point; until Neymar thundered a free-kick for 4-1 and then scored another from a penalty kick. Then the impossible happened, another goal courtesy of a Neymar cross.
With time, the dubious refereeing decisions and accusations of Barcelona cheating will be forgotten as this will become known as best comeback in the history of the Champions League.
1. La-Chaux-de-Fonds – Leixoes, 1961
With the cameras usually pointed at the grandness and flamboyancy in football, often the unpolished gems hides in dusty out-of-reach places. One such niche was the clash over two legs between Swiss side La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Portuguese Leixoes in the UEFA Winners Cup in 1961.
La-Chaux traveled to Portugal with a 6-2 lead from the first match, secure in their confidence they would proceed. But the Portuguese outfit put in the night of their lives to beat their opposition 5-0, creating the starkest contrast and biggest comeback over two legs in European competition history.