The Champions League is far and away the greatest football competition on the planet.
Every single year, the best players in the world are pitted against each other and the results are often copious amounts of entertainment and drama.
As a result of countless elite players facing off throughout a season, the Champions League also yields some of the greatest individual performances in football history.
From match-winning displays in huge knockout games to setting outrageous records, it’s been a rollercoaster ride down the years.
Below, we’ve had a go at ranking 25 of the most iconic performances in Champions League history and unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo pop up on a few occasions!
25. Jan Oblak vs Liverpool, 2020
The last game before the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to football produced an iconic virtuoso display from the world’s best goalkeeper.
Liverpool may have scored twice on the night at Anfield but had it not been for the imperious Oblak, the Reds would have ran riot on Merseyside, with the giant Slovenian making nine saves in total.
24. Paul Lambert vs Juventus, 1997
Don’t let his suspect managerial career throw you, Lambert was sensational during his time with Borussia Dortmund.
A key figure in the German side’s road to the 1997 final, the Scotsman then had the arduous task of marking the seemingly unplayable Zinedine Zidane in the final and guess what? The Juve man didn’t get a sniff! One of the Champions League’s most underrated performances.
23. Thierry Henry vs Inter Milan, 2003
A must-win group game away at an Inter side littered with legends, one who had beaten Arsenal’s Invincible side 3-0 at Highbury, needed the Gunners’ greatest ever player to step up – and he most certainly did.
The Frenchman scored twice and assisted two more in a stunning 5-1 win and the footage of him leading Javier Zanetti a merry dance on the counter just never gets old.
22. Robin van Persie vs Olympiakos, 2014
Van Persie spared David Moyes’ blushes in the Champions League. Manchester United’s 2-0 loss in Greece was nullified by the Dutchman’s brilliant hat-trick.
RVP was unplayable that night at Old Trafford in what was arguably the last great performance of his United career.
21. Diego Milito vs Bayern Munich, 2010
Milito has to be one of the most underrated forwards of the modern era. Under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, the Argentine was the most potent out-and-out striker in world football.
Throughout the 2009/10 Champions League season he was sensational, but he saved his best for the final, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win and tormenting Bayern’s defenders throughout.
20. Kaka vs Man Utd, 2007
AC Milan may have lost at Old Trafford, but Kaka made the stadium his own personal playground that night, scoring a stunning solo goal to silence the United faithful.
The Brazilian Ballon d’Or winner scored another as well to seal a 5-3 aggregate win for the Italian giants, who would go on to win the competition.
You can view Kaka’s highlights from that game by clicking HERE.
19. Ronaldo vs Man Utd, 2003
Another performance from a Brazilian icon on the losing side at Old Trafford. Ronaldo’s brilliant hat-trick had all four corners of United’s stadium applauding him as he was substituted with 23 minutes to go.
The great man was unplayable, torturing the Red Devils’ suspect back-line time and time again. Fair play to United for winning 4-3, though.
18. Sergio Ramos vs Bayern Munich, 2014
Two goals and a clean sheet in a 4-0 win away at Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich? An iconic display from Real Madrid’s captain and leader in a major semi-final.
He would go on to score Real’s crucial last-minute equaliser in the final versus city rivals Atletico, not a bad campaign from Ramos!
17. Lionel Messi vs Real Madrid, 2011
It takes a true artist to turn one of the ugliest games in Champions League history into something beautiful.
All the kicks, fights and red cards were overshadowed by the elegant wizardry of Messi, as he made the breakthrough with a darting near post finish, before tiptoeing through Madrid’s defence to score one of the greatest solo goals ever.
16. Gareth Bale vs Inter Milan, 2010
You could pick either of Bale’s performances against Inter from the 2010/11 group stage, but it was at the San Siro where he really announced himself to the world.
His breathtaking hat-trick took 10-man Spurs from 4-0 down to 4-3 and Bale had the then defending champions – especially Maicon – begging for mercy.
15. Dusan Tadic vs Real Madrid, 2019
One of the few performances awarded a 10/10 by French publication L’Equipe. Tadic tore Los Blancos to pieces, orchestrating a memorable 4-1 victory for Ajax.
His pirouette before David Neres’ goal, as well as his beautiful long-range effort for Ajax’s third, were just pure works of art.
14. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Bayern Munich, 2017
The day Ronaldo scored his 100th Champions League goal and how did he do it? By scoring a perfect hat-trick.
One of the strikers may have been offside, granted, but take nothing away from the competition’s greatest ever goal scorer who once again delivered on the biggest stage.
13. Didier Drogba vs Bayern Munich, 2012
Big players step up in the biggest games and Drogba did that and more in the 2012 final.
The Ivorian scored Chelsea’s late equaliser before cooly slotting home the winning penalty in front of Bayern Munich’s own fans. Ice in his veins.
12. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Wolfsburg, 2016
Another game, another Ronaldo hat-trick. This time around, he was single-handedly avenging Los Blancos’ 2-0 loss in the first leg.
It’s fair to say that this was the performance that really kickstarted Real Madrid’s quest for three Champions Leagues on the spin.
11. Lionel Messi vs Bayer Leverkusen, 2012
The only player to ever score five goals in a Champions League knockout game.
Leverkusen’s defending during that 7-1 mauling was questionable, but you simply can’t take anything away from the magical Messi.
10. Frank Lampard vs Liverpool, 2008
Just six days after his mother had sadly passed away, Lampard delivered arguably his greatest ever performance in a Chelsea shirt to thwart bitter rivals Liverpool in an all-English semi-final.
A glorious display of passing in the middle of the park was topped off with an emotional match-winning penalty in extra-time.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Atletico Madrid, 2019
Your 2-0 down on aggregate to the best defensive team on the planet, who do you call? Ronaldo, that’s who.
The great man’s first iconic moment in a Juve jersey was also one of the Champions League’s greatest performances, a hat-trick decorated with class.
8. Lucas Moura vs Ajax, 2019
Hat-tricks come in all shapes and sizes, but you’ll be hard pushed to find a more dramatic, nail-biting one that Lucas’ treble in last year’s semi-final.
The Brazilian’s composure in the final seconds to fire the ball low and hard past Andre Onana is worthy of a place on this list by itself, never mind the first two brilliant goals.
7. Lionel Messi vs Arsenal, 2010
Nicklas Bendtner’s early strike at the Camp Nou really did spark Messi to life, with the Argentine going on the rampage to crush the Gunners.
Messi scored a hat-trick before half-time – including a delightful dink of Manuel Almunia – before adding his and Barca’s fourth after the break. Arsene Wenger was virtually speechless in his post-match interview.
6. Neymar vs Paris Saint-Germain, 2017
The Brazilian was the catalyst behind Barcelona becoming the first team ever to overturn a four-goal deficit in the second leg of a Champions League game.
Two goals and a delightful assist in the dying embers of the game sealed a scarcely believable 6-1 win. Neymar then moved to PSG a few months later!
5. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Atletico Madrid, 2017
A Champions League semi-final between two bitter city rivals, a situation in which only the greatest could thrive.
Ronaldo not only thrived, he made it his amusement park, scoring a stunning hat-trick to set Real Madrid on their way to becoming the first team ever to retain the trophy under its new name.
4. Lionel Messi vs Bayern Munich, 2015
Messi has scored five goals in a single Champions League knockout game, but that display of brilliance pales in comparison to this.
This was the best of his generation tearing cutting superstars to ribbons, with Messi scoring twice, assisting once and leaving poor ol’ Jerome Boateng in a crumpled heap. One of the Camp Nou’s greatest ever nights.
3. Robert Lewandowski vs Real Madrid, 2013
Four, FOUR, goals in one game in a Champions League semi-final, a ridiculous feat.
Lewandowski may have scored five goals in nine minutes with Bayern, but his Borussia Dortmund masterpiece against Real Madrid will always be his personal numero uno.
2. Steven Gerrard vs AC Milan, 2005
It was very, very hard not to put this at number one. Gerrard’s second-half performance to inspire possibly football’s greatest ever comeback was that of a man possessed.
Milan’s array of legends were no match for the Liverpool captain and his header to make it 3-1 on the night is still incredibly underrated.
1. Roy Keane vs Juventus, 1999
Perhaps a controversial number one, but Keane’s performance in Turin almost beggars belief. Juve were pretty much unbeatable at home in ’99 and after they took a 2-0 lead before the 10-minute mark, all hope appeared to be lost for United.
Instead, the Irishman delivered one of the greatest all-action midfield performances ever. He scored to make it 2-1, before literally taking on Juve’s midfield as a one-man army.
You can view Keane’s highlights from that game by clicking HERE.
Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Gerrard and Lewandowski are all incredibly unlucky not to be named our number one.
But the external factors are what make Keane’s display so remarkable. That Juve team in Turin, the odds were just so heavily stacked against the Irishman and his team it’s ridiculous.
To have the nerve and quality to not only equal them, but play them off the park defies description.
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