When the biggest prize in European football is on the line and no awards are given out to the losers, football can get seriously wild.
We see it every season in the Champions League, and it never fails to delight us as fans, regardless of whether or not it involves our favourite team. Major upsets, unworldly goals and last-minute plot twists, we just can’t get enough of it.
Hosting a variety of the strongest squads in Europe, tensions flare in those knockout rounds. The handbrake comes off and the talent does the talking on the pitch. As a result, we get heavyweight football fixtures that create memories to look back on forever, making lists like these rather difficult to decide on, in truth.
But, we at GIVEMESPORT have reached into the archives and analysed our findings, to rank the top 13 Champions League knockout stage clashes since 2010.
13. Inter 2-5 Schalke (2011 quarter-final)
Dejan Stankovic bettered Manuel Neuer’s sweeper keeping heroics after just one minute, reacting first to a tame, headed clearance and unleashing an obscene volley from the halfway line to give Inter a lead. A swift equaliser followed, as did some typical early-2010s Diego Milito filth in front of goal, before Inter ran out of steam and lost their clinical edge. Schalke, meanwhile, found a new lease of life and decimated the competition winners with three second-half goals, as Raul and Edu ran riot at San Siro.
12. Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona (2010 quarter-final)
Manuel Almunia in full stride. Sentences you don’t hear often. The Spaniard played out of his skin to keep Barcelona to just two goals at the Emirates, inspiring a comeback from the Gunners despite them losing both Andrey Arshavin and William Gallas to injury in the first-half. A young Theo Walcott shone with blistering pace and incredible technical ability to keep hopes alive, before Cesc Fabregas levelled from the spot to send Arsenal to the Nou Camp full of hope. That was until we learned that Fabregas had actually broken his leg in the tie, and Arsenal were beaten away from home.
11. Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona (2011 round of 16)
A year later and the Gunners had a date with Pep Guardiola’s Catalan giants once again. They couldn’t catch a break. This time in the last 16, another comeback actually saw them emerge victorious from the first leg with an emphatic performance. Jack Wilshere announced himself to the world, pulling the strings in midfield to leave Xavi and Andres Iniesta looking ordinary, while Arshavin and Robin van Persie came up with late goals to cancel out David Villa’s earlier effort.
10. Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (2012 semi-final)
You know the one. Had all the hallmarks of an absolute classic, did this game. John Terry sent off. Chelsea’s back against the ropes. Barcelona go 2-0 up, but Ramires pulls one back with a seriously impressive chipped finish. Lionel Messi then misses a penalty mere minutes into the second half, and after mounds of pressure, Fernando Torres breaks through at the death and rounded Victor Valdes to send Chelsea to the final, and draw out the first real goal-gasm from Gary Neville. See also: Branislav Ivanovic being told he can’t play in the final post-match. Good times.
9. Barcelona 2-8 Bayern Munich (2020 quarter-final)
Admittedly, this one could have been much, much higher up the rankings if it wasn’t for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on football. But at the same time, it’s probably a good thing the stadium was empty for Barcelona, because if their fans would’ve erupted if they sat and watched Bayern Munich humiliate their side in the way they did. Seriously, it was brutal. The exact cause of a mass panic at Barcelona, which highlighted ugly financial truths and resulted in Messi leaving the club. Yeah, that bad.
8. Manchester City 5-3 Monaco (2017 round of 16)
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City outfit were put through the ringer as they hosted a rather chaotic and seriously explosive Monaco side. And despite the perfect start after 26 minutes through Raheem Sterling, City found themselves 3-1 down at half-time thanks to Radamel Falcao and a young hotshot called Kylian Mbappe. Falcao was in fine fettle, peppering the goal from all angles as he scored again after an hour, with City having to come back from behind twice to take a 5-3 lead into the second leg, which they lost. End to end stuff.
7. Inter 3-1 Barcelona (2010 semi-final)
A match-up fit for a WrestleMania main event. Pep Guardiola’s articulate, total football, babyface champions head over to Italy to face Jose Mourinho’s anti-football, pantomime villains. A defensive masterclass, this was Mourinho’s Inter at full throttle, and the start of a fierce footballing rivalry between the two managers. Inter dug in deep to defend their 2-1 lead after pulling ahead in the second half, before putting the icing on the cake with a third, having soaked up Barcelona all night long and broke beyond them, before winning the tournament.
6. Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Malaga (2013 quarter-final)
Football matches don’t get as last-gasp as this. Heartbreak for Malaga couldn’t have been anymore excruciating, having held a 2-1 lead throughout the contest and looking set for the semi-final, after a goalless first leg. That was until Dortmund, somehow, found two goals in injury time through Marco Reus and Felipe Santana, flipping the tie on its head and seeing them through to the last four, by the skin of their teeth. Malaga are still yet to recover from this one.
Glazers reject Rangnick’s Man Utd suggestion (Football Terrace)
5. Manchester City 4-3 Tottenham (2019 quarter-final)
With VAR still in its early days and both teams desperate to finally make strides in Europe, this one provided fireworks. Five goals inside 21 minutes set the tone for a raucous affair, as City led 3-2 at half-time, but Tottenham held the crucial away goal advantage. Sergio Aguero made it 4-2, but VAR adjudged Fernando Llorente to have finished off a corner with his hip and not his arm, sending Tottenham through once more. Raheem Sterling found the goal to take City through in injury time, but a lengthy VAR check saw it controversially chalked off, dumping them out of the Champions League.
4. Manchester City 4-3 Real Madrid (2022 semi-final)
He doesn’t half let his sides off the lead on European nights, that Guardiola fella. Real Madrid, while still oozing with Champions League-winning star power, showed their increasing age once again as they struggled at the Etihad. City were 2-0 up inside 11 minutes and had chances to be as far as four goals to the good by half-time, but actually went in having conceded to Karim Benzema. City continued to pull away, but Los Blancos never lost their cool and somehow scored three times, making for an all to play for second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
3. Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (2019 semi-final)
When a team goes to the Nou Camp and loses 3-0, there should be zero hope of a second leg comeback. And there wasn’t. It needed a miracle, but Liverpool somehow found one at Anfield. Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum led the charge as La Blaugrana missed several key chances, with Liverpool 3-0 up after an hour and, somehow, level on aggregate. Then, with 10 minutes to play, a quickly taken corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold was poached by Origi who stabbed in Liverpool’s fourth, completing a comeback of mass proportions and sending them to a second final in as many years.
2. Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain (2017 round of 16)
Liverpool’s comeback was nothing short of immense, and it happened in the semi-final, but Barcelona had zero right to make the quarter-final after being decimated in a 4-0 drubbing at the Parc des Princes. What followed was ‘La Remontada’. Paris Saint-Germain strolled into the Nou Camp and capitulated, as Luis Suarez opened the scoring after just three minutes. What followed was a comeback of gargantuan proportions, as Neymar stepped up and led the charge in a 6-1 humiliation of the French side, completed with two strikes in injury time, the penultimate goal coming from Sergi Roberto.
1. Ajax 2-3 Tottenham (2019 semi-final)
No, Tottenham do not get a trophy for topping the rankings, unfortunately. They came bitterly close after an enthralling semi-final comeback away to Ajax, however, in a glorious run to the Champions League final. Having to overturn a 1-0 defeat from the first leg, proceedings started horrifically as Ajax drew ahead after five minutes and bagged another after 35. Then came Lucas Moura. Two goals in four minutes had Spurs back in the game after an hour. He then dramatically completed his hat-trick with the last kick of the game, in the fifth minute of injury time. Following on from Liverpool’s comeback, it’s astounding to think we didn’t get a Barcelona vs Ajax final.