The UEFA Champions League is coming to its apex, and with the knockout rounds now upon us, the continent's best teams will be facing each other on a regular basis. The biggest shocker in the Round of 16 was Real Madrid’s 5-2 drubbing of Liverpool at Anfield in a repeat of last year's final. The 2022 Stade de France showpiece was a cagey affair that Los Blancos won by a solitary Vinicius Jr. goal to nil. They had a man-of-the-match display from Thibaut Courtois to thank for taking a 14th European crown to the Santiago Bernabeu, and many expected a similarly tense first-leg encounter this season.
Those expectations were blown out of the water almost immediately. Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead, only for the visitors to equalize before halftime. Then, three unanswered second-half goals from Éder Militão and a brace from Karim Benzema placed the tie firmly into the hands of the reigning champions. As such, Jürgen Klopp’s side headed to the Spanish capital on March 15th with an almost insurmountable mountain to climb. But stranger things have happened than a three-goal comeback, and Liverpool are no strangers to heroics themselves.
They managed to come back from three goals down against Borussia Dortmund in the 2015/15 Europa League. Also, who can forget when they came back from the dead in the 2005 showpiece in Istanbul, stunning favorites AC Milan with three goals in five minutes to tie the match up at 3-3. Liverpool would go on to win on penalties, and Klopp was hoping for a similar performance from his side in the Bernabeu.
But in honor of the mountain that Liverpool had to climb, we take a look back at the best UEFA Champions League knockout round comebacks in recent memory.
Real Madrid’s run to the Champions League final last season was simply unbelievable. They had to come from behind on no fewer than three separate occasions. They first found themselves 2-0 down against Paris Saint-Germain with barely 30 minutes remaining, only for Karim Benzema’s stunning hat trick to give them the victory.
Then, they threw away a 3-1 victory from their first leg against Chelsea in the Bernabeu. Chelsea found three goals in the second leg and were leading 4-3 on aggregate. The Spanish champions would find an equaliser through Rodrygo and then King Karim netted the winner in extra time.
But it was the semifinals against Manchester City where Carlo Ancelotti’s side truly became the miracle men.
Pep Guardiola’s Blues had been made the favourites by OddsChecker to lift the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club's history. And those predictions looked accurate when City led 2-0 on aggregate as the second leg ticked into the 89th minute in the Bernabeu. But then, the miracle came. Rodrygo tapped home from Benzema’s knockdown in the 90th minute, before heading home brilliantly from Dani Carvajal’s cross barely 90 seconds later to bring the scores level. Captain Benzema netted the winner from the penalty spot in extra time, providing perhaps the most famous stadium in European football with its greatest-ever night.
The 2018/19 Champions League campaign was one that will go down in folklore. Ajax returned as a European heavyweight, eliminating Real Madrid from the competition for the first time in three and a half years before defeating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus in the quarterfinals. An injury-riddled Manchester United somehow came back from 2-0 down to beat Paris Saint Germain on away goals in the Parc De Princes thanks to Marcus Rashford’s last-gasp penalty. Tottenham Hotspur knocked out Manchester City in a wild all-English quarterfinal in which the Blues led 3-1 in the second leg after just 21 minutes.
But Liverpool’s heroics against Barcelona in the semifinals will live forever in the memory.
This wasn’t the Blaugrana team we see today. This was a Barcelona team that still had the devastating Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack, and those two combined to give the Catalonians a 3-0 victory at the Nou Camp. And it could have been more had it not been for Ousmane Dembélé’s poor finishing.
The Reds knew they had it all to do in the second leg at Anfield and, to make matters worse, they were without two-thirds of the Premier Leagues' greatest attacking trident. Both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino were missing. That wouldn’t bother United however, who led after just three minutes thanks to Diviock Origi.
By half-time, Liverpool still needed another two goals just to get to extra time. Those goals came within ten minutes of the restart. Jürgen Klopp threw on Georginio Wijnaldum at the interval, and he netted two goals in two minutes to tie the match up on aggregate. With the game finely poised, Liverpool had all the momentum. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quickly taken corner left Origi with a tap-in to give Klopp’s men an unfathomable 4-3 aggregate victory.
Following that night at Anfield, football fans thought they had seen it all. Little did they know that just 24 hours later, Tottenham Hotspur would manage to go one better. They were facing a young Ajax side that had thrilled everyone en route to reaching the semifinals. The Dutch team even managed to defeat Spurs via a solitary Donny van de Beek goal to nil in North London, making them firm favorites for a first Champions League final appearance in 23 years.
Their likely appearance in the Madrid showpiece was all but confirmed when first-half goals from Matthijs de Ligt and Haki Ziyech gave Ajax a 2-0 lead on the night and a 3-0 lead on aggregate. Surely the show was over and the loyal supporters inside the Johan Cruijff Arena could book their flights and hotels. Well, hopefully, they didn't...
By the hour mark, despite Spurs being on the back foot for long periods, Lucas Moura had somehow managed to net a brace. As the game progressed, the Amsterdam outfit still led on aggregate. However, they were the team pushing for the goal that would surely kill the tie. The goal never came. And with the clock ticking into the 96th minute, Spurs heaved the ball forward, Fernando Llorente won the flick and Moura lashed home from the edge of the area to complete his hat trick and send his side to the Champions League final against all odds.