Biggest Comebacks in The Champions League

After Liverpool’s recent 5-2 Anfield humiliation at the hands of Real Madrid, many Reds fans will be feeling that their season is now essentially reduced to a battle to qualify for the UEFA Champions League (UCL) next year. They are out of the Premier League title race and both domestic cups, and will surely feel that overturning a 5-2 home defeat is beyond their struggling team.

However, perhaps all is not lost because this is a competition that has seen some incredible comebacks over the years. If Liverpool and their fans need a little inspiration to actually believe it is possible for them to overcome a 5-2 defeat on home soil, they should take a look at the greatest comebacks the UCL has ever seen. And there seems a very obvious place to start.

Miracle of Istanbul – 2005

Of all the clubs out there, Liverpool should know better than most that a three-goal deficit against a side managed by Carlo Ancelotti is not insurmountable. Heading into the return leg of the last 16 tie in 2022/23 they have a whole 90 minutes to affect a comeback. Back in 2005, they had just 37 minutes, trailing AC Milan 3-0 in the second half of the final in Istanbul.

Liverpool fans will, of course, know exactly what happened, but for those that don’t, Steven Gerrard inspired the Reds to a remarkable UCL comeback. The skipper made it 3-1 after 54 minutes, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso completing the scoring in a crazy seven-minute period of the match. It ended 3-3 after normal time and extra time, Liverpool eventually winning on penalties. It ain’t over until it’s over!

Barca Destroy PSG – 2017

PSG would surely have felt that they had booked their place in the next round when they won the first leg against Barca 4-0. Goals in Paris from Angel Di Maria (2), Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani made PSG’s spot in the quarters look like a formality, especially against a Barcelona side that was considered to be past their best and had only managed a single shot on target. In some regards this was viewed as a changing of the guard and whilst the Catalans still had Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, few, if any, gave them much hope at the Nou Camp.

Barca had a mountain range to climb, let alone a mountain, especially having failed to bag an away goal in Paris. However, in a match that became known as la Remontada (the Comeback), they put the shell-shocked Parisians to the sword in front of a delirious crowd of nearly 100,000 in Barcelona. They scored after just three minutes and added two more, either side of half-time. However, after 62 minutes a Cavani goal made the tie 5-3 on aggregate, leaving the hosts in big trouble.

The home side hit back though with goals from Neymar in the 88th and 91st minutes, before Sergi Roberto made it 6-1 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate in the 95th minute. This remains the biggest comeback in Champions League history.

Man United Break Bayern Hearts – 1999

Coming from a goal down might not seem to be a noteworthy fightback but when there are just minutes left on the clock, and the game is the UCL final, it takes on a whole different import. The Germans led for around 85 minutes and were probably the better side. But despite Mario Basler giving them the lead after six minutes, they succumbed to two stoppage-time goals from United.

The Red Devils had been mounting a little pressure as the game wore on but when it was indicated that there would be just three minutes of injury time, the Bavarians must have thought they were there. However, in the 91st minute Teddy Sheringham, a United sub, equalised. Fans and players may have been mentally preparing for extra time but with just 43 seconds of the allotted injury time remaining, another substitute, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, made the impossible comeback a reality.

Liverpool Give Barca a Taste of their Own – 2019

Liverpool really should believe that overcoming Spanish opposition is possible because they have done it before. In 2019 they lost the first leg of the UCL semi final 3-0 in Barcelona. Game, set and match? No chance. This was a brilliant Liverpool side and they knew that at Anfield, anything was possible, especially if they started quickly.

Divock Origi notched after just seven minutes and it was game on. However, with the match still 3-1 on aggregate and the second half nine minutes old, doubt must have crept in. As it happened, a rapid-fire brace from Gini Wijnaldum on 54 and 56 minutes restored the faith and Origi bagged a fourth after 79 minutes. Liverpool knew that an away goal for the Catalans would leave them in big trouble but they held on to make it through to the final (where they would go on to beat Spurs in an altogether more boring clash).

Can Liverpool do it again?

Whilst there is clearly plenty here to give Liverpool and their supporters hope, not to mention several amazing Champions League comebacks we haven’t mentioned, there are some obvious caveats. The most striking is that none of the fightbacks we have detailed here have been away from home. Two have been on neutral territory in finals but the Reds are clearly up against it in needing to win by three goals in front of the Real faithful.

However, probably the biggest away comeback in the history of this competition, and certainly one of the most incredible upsets, did see Real downed at the Bernabeu. On 5th March 2019 the Dutch side Ajax overcame a first-leg defeat in Amsterdam to progress at the expense of Madrid. They won 4-1 in Spain to go through 5-3 on aggregate and a similar result for Jurgen Klopp’s men would be enough to get them back in the tie. Liverpool have a mountain to climb but surely that is why mountains are there in the first place?