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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 12 August, 2020

Ranking the 8 most entertaining matches in this season's Champions League

The 2018-19 campaign has featured a number of unforgettable encounters.

8. Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool

Barcelona v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League - Semi Final - First Leg - Camp Nou Source: Nick Potts

Overshadowed by the second leg, it’s easy forget just how thrilling this first match between the two sides was. A far tighter game than the scoreline suggests, Liverpool dominated for a spell and only wasteful finishing prevented them from registering a crucial away goal. It was also another occasion when Lionel Messi demonstrated his genius, scoring twice — the second a glorious free kick. The Argentine would have set up another for Ousmane Dembele in the dying moments, only for the French forward to pass up a gilt-edged opportunity. Many people, including Lionel Messi, suggested a fourth would have ensured Barca’s progress.

7. Ajax 2-1 Juventus

Juventus v Ajax - UEFA Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Allianz Stadium Source: Steven Paston

Ajax had already toppled Real Madrid, but not many people tipped them to overcome Juventus in the quarter finals. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, the Italian side took command, as Cristiano Ronaldo gave them the lead on 28 minutes. However, an inspired Ajax fightback ensued. Donny van de Beek equalised, before Matthijs de Ligt’s winner on 67 minutes, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s bid for a sixth Champions League title fell short.

6. Juventus 3-0 Atletico Madrid 

Italy: Juventus vs Atletico Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus during the Champions League match. Source: Alberto Gandolfo

In previous seasons, this game would have been spoken of in particularly awed terms and appeared so unique, but it’s a measure of how entertaining this year’s Champions League has been that it’s virtually forgotten about at this stage. Down 2-0 from the first leg, A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, which he completed from the spot just four minutes from time, left Diego Simeone’s Atletico stunned.

5. Ajax 4-1 Real Madrid

Netherlands: Real Madrid vs Ajax Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The game in which a brilliant young Ajax side truly confirmed their potential, few people gave the Dutch team a hope as they travelled to Madrid seeking to overturn a 2-1 deficit against a side that had won the Champions League in four of the past five seasons. Erik ten Hag had other ideas, however, as the youngsters dominated, making seasoned campaigners like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema look distinctly ordinary. 

4. Man United 3-1 PSG  

Champions League - PSG vs Manchester United Source: Niviere David/ABACAPRESS.COM

Though Man United may deny such suggestions publicly, this was surely the game that secured Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer the permanent job. Having been outclassed and beaten 2-0 in the first leg, United travelled to Paris as significant underdogs. A Romelu Lukaku goal after two minutes gave the Red Devils hope, before normal order was seemingly resumed 10 minutes later, as Juan Bernat made it 3-1 on aggregate. Lukaku struck again on the half-hour mark, but PSG continued to look the better side. They enjoyed 72% possession and missed some big chances, before in the dying moments, a controversial VAR call handed United a shock penalty, which Marcus Rashford struck home confidently. All the joy stemming from this occasion flourished quite quickly of course, as reality hit hard, but for a moment, it really looked like Solskjaer was somehow channeling the spirit of ’99 into this Manchester United team.

3. Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona

Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League - Semi Final - Second Leg - Anfield Source: Peter Byrne

Dubbed ‘the Miracle of Anfield,’ the semi-final second-leg display has already been compared to the great Liverpool performances. One Barcelona goal meant their rivals would need to score five on the night, and it was a predictably tense opening half — both sides wasted chances, with Divock Origi’s goal separating the teams at the break. Yet it was not until the second half that the drama was truly elevated. For 25 minutes, Liverpool ran riot while Barca wilted. Jurgen Klopp’s men reduced one of Europe’s finest sides to a bag of nerves. Two goals in two minutes from Georginio Wijnaldum brought the tie level on aggregate, before Origi’s winner from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner on 79 minutes summed up all that was good about Liverpool and borderline disgraceful about Barcelona amid an unforgettable night. Reds fans like to frequently invoke the Istanbul 2005 Champions League final comeback from 3-0 down against AC Milan, and while it is debatable which was more special, this year was surely the better performance and the better Liverpool team.

2. Tottenham 3-2 Ajax

Lucas Moura File Photo Source: Adam Davy

There’s an argument for each of the top three here to come first on this list, with each game miraculous in its own way. Ajax-Tottenham edges Liverpool-Barcelona because the encounter had more twists and turns, with an especially stunning climax. A promising Spurs season was petering out as they found themselves three goals down on aggregate with 35 minutes remaining. Ajax had dominated the majority of the first leg and the first half, though some inspired substitutions and in particular the half-time introduction of Fernando Llorente turned the tie around. The Spaniard bullied the hosts’ defence and created a much-needed attacking platform for Spurs, whose gallant display was rewarded as Lucas Moura found the net for his hat-trick with virtually the last kick of the game.

1. Tottenham 3-4 Man City

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Etihad Stadium Source: Martin Rickett

One of the few games this season that proved domestic treble winners Man City are human. The first 21 minutes alone were far more entertaining than the vast majority of 90-minute games, with five goals scored — two for Spurs and three for City, though it was the former that still held the advantage owing to the away goals rule and their 1-0 first-leg win. Sergio Aguero’s 59th minute effort subsequently put the hosts in control. Tottenham then benefited from a serious of tight VAR calls, most notably with Llorente’s winning goal and Sterling’s ruled-out stoppage time effort. The scenes at the end were scarcely believable as almost the whole Etihad Stadium erupted in ecstasy thinking City had won it, before descending into an anguished silence when they realised they had in fact lost it through the finest of margins. We may never see anything like this remarkable encounter again.

What do you think was this season’s most entertaining Champions League match?

Poll Results:

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona (3016)
Tottenham 3-4 Man City (1995)
Tottenham 3-2 Ajax (881)
Man United 3-1 PSG   (399)
Other (104)

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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