When Zidane’s men won the 2016 Champions’ League over Atletico Madrid, they did so on the back of criticism. Criticism? After winning the Champions’ League? Couldn’t it just be that after 2014, most neutrals were rooting for the smaller Madrid club? Probably. After all, watching Real Madrid defeat Atletico on penalties was like watching Goliath vanquish David yet again. Not exactly faith affirming. What made it seem truly unfair though was how impressive Atletico’s run to the final was – at least, compared to Real Madrid’s. Simeone’s men had to defeat Enrique’s all conquering Barcelona in the quarter finals and had to see off Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the semis. Real Madrid faced Wolfsburg and the least impressive Manchester City team in years. Winning the Champions’ League is a fantastic achievement no matter what run a winner takes. But there can be nothing more exhilarating and let’s face it brag-worthy, than winning a trophy after beating the best teams. This is a tribute to the teams with the most impressive Champions’ League runs.
Real Madrid (2016/17)
If Real Madrid had it easy in winning their 11th Champions’ League pot, they found that defending their title was going to be more complicated. After finishing second in their group, Zidane’s men met Sarri’s impressive Napoli side in the round of 16. After defeating the Italian side, they then had to get through their old boss, Ancelotti and his Bayern Munich side in the quarter final stage. In the semis, they faced their bitter rivals, Atletico. As reward for their tough run, they came up against the might of Juventus in the final. Despite the Italians boasting the most miserly defence in Europe, Real Madrid played a fantastic game and stuck 4 past the Old Lady.
Bayern Munich (2012/13)
After the disaster of losing the 2012 final – in their own stadium no less – Bayern stormed back in the next season to win the 2013 edition at Wembley. Along the way, the German giants had to eliminate the Italian champions (Juventus), Spanish champions (Barcelona) and the German champions (Borussia Dortmund). That Bayern side didn’t just win games, they dominated them with superior technique, physicality and experience. It is truly ironic that Wenger’s Arsenal were the only team to beat them in the knockout stages – in their own stadium no less.
Man Utd (1998/99)
In the nineties, the Champions League had a different format to what we know today. Instead of 32 teams, only 24 teams played in the group stage. As such, groups were generally more competitive than what you’d find today. This meant that in order to win the cup, Manchester United had to face Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Danish giants, Brondby in the group stages, and face Inter Milan, Juventus and Bayern Munich in the knock out stages. The English club not only managed to get through these challenging barriers, but they managed to go through the whole campaign unbeaten.
Ajax had one of the greatest seasons of any European side in the 1994-95 season. Aside from the fact they claimed their fifth Champions’ League trophy, they also went unbeaten in their domestic league, scoring 106 goals in 34 games. On the road to Champions’ League glory, Ajax had to face then champions, AC Milan three times – twice in the group stage and once in the final. Van Gaal’s men beat the Italian side thrice and didn’t concede. One can only wonder what would have happened if that team didn’t disband so quickly.
When considering the greatest runs there have ever been in Champions’ League history, it is nearly impossible to beat Enrique’s Barcelona debut season. Why? For starters Barcelona beat the English champions, the French champions, the German champions and the Italian champions – in that order – to win the trophy. What could be more deserving of a Champions’ League winner than actually defeating the champions of the greatest European leagues? But as if it wasn’t enough, Barcelona outclassed each and every team they faced in a way no Champions’ League winner has since. There weren’t any close ties. Truth be told, the ties against Manchester City, PSG and Bayern Munich were practically concluded in the first legs. Even the final against Juventus was only closely contested in score line. A 3-1 score line. Arguments still persist as to whether the “MSN” attacking trident are the greatest frontline in football’s history. In any case, for one glorious season they pillaged all manner of opposition and thrilled fans and neutrals alike.