The 10 best teams that DIDN'T win the Champions League
Predicting which team will eventually hoist the Champions League trophy aloft this season is as hard as ever. Real Madrid are chasing a fourth consecutive title, Juventus hope Cristiano Ronaldo can fire them to the elusive prize, while Pep Guardiola is determined to end Manchester City’s poor run in the competition.
And that’s before you even consider Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSG and Liverpool.
Several star-studded squads brimming with talent will be left disappointed at the end of the campaign, then – and that got us wondering. Who are the best teams that weren’t crowned Champions League winners?
The Invincibles have gone down in Premier League folklore thanks to their extraordinary unbeaten feat, as a Thierry Henry-inspired team brushed aside the competition in England.
It was therefore tinged with regret when their European aspirations were ended by a familiar opponent – a Chelsea team they had already beaten three times in other competitions during the same campaign.
A 3-0 defeat to Inter Milan at Highbury in their group opener was the worst possible start, and was followed by a draw at Lokomotiv Moscow and defeat away to Dynamo Kiev. Qualification hopes appeared to be slim, but three wins in a row – including a superb 5-1 thrashing of Inter at San Siro – sealed their passage to the knockout stages as group winners.
A 5-2 aggregate win over Celta Vigo in the last 16 set up a quarter-final against the Blues. A 1-1 first-leg draw at Stamford Bridge put the Gunners in pole position, extending Arsenal’s unbeaten run against their London rivals to 17 games, but Arsene Wenger’s side crashed out with a 2-1 defeat at Highbury, having led 1-0 at the break. Wayne Bridge’s 87th-minute winner still hurts in north London.
Jose Mourinho’s impact at Chelsea was immediate and significant. The Portuguese arrived with a burgeoning reputation, having secured an unlikely Champions League title at Porto the season prior, but he couldn’t replicate the feat for his new team despite record-breaking results on the home front.
The Blues’ 95-point haul was the highest ever for a single season at the time, and was accompanied by more records: fewest goals conceded (15), most wins (29), most away wins (15), and most clean sheets kept (25) in a single campaign.
Things started promisingly in Europe as Chelsea topped a group featuring PSG, CSKA Moscow and Mourinho’s former side Porto, losing just once on the final day when top spot was already assured.
But they didn’t benefit from easy draws, and faced Ronaldinho’s Barcelona in the last 16. Nevertheless, the Spaniards were beaten 5-4 on aggregate after a classic 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge sealed by a John Terry header. Bayern Munich fell next in another thriller that finished 6-5 to the Blues on aggregate, but their journey ended in the semi-finals thanks to Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ for Liverpool which gave the Reds a 1-0 aggregate win three minutes into the second leg at Anfield.
Speaking to FourFourTwo last year, Garcia revealed that Mourinho still hasn’t forgotten the controversial incident. “He is still seething,” said the Spaniard. “He’ll always deny my goal, but if I was him I’d do the same."
It’s easy to see why Juventus fans might be forgiven for thinking their side is cursed in Champions League finals. Twice they battled all the way to the final with a fine team, and twice they fell.
It’s arguably unfair to include a side that did win the Champions League just a year before these events (in 1995/96), but their individual talent, domestic dominance in an era when Serie A was Europe’s strongest league, and the fact they were on the brink of conquering Ol’ Big Ears for three seasons running merits their inclusion.
The 1997 final defeat to Borussia Dortmund remains one of the tournament’s great shock results, as the German side secured their one and only title against an Old Lady line-up featuring the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Christian Vieri and Didier Deschamps.
Marcello Lippi’s side battled all the way through the competition again a year later, but this time were undone by a Predrag Mijatovic goal against Real Madrid in the Amsterdam final – their third consecutive appearance in the fixture.
On that day, Alessandro Del Piero and Pippo Inzaghi lined up in front of Zidane, while Edgar Davids had been added to the midfield. Despite boasting a squad that read like a Who’s Who of ‘90s superstars, Juve – after losing to Manchester United in the 1999 semi-finals too – had to settle for just the one European title in that decade. Since then, the Italians have made it to three more finals, losing all of them. Can Cristiano help end the curse?
Atletico Madrid, 2013/14 and 2015/16
Diego Simeone has revolutionised Atletico since his arrival as manager in December 2011. Picking up a side that had finished seventh in La Liga and been knocked out of the Europa League group stage the season before, the fiery Argentine transformed his team into Spanish winners and serious Champions League contenders.
In 2013/14, Atleti were crowned victors of La Liga and made it all the way to the Champions League final, where they were seconds away from defeating rivals Real Madrid. Instead, they leaked a last-minute equaliser and fell to a demoralising 4-1 loss in extra-time.
Simeone’s side proved their success wasn’t a flash in the pan by getting another crack at the trophy two years later, again against their city neighbours. Again, though, heartbreak followed as Los Colchoneros lost on penalties. They did at least claim a sliver of revenge by claiming the UEFA Super Cup with a 4-2 win over Real Madrid in August, having scooped the Europa League title last year. Simeone hasn’t given up on his Champions League dream yet.
Another side to have had more than one bite at the cherry without success, Valencia’s memorable team of the millennium era came agonisingly close to European glory.
Hector Cuper’s side embarked on a spectacular run to the final, getting through two group stages before knocking out an all-star Lazio side that went on to win Serie A that year, as well as domestic rivals Barcelona. Both ties were settled thanks to superb performances at the Mestalla, but Los Che couldn’t raise their game to defeat Real Madrid at the Stade de France in Paris and slumped to a 3-0 defeat.
Captain Gaizka Mendieta inspired the Spanish side all the way from qualifiers to the final once again a year later, knocking out English sides Arsenal and Leeds en route in the quarter- and semi-finals respectively.
Mendieta’s penalty gave them an early lead against Bayern Munich in the final, but Stefan Effenberg equalised from the spot. The Germans went on to triumph 5-4 in sudden death of the eventual shootout. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though: Rafael Benitez’s arrival the following season sparked a charge to the La Liga title.