10 times Premier League teams were completely outclassed in the Champions League
Barcelona 4-0 Manchester United, 1994/95
Manchester United struggled to get to grips with the unique demands of European football during the early years of the Premier League. Faced with a slower and more sophisticated tactical battle, they were often made to look crudely one-dimensional in comparison. Barcelona in particular looked a class apart.
Gary Walsh was in goal for United due to the restriction on fielding no more than three foreign players and he endured a difficult night against the fearsome strikeforce of Hristo Stoichkov and Romario. They ran riot, scoring three of the game’s four goals as Albert Ferrer added the other.
Spartak Moscow 3-0 Blackburn Rovers, 1995/96
Blackburn Rovers’ first, and so far only, experience of the Champions League was a thoroughly miserable one. They might have won the title in the previous season but were soon found to be woefully out of their depth against the best the continent had to offer. After picking up a single point from their first four group games, Rovers were overwhelmed away to Spartak Moscow.
In a game that became infamous for a bitter on-pitch dispute between Graeme Le Saux and David Batty, Spartak ruthlessly exploited their opponents’ infighting and lack of focus. Moving the ball quickly and incisively, they sliced through the Blackburn defence with ease and beat Tim Flowers on three occasions.
Valencia 2-0 Liverpool, 2002/03
The scoreline failed to reflect the extent of Valencia’s dominance, but Liverpool were left in no doubt as to just how completely they had been outplayed by Rafa Benitez’s side. Indeed, it was this performance that stuck in the minds of the club hierarchy, and helped convince them to appoint the Spaniard when the opportunity arose less than two years later.
Valencia were the reigning La Liga champions and demonstrated their credentials by controlling the contest from the outset. Goals from Pablo Aimar and Ruben Baraja ensured a commanding half-time lead and Dietmar Hamann’s red card ended even the faintest of hopes that Liverpool could get back into the game.
Arsenal 0-3 Inter Milan, 2003/04
They may have destroyed Inter Milan at the San Siro a couple of months later, in a fondly remembered game featuring a virtuoso display by Thierry Henry, but Arsenal had already been handed a thrashing of their own at Highbury.
Although the Invincibles went the entire league season unbeaten, they were blitzed by Inter in their first Champions League group game. Julio Cruz, Andy van der Meyde and Obafemi Martins all found the net in a devastating first half and a shellshocked Arsenal were unable to mount a comeback.
AC Milan 3-0 Manchester United, 2006/07
Manchester United entered the second leg of their Champions League semi-final with a 3-2 lead to protect as they sought to make it to the showpiece in Athens, where Liverpool awaited the winners. Their best-laid plans soon unravelled, however, as they were put to the sword by a slick performance from AC Milan.
Kaka was in imperious form, grabbing his 10th Champions League goal of the season after just 11 minutes to put his side ahead on away goals. Clarence Seedorf took advantage of defensive confusion to score the second and Alberto Gilardino added to United’s humiliation shortly after coming on as a substitute.
Real Madrid 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur, 2010/11
A single goal from Peter Crouch was sufficient to see off AC Milan and take Tottenham Hotspur through to the quarter-finals in their debut Champions League campaign. Any hopes of a repeat performance were soon shattered, however, as Real Madrid tore their opponents apart in the first leg.
Former Arsenal man Emmanuel Adebayor rose highest to head home the opener within five minutes and Tottenham’s task was made even harder as Crouch was sent off for a second booking not long after. Real made the extra man count as Adebayor got his second, with Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo also finding a way through as they peppered the Spurs goal with shots.
Juventus 3-0 Chelsea, 2012/13
Just six months on from winning the Champions League, Chelsea were on the verge of being bundled out at the group stage after a traumatic night in Turin. It would prove to be Roberto Di Matteo’s final match in charge of the club, having been made permanent manager on the basis of delivering that crowning glory as a caretaker.
Di Matteo’s rapid demise was sealed with a particularly limp display back in his home country, as Juventus overpowered their visitors. Fabio Quagliarella, Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Giovinco were all on the scoresheet, with Chelsea left chasing shadows. Even a 6-1 win over FC Nordsjaelland three weeks later couldn’t undo the damage.
Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid, 2014/15
Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool returned to the Champions League for the first time in five years as a result of a second-place finish inspired by the goals of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. Their title challenge may have collapsed towards the end of the season but their swashbuckling style created cause for optimism.
Unfortunately, Real Madrid’s trip to Anfield for the third round of group-stage fixtures demonstrated a clear gulf in class. A Cristiano Ronaldo goal and a Karim Benzema brace put Carlo Ancelotti’s men out of sight before the break and Liverpool never threatened to bridge the gap during a tame second half.
Bayern Munich 5-1 Arsenal, 2015/16
In the latter stage of Arsene Wenger’s reign, Bayern Munich became Arsenal’s Champions League nemesis. They met on multiple occasions and the German giants almost always came out on top, inflicting a series of heavy defeats along the way. This was the first of three successive 5-1 reverses as Bayern asserted their undeniable superiority in emphatic fashion.
It was 3-0 to the hosts by half-time thanks to goals from Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and David Alaba. Arsenal improved in the second half, with Olivier Giroud scoring a consolation goal, but it made no difference. They were contemptuously swatted aside and left on the brink of elimination.
Barcelona 4-0 Manchester City, 2016/17
The game was billed as an emotional return to the Nou Camp for Pep Guardiola, who was now trying to work his magic in England after a trophy-filled stint at Bayern Munich. But Manchester City and their new manager were given a brutal reminder of just how far they still had to go to compete with Europe’s elite when Barcelona crashed in four goals without reply.
Lionel Messi got the ball rolling early on and completed a clinical hat-trick in the second half. City contributed to their own downfall by committing some basic errors, and also had Claudio Bravo sent off for handling outside the area. A second yellow card for Jeremy Mathieu levelled up the player count but the visitors still couldn’t stop Neymar from slotting home the fourth.
While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant subscribers' offer? Get 5 issues of the world's greatest football magazine for £5 – the game's greatest stories and finest journalism direct to your door for less than a pint in London. Cheers!