After two all-English Champions League finals in the last three, it is beginning to look like we could be on the cusp of a return fo English football dominating continental competitions.
More than 50 years have passed since a team from England’s top flight was crowned European champions for the first time, and the glory days of the 70s and 80s will be particularly memorable for fans of certain clubs.
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We’ve kept things more recent, though, taking a look back at the best single-season performances since the competition took on its current form in 1992. Here’s our top 10, from 10th to first, based on their European displays that season and nothing else.
10. Chelsea, 2007/08
While Chelsea’s run to the final in 2008 wasn’t the toughest, they make it onto the list by virtue of being the closest to winning the competition without getting over the line.
Avram Grant’s Blues deserve credit for an unbeaten group stage campaign, too, with David Villa the only player to score against them in five group games under the Israeli manager.
9. Manchester United, 2010/11
Were it not for an imperious Barcelona standing in their way, there’s every chance United’s best post-Ronaldo campaign would have seen them lift the trophy.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men conceded just one group stage goal, and just three more across six knockout fixtures, before coming up against one of the best teams in Champions League history at Wembley.
8. Arsenal, 2005/06
Arsenal’s defensive record in 2005-06 bears repeating, because it’s simply not the sort of thing a back four predominantly comprised of Eboué-Senderos-Touré-Flamini should be doing.
Real Madrid in the last 16, Juventus in the quarter-finals and Villarreal in the semis: not a single goal conceded. Were it not for a red card in the final - and, to be honest, even after that - they could find themselves much higher up this list.
7. Manchester City, 2020/21
City could hardly have been more dominant last season, winning 11 of their first 12 Champions League outings and drawing the other one.
Winning both legs of a semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain isn’t something you do if you aren’t a great side. But then they had to go and spoil it all by losing the final against Chelsea, showing just how fine these margins really are.
6. Chelsea, 2011/12
There’s an argument that this Chelsea side might have been place below some of the runners-up, but we’re judging them on their European exploits rather than the dismal league campaign under André Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo.
The semi-final efforts at Camp Nou with 10 men will live long in the memory, and we shouldn’t overlook a win in the final at the opposition’s ground.
5. Liverpool, 2004/05
Sure, the group stage performances underwhelmed, but Liverpool were on fire in the knockout stages in 2004-05, and not just in the final comeback against Milan.
Wins in both legs against a Bayer Leverkusen side who finished above Real Madrid in their group, followed by that famous defensive display against Juventus and then a triumph - albeit a controversial one - against one of the best teams around in José Mourinho’s first Chelsea champions. There’s doing it the hard way and then there’s this.
4. Chelsea, 2020/21
It wasn’t just under Thomas Tuchel that the Blues impressed last season, with Frank Lampard’s squad thriving in Europe even as they floundered at home.
They conceded just four times in 13 continental games, most memorably putting four past Europa League holders Sevilla away from home, and they stopped Atletico Madrid and Manchester City during periods when few others were getting close.
3. Manchester United, 1998/99
The late comeback at Camp Nou in the 1999 final takes a little bit away from the sort of European run which any champion would be proud of.
No one beat United over 90 minutes in that season’s competition, and a return of 20 goals in six group games - followed by a generally tighter run of results in the knockouts - exemplified what 90s United were all about. Winning the whole thing while staying on brand is tougher than it looks.
2. Liverpool, 2018/19
While Liverpool’s progress from the group stage hung in the balance, it’s hard to think of too many teams performing better in the knockout stages of a club competition
They were one of just two teams to beat Bayern Munich in the second half of the season, the only team to beat Porto twice in 2019, and the comeback against Barcelona speaks for itself. We shouldn’t overlook the formality of the final, too - it takes a truly great champion for its success to never feel under threat over the course of 90 minutes.
1. Manchester United, 2008/09
Were it not for a run of poor fortune in the FA Cup exit to Portsmouth, this United team could easily have ended the season with a deserved treble and a better one than their 1998-99 counterparts.
2007-08 was predominantly the season of Ronaldo, but it was also a campaign during which just two players scored knockout goals against Fergie’s men - Karim Benzema in the last 16 and then Frank Lampard in the final. In the interim, United played more than 500 minutes without conceding a goal… including 180 against a Roma side which beat Real Madrid home and away and another 180 against a Barcelona team which would win the 2008-09 competition at a canter.
Simply the best English side to win the Champions League.
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