And so we're down to two: Liverpool, in their second consecutive Champions League final, taking on Tottenham in their very first.
That means several talented teams – Barcelona, Juventus, Real Madrid chief among them – have been left disappointed with their failure in the competition this term. But who are the greatest sides to have fallen short on the European stage?
Led by arguably the greatest player of his age in Ronaldo, Inter fell way short of their potential in the 1998/99 season. The Brazilian had hit 34 goals the season prior as the Nerazzurri won the UEFA Cup and finished second in Serie A, but they failed to carry that momentum into Europe, embarking on a disastrous campaign in which they went through four coaches and their star striker struggled with injuries.
Things started reasonably well as Mircea Lucescu led his side into the knockout stages, but a 4-2 aggregate defeat by Manchester United followed. Lucescu was soon fired after failing to knit together a squad featuring the talents of Roberto Baggio, Diego Simeone and a young Andrea Pirlo.
Arsenal of 2003/04 went down in history for their remarkable achievement of winning the Premier League title without losing a single game, but a wonderful team featuring Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira should have achieved more - particularly in Europe.
The Gunners won their group before defeating Celta Vigo in the last 16, but their Champions League journey ended against a Chelsea team they had already beaten three times in other competitions during the same campaign.
Louis van Gaal’s young Ajax side looked set for a golden period after being crowned European champions in 1994/95 for the first time since the Total Football glory days of the early 1970s. What transpired can hardly be called a failure, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that this team could have achieved even more.
Ajax made it to the final in 1995/96, losing on penalties to Juventus before again exiting the competition at the hands of the Italian champions a year later, this time in the semi-finals. A side featuring the likes of Edgar Davids, Edwin van der Sar, Patrick Kluivert and the De Boer twins should have been more of a match for the Bianconeri.
Johan Cruyff didn’t get much wrong at Barcelona, although his side’s struggles in Europe coincided perfectly with the dawning of the Champions League era. The Dutchman's ‘Dream Team’ won the last ever European Cup in 1992, as well as four consecutive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994, and when Cruyff left the club it was as their most successful ever coach having collected 11 trophies.
Yet his results in the Champions League were largely disappointing: Barça lost to CSKA in the second round in 1993, were thrashed 4-0 by Milan in the following year's final, exited at the quarter-final stage in 1995 and then didn't even qualify in 1996.
Bayern Munich, 2013-16
Bayern took their Bundesliga domination to new levels under Pep Guardiola between 2013 and 2016, winning three straight titles by margins of 19, 10 and 10 points. However, the Bavarians failed to reach a Champions League final under Guardiola, crashing out in the semis in each of the Catalan’s seasons in charge.
Soundly beaten by a ruthless Real Madrid in 2013/14, Bayern were then undone by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona the following year, before being edged out by Atletico Madrid in 2016. Guardiola took Bayern’s football to another level during his time at the helm, but he wasn’t able to replicate his predecessor Jupp Heynckes by bringing the Champions League trophy back to the Allianz Arena.
Massimiliano Allegri has a perfect record in Italy since taking over at Juventus four years ago; the former Milan coach has won a league and cup double every season. However, one big objective remains unfulfilled, and two Champions League finals have come and gone under Allegri's watch as Juve look to end a 23-year wait for European glory.
The Old Lady would have been worthy champions in 2015 or 2017. That first side was built around Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez, while the second featured a dynamic frontline of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be the final piece in the jigsaw, but Juve were deservedly beaten by Ajax in the quarter-finals this term.
Jose Mourinho’s debut season at Chelsea brought a Premier League title, but he was unable to secure back-to-back continental crowns following his remarkable Champions League triumph with Porto in 2003/04.
After coming through the group stage with ease, the Blues saw off Barcelona and Bayern Munich to set up an all-English semi-final against Liverpool, which was was decided by Luis Garcia's 'ghost goal' at Anfield.
Atletico Madrid, 2013/14 and 2015/16
Diego Simeone has transformed Atletico since taking over in 2011, but his remarkably resilient side have fallen just short of Europe's greatest prize. In 2013/14, Atleti became Spanish champions and reached the Champions League final, where they were seconds away from victory before Sergio Ramos's stoppage-time intervention forced an additional 30 minutes in which Real Madrid proved too strong.
Their city rivals once again stood in Atletico's way in 2015/16, when Simeone's side fell short on penalties to finish as runners-up for a second time. The Colchoneros were desperate to reach the final at their own stadium this term but suffered a 3-2 aggregate defeat by Juventus in the last 16.
Juve’s incredible team of the 1990s did win a Champions League title in 1995/96, but the fact that they stumbled while on the brink of achieving Real Madrid-esque continental dominance earns them a place on the list.
Twice the Old Lady made it to the final and twice they came unstuck, slipping to a shock defeat by Borussia Dortmund before being undone by a Pedrag Mijatovic goal against Real Madrid in Amsterdam a year later.
Valencia, like Juventus and Atletico before them, had two swings and two misses when it came to the final. Hector Cuper’s side knocked out the likes of Lazio and Barcelona to reach the showpiece in 2000, before being comfortably beaten 3-0 by La Liga rivals Real Madrid in Paris.
They repeated the trick a year later, this time ending the hopes of Arsenal and Leeds along the way, before losing on sudden-death penalties to Bayern Munich. The pain wouldn’t last too long, though, as Rafa Benitez subsequently led Los Che to the La Liga title.
Borussia Dortmund, 2012/2013
Jurgen Klopp’s thrilling style almost catapulted Dortmund back to European glory 16 years after their solitary Champions League gong in 1997. The German led BVB to two Bundesliga titles before taking them on a European run where they knocked out Real Madrid in the semi-finals, Robert Lewandowski scoring all four goals in a stunning 4-1 first-leg win.
However, Dortmund fell to a 2-1 defeat against domestic rivals Bayern Munich in the first ever all-German final at Wembley – a relief for Bayern, who had lost two finals in the three years before then.
When Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge as Manchester United manager in 2016, he was branded a “Judas” by the home crowd. The Portuguese received an altogether warmer welcome when he took his Inter side to west London in 2009/10, although the visitors’ 1-0 victory that night denied one of Chelsea’s best ever sides a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Being knocked out in the last 16 doesn’t scream greatness, but Carlo Ancelotti’s men were brilliant domestically, scoring 103 goals en route to Premier League glory and winning the FA Cup to boot.
The northern triumvirate of Juventus, Milan and Inter have dominated Serie A in recent decades, to the extent that only seven Scudetti have gone elsewhere since 1976. Lazio were responsible for one of those, topping the pile in 1999/00 with a team featuring Marcelo Salas, Juan Sebastian Veron, Pavel Nedved, Diego Simeone and Alessandro Nesta, and managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson.
They also scooped the Coppa Italia that campaign, and romped through the first group stage of the Champions League by going unbeaten against Dynamo Kiev, Bayer Leverkusen and Maribor. The Biancocelesti then successfully negotiated a tougher group containing Chelsea, Marseille and Feyenoord, before losing 5-3 on aggregate to eventual runners-up Valencia in the last eight.
Manchester City, 2017-present
By almost any measure, the current Manchester City side are the strongest in Premier League history. Pep Guardiola’s men smashed multiple records (number of points, number of goals) in winning the title in 2017/18, and they were arguably even better in fending off Liverpool’s dogged pursuit in 2018/19.
Continental success continues to elude them, however, with City failing to even make the semi-finals in the last two campaigns. Domestic opponents have got the better of them on both occasions: Liverpool ran out 4-1 aggregate victors last term, while Tottenham triumphed on away goals this time around.
No club supplied France’s World Cup-winning squad of 1998 with more players than Monaco, with whom David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry and Fabien Barthez had just finished third in Ligue 1. That was a disappointment given their title-winning exploits the previous year, but the principality club could at least console themselves with a thrilling run in the Champions League.
No team scored more goals than Monaco (15) in the group stage, as Jean Tigana’s charges put Bayer Leverkusen (4-0), Lierse (5-1) and Sporting CP (3-2) to the sword. They then overcame Manchester United, who would win the tournament a year later, in the quarter-finals, but were edged out 6-4 on aggregate by Juventus in the final four.
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