The end of what might be football’s golden decade is upon us and what a decade of the greatest team sport it has been. The underdogs reigned supreme, from Inter Milan’s tactically sensational performance against Pep Guardiola, Netherlands and their revenge against Spain all the way to AS Roma.
2010: Jose Mourinho’s defensive masterclass vs Pep Guardiola
It was the battle of styles with the narrative dominated by the battle between Barcelona’s football and Inter’s pragmatism. It was Jose Mourinho’s shot at revenge against Pep Guardiola, the man who has now become his eternal rival. And yet in that first leg, the Nerazzurri produced an offensive display that Barcelona struggled to cope with, with their loong bus journey playing a part.
But this clash will forever be remembered for the second leg and the defensive masterclass that a ten men Inter Milan, after Thiago Motta was sent off in the 28th minute, put up. A defensive masterclass that was so great that Barcelona, their trio of world-class midfielders and Lionel Messi all struggled to cope with. The Nerazzurri’s performance was devoid of any joy whatsoever but that really never matters when you win now, does it?
2011: Barcelona, Lionel Messi and that final vs Manchester United
After the 2-0 loss to Barcelona two years ago, this final was supposed to be the one where Sir Alex Ferguson handed the La Liga giants a sensational defeat. It was supposed to be the game, to cap of what had been a good season. And yet, after 90 minutes and added time at Wembley, the Red Devils walked off with their tails between their legs as Barcelona, Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola rejoiced yet again.
Barcelona, Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola were simply too much for that Manchester United side and it showed despite the Red Devils walking into halftime with the game level at 1-1. The second half changed everything and Ferguson’s post-match words put it better than I ever will. “Nobody’s given us a hiding like that but they deserve it," and that says it all.
2012: Celtic and one of the greatest Champions League upsets ever
Before Leicester City, before AS Roma, before AS Monaco and hundreds of other modern examples, this game was the definition of an underdog win. An image with the statistics has definitely popped up at least once or twice every year since it happened and every time it shocks us. Every single time without fail, it shocks the world. Why? What’s so great about a statistic??
Well, open the link and take a look-see. Beyond incredible isn’t it?? And the atmosphere at Celtic Park was beyond unbelievable but what defines it perfectly, is what Neil Lennon said after the game because it told the story. "Tito Vilanova can bring on David Villa and Cesc Fabregas and I bring on an 18-year-old kid who cost £50,000 from Airdrie."
2013: Champions League semi-final Bayern Munich 7-0 Barcelona
It was the year that Germany’s dominance over the footballing world truly shone with Borussia Dortmund beating Real Madrid over two legs. But Bayern Munich’s dominance of Barcelona over two equally sensationally legs needs to go down in history. Not just because they beat them 4-0 at the Allianz Arena and then went to Camp Nou put three past them.
Not just because this was going to be Bayern’s year but because it was the year Barcelona truly realised that they needed to do more. They needed to do more than just dominate the ball for 90 minutes and depend on who was already becoming a superstar in Lionel Messi. Bayern walked away with seven goals, Thomas Muller established himself as one of the best of the year and Jupp Heynckes went down as one of the Bavarians’ greatest managers
2014: Netherlands, Spain and the revenge of the Jules Rimet
Ahh 2014, what a year of football. But for the Netherlands, nothing on this planet, at that point in time, would have been sweeter than doling out this thrashing to the favourites. Spain walked into the 2014 World Cup as the ones to break the jinx, but they simply never recovered. Arjen Robben spun his magical tale, Robin Van Persie flew like he never did before and Spain never recovered.
But more than that, it was a truly dominant Dutch performance and it shifted the burden of favouritism from one finalist to another. Naturally, that meant a collapse in the semi-finals, although they did finish in third place. Not exactly the fitting end to a golden generation.
2015: PSG’s greatest moment in the Champions League
This was a wild, emotionally draining and charged match so naturally a red card had to be involved in the proceedings. And since it was PSG with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, naturally the Swede was the one walking off the field, which meant that they played for 59 minutes with just ten men. But with the first leg finishing 1-1 and Chelsea going through via away goals, PSG pushed and pushed.
Naturally, Chelsea went ahead but then, in the words of the commentator, David Luiz dealt a sickening blow to his former side taking the game to extra time. Eden Hazard, six minutes in, scored the penalty that would have sent Chelsea to the knockout stages but it was never their night. It was never going to be which meant that Thiago Silva would head home the away goal six minutes from time.
2016: Portugal vs France, Euro 2016 and a nation united
Naturally, since it was hosted in France, with France in the final, up against Portugal, this was supposed to be the French’s cup. This was supposed to be the trophy that they lifted at the end of what had been a breezy run into the final. Unbeaten through their group stages, convincing wins over Ireland and Iceland but also World Champs Germany.
But yet, football is never simple and Portugal proved that the sum of its parts was far greater than the exploits of just their one superstar. They proved that so what if Cristiano Ronaldo was jumping up and down on the sidelines, we have Eder to hit a 25-yard winner. And it was the game, where the Portuguese took full advantage of a knotted superstar French midfield, that couldn’t untangle themselves.
2017: Bayern Munich dominates Arsenal
For Arsenal fans, this one really hurts. They’ve lost before badly and unconvincingly over the last decade or so but they’ve never really been completely dominated to the level Bayern managed in this battle. The Bavarians were never the favourites to win the Champions League and neither were Arsenal but yet, few expected it to end like this.
10-2 over two legs and it may even be worse than a catalogue of defeats that Arsenal have, because of the sheer fact that Bayern Munich didn’t outclass them over 90 minutes. But they did it over 180 minutes played across two legs, in two different stadiums within the space of a month. And they did it style, made it look easy with even Douglas Costa finding the net.
2018: AS Roma rise from their ruins
This will go down as the greatest ever Champions League moment in commentary if not the greatest commentating performance in the history of sports. But then again, when something this improbable and sensational happens, you need a man like Peter Drury to spell out what has just unfolded in front of your eyes. But even then, take nothing away from AS Roma because they played their hearts out.
Somehow, against that Barcelona side with everything against them, Eusebio Di Franceso put up a tactical masterclass that forced Barcelona to lose. Roma attacked the La Liga giants where it hurt, they bullied them into making mistakes, they harassed and hustled them into making mistakes, and even pushed them around forcing them into making mistakes. And Barcelona collapsed, like a house of cards fighting against a gale.
2019: Liverpool break Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s heart
This may seem like an innate hatred for Barcelona but it really isn’t. Instead, it’s just an appreciation for what the Catalans can do when they have a lead and nothing proves it better than this game and the one above this. However, the fact that this was Liverpool, without Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino, that this was Liverpool with Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi on the field, should have seen Barcelona waltz through.
And yet, a Jurgen Klopp masterclass, with Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum stepping up out of the shadows and Xherdan Shaqiri proving why they once called him the “Alpine Messi”, proved to be far too much for Barcelona to handle.