Football Features

14 Champions League performances that broke the internet

By Chris Smith

Published: 19:50, 14 December 2020

The Champions League group stage returns and fans can look forward to a season of drama between now and the final in Istanbul.

This season’s edition has some way to go to beat the breathtaking finish of the 2019/20 campaign, which saw Bayern Munich power their way to a second historic Treble after winning every single game they played as a rejigged “elite 8” single-legged summer tournament was held to make up for time lost in football’s hiatus.

Now we’re back to two legs, and although teams get the glory in football, the Champions League has played host to some mind-blowing individual performances across the years, whether for eventual winners or also-rans.

But what of these players? We’ve taken a look at 14 memorable individual Champions League performances that left the world in shock, and to make sure we don’t make this another battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, we’ve limited it to one entry per player. In no particular order, here they are:

Alphonso Davies vs. Barcelona – 2019/20

When Alphonso Davies was growing up, his favourite player was Lionel Messi. Then the first time he face Lionel Messi, his team completely and utterly destroyed Messi’s in a devastating 8-2 win in the quarter-finals.

All the Bayern attackers were mesmeric that day, but none moreso than the teenage Davies who tormented poor Nelson Semedo at right-back with his off-the-ball movement providing a constant outlet for Bayern.

In fact Davies tormented everyone who got in his way that day, completing 5/5 dribbles and generating the most spectacular play of the day with his assist for Joshua Kimmich.

Those 5 dribbles? Four came in a two minute spell where the young Canadian cooked that whole Barcelona right side, Messi included, before flying past Semedo like he had been shot out of a cannon and squaring for Kimmich to tap it in. A miracle performance that announced Davies as a presence to be feared and respected. A reputation he confirmed in 2020/21 when, on his first game back after a couple months out injured, he posted record take-on numbers for the season. Duck and cover, Lazio, this kid is just getting started.

Lucas Moura vs Ajax – 2018/19

At half-time in the 2018/19 semi-final second leg between Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur in Amsterdam, the home club led 3-0 on aggregate and looked destined to make the Champions League final.

But Lucas Moura had other ideas. Ten minutes into the second half, the Brazilian pulled one back for Spurs to give the travelling fans something to sing about. Less than five minutes later, Spurs and Lucas had another, drawing 2-2 on the night and just one strike away from taking the lead on away goals.

Ajax had chances of their own and were looking frustrated, but still seemed set for the final with an aggregate lead going into injury-time. But there was Lucas once again, scoring in the fifth minute of time added on, to break Ajax hearts and send Spurs to their first Champions League final.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Atletico Madrid – 2018/19

Atletico Madrid took a 2-0 lead to Turin for their round-of-16 second leg clash last season and with Diego Simone’s prowess at setting up teams to defend, few would have given Juventus a prayer of coming back.

That would have been the case, of course, if the Old Lady didn’t have a Ronaldo in their ranks. Once again, as he’s done so many times before, the Portuguese powerhouse stepped up with a ruthlessly clinical display, just when his side needed him the most.

A hat-trick, including an ice-cold penalty at the death, a match-high five dribbles and aerial domination against some of the best defenders on the planet gave Juve a 3-2 aggregate win and pretty much brought Twitter to its knees.

Robert Lewandowski vs Real Madrid – 2012/13

Another incredible performance, another earth-shattering result.

During the 2012/13 season, the balance of European power temporarily shifted to Germany, with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund seeing off Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively in the semi-finals.

An integral part of Dortmund’s success against Los Blancos was the role of Robert Lewandowski in the 4-1 first leg victory. The Polish striker tore through the Madrid defence like a force of nature, bagging all four goals – including three in six second-half minutes – and battering the visiting centre-halves with four aerial duels won.

Real won the second leg 2-0 but it wasn’t enough to overturn Lewandowski’s first-leg lesson, firing Dortmund to their first European final since 2002.

Gareth Bale vs Inter Milan – 2010/11

Spurs were down to 10 men and trailing 4-0 within 35 minutes of their Champions League group stage clash with Inter Milan in 2010. The game, for all intents and purposes, was over. However, if you thought the north Londoners were going to roll over and die in the San Siro, Gareth Bale had other ideas.

The Welsh wizard went on a one-man mission to haul Spurs back into the game, scoring a searing hat-trick. Unleashing in left-wing he scorched Maicon repeatedly and buried the ball past Julio Cesar with the most precise of finishes. These men were reigning European Champions and Bale made them look like chumps. completing a match-high five dribbles and getting four shots on goal.

Although it wasn’t quite enough to give Spurs an incredible comeback (they actually lost the game), Bale left the San Siro having truly announced himself as a world-class talent.

Wayne Rooney vs Fenerbahce – 2004/05

Fair enough, this one was a little before the rise of Twitter and Facebook, but Wayne Rooney announced himself onto the European stage in a style that sent internet chatrooms and forums (remember those?) into complete chaos.

Rooney had only made his £27m-move from Everton less than a month previous and was given his debut during United’s Champions League clash at Old Trafford in September 2004. However, any pressure onlookers thought Rooney would come under was swiftly washed away as the then-18-year-old – donning the no.8 jersey – fired in a hat-trick, including two expert long-range strikes in a precursor of what was to come during the rest of his career.

Joe Hart vs Barcelona – 2014/15

It’d be unfair of us to fill this list with expert striking performances, goalkeepers can do it too, you know…

Another thing worth remembering is there was once a time when Joe Hart was an excellent, highly-respected goalkeeper. No performance signifies that more than Man City’s 1-0 defeat away to Barcelona during 2015’s round-of-16 second leg.

The Citizens crashed out 3-1 on aggregate, but Hart kept them in the tie and made it respectable with an unbelievable display of goalkeeping that produced no fewer than 10 saves. It was still a year before his Iceland meltdown at Euro 2016, so Twitter stilly gleefully went into overdrive at Hart’s shot-stopping prowess.

Sergio Ramos vs Bayern Munich – 2013/14

While we’re having a break from forwards, let’s take a moment to remember Sergio Ramos’ god-like efforts against Bayern Munich during the 2013/14 semi-final second leg.

Having crashed out to German opposition the year before, Real Madrid took a 1-0 lead to Munich for their second-leg clash and dominated the holders in unbelievable fashion, running out 4-0 winners on the night.

Ramos bagged two of the goals himself and was an absolute colossus at the back, making two tackles, two interceptions and a match-high 11 clearances.

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Mohamed Salah vs Man City – 2017/18

Right then, back to the forwards.

We could have easily highlighted both legs of Liverpool’s 5-1 aggregate Champions League win over Man City last season for Mohamed Salah’s brilliance, but we’d particularly love to highlight the first leg.

The Egyptian King had Anfield rocking, opening the scoring just 12 minutes in before providing the assist for Sadio Mane’s third after the half-hour mark as the Reds stunned Pep Guardiola. Salah was a thorn in City’s side for the entire two-legged affair, forming a telepathic understanding with fellow forwards, Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Lionel Messi vs Bayern Munich – 2014/15

It was Guardiola’s homecoming, it was supposed to be the time when the Catalonian showed his old club just what they were missing with his formidable Bayern Munich side.

Instead, the 2014/15 semi-final first leg clash at the Nou Camp resulting in Lionel Messi showing Guardiola what he’d left behind at Barcelona, giving the Bavarians a true lesson in football.

The Argentine ace bagged two goals in three minutes and assisted Neymar for the third as Bayern suffered a late collapse to lose 3-0 at the Nou Camp. Although, Messi had tormented the Germans all night, completing an incredible nine dribbles and getting four shots on goal.


Neymar vs Paris Saint-Germain – 2016/17

Last season’s Champions League saw some ridiculous comebacks, but you’d still be hard-pressed to find one more jaw-dropping than Barcelona’s 6-1 rout of the Parisians back in 2017, overturning a 4-0 deficit from the first leg.

Ironically, now-PSG man Neymar was key to Barca’s comeback that night. The Brazilian bagged two goals in three minutes late on – including a high-pressure penalty to make it 5-1 – and then assisted Sergi Roberto’s paradigm-shifting winner in the 94th minute.

Say what you want about PSG ‘bottling’ it, but they just could not cope with Neymar’s brilliance at the Nou Camp. Maybe that’s why they broke the bank sign him…

Luis Suarez vs PSG – 2014/15

While we’re on the subject of Barcelona vs PSG, let’s take a look at Luis Suarez’ show-stopping performance during the Blaugrana’s 3-1 win in their 2015 quarter-final first leg.

After Neymar had given Barca an early lead, the Catalonians set about toying with their French opponents before Suarez delivered a devastating double in the second half. Both goals involved him ghosting past the PSG defence as if they weren’t there, before slotting the ball beyond the helpless Salvatore Sirigu to put Barca in command of the tie.

Absolute peak Suarez at its glorious best – David Luiz still sees the Uruguayan in his nightmares.

Pavel Nedved vs Real Madrid – 2002/03

If you want to see a midfield masterclass, do yourself a favour and watch Pavel Nedved effectively end the Galactico era at Real Madrid.

The Czech playmaker led the Juve charge as the Italians overturned a 2-1 defeat from the first leg to send the Old Lady into the 2003 final, providing a cross for Alessandro Del Piero to assist David Trezeguet’s opener and bagging the decisive third goal of the night with a peach in the 73rd minute.

In a cruel twist of fate, Nedved actually missed the final after being booked for a challenge on Steve McManaman and AC Milan eventually beat them on penalties at Old Trafford. Still, the chatrooms were once again white-hot after a nuclear Nedved performance.

Steven Gerrard vs AC Milan – 2004/05

Don’t worry, Liverpool fans. We were never going to miss out Gerrard’s inspired second half in Istanbul.

Liverpool had been pulled apart, humiliated and shown how it’s done by AC Milan during the first half of their shock final in 2005, trailing 3-0 at the break.

However, instead of giving up, the Reds came out and pulled off an incredible comeback to make it 3-3 and take their fifth European crown on penalties. That night, Gerrard played like a man possessed, scoring their first on 54 minutes and ‘winning’ the penalty for their third just five minutes later.

The heroics of Jerzy Dudek in the shootout denied Gerrard the further glory of taking a winning spot-kick but had their inspirational captain not dragged them from the abyss in the second half, Liverpool wouldn’t have made it that far in the first place.