The Treble is one of the most impressive achievements in modern football.
To win a league title is an incredible feat in endurance and consistency, to win a Champions League or a domestic cup speaks to your mental strength and ability to focus and perform in big do-or-die situations. To win two of those at the same time, to do a double, is phenomenal. Continental above domestic, obviously, but any time you win two competitions in the same season it’s impressive.
But to win all three? In one season? To be consistent enough and smart enough in your rotations to carry your side across three separate competitions all the way to the end of the season? Whilst having enough luck to avoid the pitfalls that plague the majority of cup runs? That is a truly historic achievement in football and arguably the most impressive things a team can do.
In the European men’s game, only six sides have managed it in the Champions League era and we’re here to rank them. Before we begin, it should be stated that every single one of these sides is utterly historic and even the lowest ranked of them is still a world-class side that will go down in history. That said, if you disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
6. Bayern Munich 2012/13
Games played: 54
Goals scored: 151
Goals against: 33
Clean sheets: 30
Around the middle of the 2012/13 season, Bayern were a less than impressive side, and Jupp Heynckes announced he was leaving at the end of the season and would be replaced by Pep Guardiola. But slowly over the course of 2013, Bayern began to build momentum.
Borussia Dortmund’s collapse allowed them to waltz to the Bundesliga with just one defeat. They squeaked by Arsenal on away goals but Toni Kroos’ injury brought Arjen Robben back into the side and that was the catalyst for Bayern to catch fire.
They annihilated Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal semi-finals, then outlasted Stuttgart in the final. They ruthlessly dispatched Juventus (4-0 on aggregate) and Barcelona (7-0 on aggregate) en route to beating Dortmund in an all-German final thanks to a miracle last-minute goal from Robben. This was a superb side incredibly balanced in both defence and attack and they ran roughshod over everyone, albeit one wonders what would have happened if Leo Messi were healthy in the semi-finals, or Mario Gotze fit for the final.
5. Inter Milan 2009/10
Games played: 57
Goals scored: 99
Goals against: 46
Clean sheets: 27
José Mourinho’s Inter was the established order of powerful, physical football fighting back against the new wave of technical, passing and possession game. Built from rejects and hasbeens, this unlikely gang made history. Serie A was automatic given Calciopoli had neutered their rivals (this would be Inter’s fifth straight title) but Inter powered to the Coppa Italia thanks to their star forwards delivering.
In Europe they finished second in their group to Barcelona but after dispatching Chelsea (thanks to, shall we say, some questionable refereeing) and CSKA Moscow, they met the Blaugrana again. Mourinho’s Inter faced down the best side in the world, stifled them and then shattered their sublime opponents with ruthless counter-attacking play. In the second-leg they had what Mourinho called “the most beautiful defeat of my life” losing 1-0 but qualifying after an immortal defensive display (and a disallowed goal for Barcelona).
After those miracles, the final seemed predestined as Diego Milito scored twice to go with his goals that clinched Serie A and the Coppa Italia. A fitting underdog hero for the ultimate underdog season.
4. Barcelona 2014/15
Games played: 60
Goals scored: 175
Goals against: 38
Clean sheets: 33
With Barcelona’s sporting project falling apart, Luis Enrique was brought in to bring fitness and order to a side lacking it. An incredible summer of transfer activity saw Luis Suárez, Marc-André Ter Stegen and Ivan Rakitic join the club, and all three would go on to play huge roles as the Blaugrana devastated all before them thanks to Suárez joining forces with Messi and Neymar to form M-S-N.
It nearly didn’t happen, however, as a falling out between Messi and Lucho needed Xavi’s mediation to bring the side together. After that, though? The front three ripped through football like a butcher’s knife through flesh. Barcelona massacred La Liga, smacked fire out of everyone in the Copa del Rey and in the Champions League they faced and beat the Champions of England, France, Germany and Italy in successive rounds.
Barcelona’s dismantling of Guardiola’s Bayern Munich being a particular highlight as it featured one of Messi’s two miracle goals of that season; the other came in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Club as he ran past five players before scoring. In the Champions League final it was the new signings who shone as Suárez and Rakitic scored whilst Ter Stegen repelled the Juve forwards. Neymar sealed things as Barcelona became the first men’s side to win two Trebles, doing so in style.
3. Bayern Munich 2019/20
Games played: 52
Goals scored: 159
Goals against: 50
Clean sheets: 22
Bayern’s season began in underwhelming fashion under Niko Kovac, but after Hansi Flick replaced him things began to pick up. No one had really pull away atop the table but still, Bayern didn’t lead the Bundesliga until matchday 20 in early 2020. Once there, however, they never looked back and annihilated everyone in front of them.
The end to Bayern’s season was frankly astonishing. Their last defeat was in early December against Gladbach, after which they went an astonishing 29 matches without defeat, winning an absurd 21 games straight to see out the season. Anyone and everyone who got in their way got slapped. The Bundesliga? Sorted. DFB Pokal? Sorted. The Champions League? Sorted. This Bayern team are the first side to ever win every single match of their Champions League campaign, scoring 41 goals in the process including historic victories over Spurs (2-7), Red Star (0-6) and Barcelona (2-8). They laboured a bit in the final and had Manuel Neuer to thank for the victory, but this team is a true engine of victory.
2. Manchester United 1998/99
Games played: 63
Goals scored: 128
Goals against: 63
Clean sheets: 23
Numbers are easy to remember, so they are a good way to quantify greatness, but when you were there you can record that sometimes numbers can be overshadowed by names. So yes, Manchester United drew 22 matches on their way to winning the Treble in 1999, but when you look at the sheer strength of their opponents it puts their achievement into perspective.
This wasn’t like Bayern or Inter who have/had such an established dominance over their league they need only twitch their eyebrow to send opponents cowering in fear, this was a side bouncing back from defeat and reasserting themselves as top dogs. In the Premier League they had to overcome a phenomenal Arsenal side who conceded just 17 goals all season, and they did so on the very last day.
Beyond one loss in the League Cup, United’s cup runs were the stuff of legend. In the FA Cup they had to beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal (the last two going to replays which led to the miracle goal from Ryan Giggs) and in the Champions League they faced down Barcelona, Inter, Juventus (all twice) and Bayern Munich (three times) without once losing.
United’s comeback win away in Turin has gone down in folklore like the Battle of Marathon, with Roy Keane as the runner. Then in the final, without their two best midfielders, they were second-best for 80 minutes but came on strong at the end. They entered stoppage time still behind, but two injury-time goals from two substitutes secured an incredible comeback win and secured the most hard-fought Treble ever.
1. Barcelona 2008/09
Games played: 62
Goals scored: 158
Goals against: 55
Clean sheets: 23
All these sides are Treble winners, so no trophy count could separate them. Goals are nice, but they can be influenced by opponents and luck. The one undeniable factor which puts these teams apart is how they played. The beauty of their game. And in that aspect, Barcelona 2008/09 stand alone as the very best there is.
Barcelona came into this season off the back of a trophyless season, they were a shambles and Pep Guardiola had been put in charge. A club legend but a young coach with just one year of experience with the B-team to his name. Yet what his Barcelona side did, the way they played, changed football as we know it.
The Blaugrana bested Real Madrid in La Liga, beating their rivals 2-6 at the Santiago Bernabeu. In the Copa del Rey they survived a scare in Mallorca to make the final where they massacred Athletic Club (and Yaya Touré scored a sensational strike). And in Europe they blew Lyon and Bayern Munich away at the Camp Nou before a massive battle against Chelsea in the semi-finals. There the artists were given all their luck packed into one game as they survived multiple scares to make the final.
In that final, they were wracked with injury problems as they faced Manchester United. The Champions of Europe. The side that had eliminated them the previous season. The side containing the Ballon d’Or winner and a monstrous team besides. Yet Barcelona’s belief in their style of play carried them up and over United in an incredible display of passing, pressing and possession.
A Treble is always historic and changes the fortunes for the club that manages it, but a Treble that changes the fortunes of other clubs? That marks a shift in the football paradigm that governs how sides all around the world play for a perid that, as of current writing, is still in effect over 10 years later? That is a uniquely magical achievement and one that ensures Pep Guardiola’s Treble-winning Barcelona side stands above all others.