Football Features

Hit or miss? Every player from Stoke City’s 2017/18 squad to feature in a Champions League semi-final

By J Smith

Stoke City players in Champions League semi-finals: Hit or miss?

Published: 12:25, 17 August 2020

It will come as no surprise to you that Stoke City have never competed in the Champions League. 

Sure, the Potters made two appearances in the Uefa Cup back in the 1970s — going out in the first round against Kaiserslautern and Ajax — while they even went all the way to the round-of-32 in the 2011/12 Europa League before being knocked out by Spanish giants Valencia.

However, Stoke have never been the most attractive club to outsiders and have often struggled to assemble a squad strong enough to stay in the top flight, let alone reach Europe’s top table. That said, it hasn’t stopped the club recruiting a number of players well-versed in big European ties.

As highlighted by Richard Jolly, with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting firing PSG beyond Atalanta to reach this season’s final four, the Potters’ relegated squad of 2017/18 is set to boast eight players who have featured in Champions League semi-finals. Crazy, right?

So, how did they get on in their big continental clashes? Let’s take a look….

2005: Glen Johnson

Played for: Chelsea (vs Liverpool)

Did they reach the final? No

Glen Johnson was a fresh-faced 20-year-old when he was tasked by Jose Mourinho to keep Liverpool’s left flank quiet during the first leg of the 2004/05 semi-final and, on the whole, he did a good job having been given the nod over Geremi in the absence of Paulo Ferreira. A tepid 0-0 played out in the first leg but with Johnson on the bench in the second leg, Chelsea fell to a famous 1-0 defeat in the return at Anfield, thanks to an infamous Luis Garcia goal which did (or didn’t) sneak over the line.

Johnson never did hold a starting place down at Stamford Bridge and went on to represent Portsmouth, Liverpool and, of course, Stoke over a club career spanning 459 games, while he was capped 54 times by England, too.

2007: Peter Crouch

Played for: Liverpool (vs Chelsea)

Did they reach the final? Yes

Another year, another Liverpool vs Chelsea Champions League semi-final, and another player to have represented Stoke thrown into the mix. This time, it was Peter Crouch leading the line for Liverpool, who managed to cancel out Chelsea’s 1-0 win from the first leg to take the game to extra time and penalties thanks to a Daniel Agger rocket.

Crouch didn’t take a spot-kick himself during the 4-1 win for the Reds, but did come very close to scoring just after the break to avoid that situation altogether, being denied from close range by Petr Cech.

The giant striker lasted just one more season at Anfield before winning the FA Cup in a one-season spell with Stoke, then going on to play for Tottenham, Stoke (the longest single-club stay of his career, spanning seven-and-a-half seasons) and Burnley before retiring in 2019.

2008: Darren Fletcher

Played for: Manchester United (vs Barcelona)

Did they reach the final? Yes

Having missed out on the first leg at the Nou Camp — a 0-0 draw — Darren Fletcher came off the bench late on to replace goalscoring hero Paul Scholes in a 1-0 second-leg win for Man Utd over Barcelona in 2008. Scholes had thundered home from long range in the 14th minute but from then on, it was a wave of Blaugrana pressure and the introduction of Fletcher was clearly an effort from Sir Alex Ferguson to stem the tide.

The Scottish midfielder didn’t get off the bench in the final win over Chelsea but, as you’ll find out, Fletcher became something of an expert when it comes to Champions League semi-finals.

2009: Darren Fletcher

Played for: Manchester United (vs Arsenal)

Did they reach the final? Yes

Man Utd once again reached the semi-finals in 2009, this time facing Arsenal, and whereas previously, Fletcher had managed just 13 minutes across two legs, this time he started both.

Fletcher helped Man Utd run the show in midfield during the first leg at Old Trafford as the Red Devils grabbed a 1-0 win — although it could have been much more. In the second leg, however, things didn’t quite go to plan as, despite United winning 3-1 at the Emirates to book a final against Barcelona, Fletcher was sent off for bringing down Cesc Fabregas as the Spanish midfielder raced in on goal in the 77th minute, although replays showed the Scottish midfield did, in fact, get a touch on the ball.

Fletcher was cruelly ruled out of the final, which Man Utd lost 2-0, and joined Dani Alves and Eric Abidal — who missed out for Barca — as the first players suspended for a Champions League final since Pavel Nedved for Juventus in 2003.

2010: Bojan

Played for: Barcelona (vs Inter)

Did they reach the final? No

Like Fletcher, Barcelona were Champions League semi-final regulars around this period and 2010 saw Pep Guardiola’s men take on Inter Milan — managed by the Catalan’s soon-to-be nemesis, Jose Mourinho.

Having sat out the first-leg 3-1 defeat at the San Siro, Bojan — a highly-rated young tyro at the time — was introduced from the bench in place of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Guardiola desperately tried to find the two goals his side needed to advance to the final.

The Spaniard missed a great chance to pull one of those goals back when he headed wide from close range shortly after going on but his real heartbreak was yet to come. After Gerard Pique had grabbed an 84th-minute goal to set up a grandstand finish, Bojan thought he had found the late heroics required to send the Blaugrana through, breaking free inside the Inter box during second-half stoppage time and lashing into the roof of the net. The delirium in the stands soon turned to despair, though, as the referee whistled for an apparent and very contentious handball in the build-up by Yaya Toure.

Barca were robbed and after just one more season, Bojan found himself on a whistle-stop tour of European clubs, including Roma, AC Milan, Ajax and Stoke, while he now turns out in MLS for Montreal Impact.

2011: Darren Fletcher

Played for: Manchester United (vs FC Schalke)

Did they reach the final? Yes

Man Utd were back in yet another Champions League semi-final in 2011 — their most recent one to-date — this time up against Bundesliga side Schalke 04.

Where Barcelona had made the Red Devils work and Arsenal had proved a pest in previous semi-finals, Schalke were a much more negotiable task, with United running out 6-1 aggregate winners to set up another final with the Blaugrana.

Fletcher missed the first leg in Gelsenkirchen due to illness but was afforded a cameo from the bench during the second leg at Old Trafford, coming on in the 73rd minute to replace Scholes — who was on a yellow card — when Ferguson’s side were already 5-1 up on aggregate. Did you know Anderson scored two goals in four minutes during the second leg? This just keeps getting weirder!

Anyway, Fletcher once again never made it off the bench in the final, which Barcelona won 3-1 and spent most of the 90 minutes making United chase their own tails. The Scotsman spent another four seasons at Old Trafford but was limited to no more than 18 appearances in a single campaign due to fitness concerns. He wound down his career with spells at West Brom and Stoke.

2011: Ibrahim Afellay

Played for: Barcelona (vs Real Madrid)

Did they reach the final? Yes

Man Utd might have faced Real Madrid and won in that final if not for the efforts of another future Stoke player in the other semi-final, Ibrahim Afellay, lining up for Barcelona.

In an ill-tempered first-leg tie at the Bernabeu, Lionel Messi fired Barca into a 1-0 lead over their fierce rivals in the 76th minute but shortly after, substitute Afellay broke away down the right flank and delivered a wonderful ball to set-up Messi for a second, all but ending the tie there and then.

Despite his efforts, Afellay only came off the bench during second-half stoppage time during the second leg and final, touching the ball a grand total of two times across both matches.

He was loaned out to Schalke and Olympiacos before moving permanently to the Potters and, now, PSV where he started his career.

2013: Xherdan Shaqiri

Played for: Bayern Munich (vs Barcelona)

Did they reach the final? Yes

With Bayern Munich already 4-0 up against Barcelona — quite a timid scoreline between these two as we recently found out — a then young, up-and-coming Xherdan Shaqiri was introduced from the bench in place of Franck Ribery in the 89th minute of the 2013 semi-final first leg but didn’t take the field during the return leg, which the Bavarians won 3-0 to seal a historic 7-0 aggregate victory.

Shaqiri was also an unused substitute during the final win over Borussia Dortmund — something which became a common theme during his spells with Bayern and Inter Milan, although this isn’t the last we will hear of him.

2015: Jese Rodriguez

Played for: Real Madrid (vs Juventus)

Did they reach the final? No

Up there with the weirdest signings in Stoke history, Jese Rodriguez really should have done more with the Potters given that he had experience in two Champions League semi-finals with Real Madrid upon joining, the first of which came against Juventus in 2015.

However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the Spaniard was given just four minutes on the pitch in the first leg by Carlo Ancelotti, touching the ball three times, while he didn’t even get on the pitch in the second despite Los Blancos desperately chasing a goal.

2016: Jese Rodriguez

Played for: Real Madrid (vs Manchester City)

Did they reach the final? Yes

No matter, Jese was back just a year later — this time under Zinedine Zidane — and after replacing Karim Benzema in the 46th-minute of their semi-final first-leg tie against Manchester City at the Etihad, headed against the crossbar in the final 20 minutes.

A Cristiano Ronaldo-less Madrid managed to steal a 0-0 draw from Manuel Pellegrini’s men, setting them up nicely for the return leg at the Bernabeu, which Los Blancos won thanks to a Fernando own goal.

Jese started that match in the absence of Benzema but was hooked early into the second half having been largely anonymous, with Lucas Vazquez coming on in his place. Jese has since played for PSG and had loan spells with Stoke, Las Palmas, Besiktas and Sporting CP, scoring just nine goals in 80 appearances combined.

2019: Xherdan Shaqiri

Played for: Liverpool (vs Barcelona)

Did they reach the final? Yes

After six years and spells with Inter and Stoke — quite the contrast — Shaqiri was back in a Champions League semi-final, this time with Liverpool. Honestly, this guy’s career path!

Having sat out the Reds’ first-leg 3-0 defeat to Barcelona, Shaqiri started on the right for Jurgen Klopp’s men at Anfield in what was one of the most historic nights the Champions League has ever seen.

Liverpool pulled off a remarkable 4-0 win to reach the final, with Georginio Wijnaldum scoring twice in-between strikes from unlikely hero, Divock Origi. Shaqiri provided the cross for Wijnaldum’s second and was a constant menace down the flanks for the Reds before being replaced in the 90th minute by Daniel Sturridge.

Shaqiri did not make it off the bench during the 2-0 final win over Tottenham and, indeed, struggled for playing time throughout the 2019/20 campaign. However, he is still held in high regard by Liverpool fans for some crucial contributions in big games, such as this semi-final and a goal in a 5-2 win over Merseyside rivals Everton.

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