THERE’s a jarring familiarity when you watch a Champions League final that pits together two teams from ‘your’ league. They know each other too well, you’ll complain, as they share a mediocre 74% pass completion rate. It’s even stranger when two teams from a different league do it, like you’re intruding on a wedding party for friends of friends.
But look, since the European Cup was expanded to regularly take in multiple sides from the same country, it’s been a semi-regular occurrence. This year’s Champions League will see Manchester City take on Chelsea, an event that would have seemed extraordinary to someone whose memory had stopped in 1988, and it will be the 8th final to pit two teams from the same country together. Is it time to power-rank the previous seven? I think so.
7. Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham 2019
Recency bias maybe, but come on. The two semi-finals of the 2018-19 Champions League were for the ages so perhaps this final was always going to be a disappointment but either way, Liverpool scoring early meant they could sit and contain Tottenham in one of the hottest finals ever played. Klopp’s team ended the game with a possession rate of 35% and a pass completion rate of 64%. And more importantly for them, a sixth European Cup. As it stands, the last final to be played in front a full stadium, both they and those watching on television probably deserved a little bit more.
Jurgen Klopp: "Let's talk about six, baby…"
— Football Tweet (@Football__Tweet) June 2, 2019
6. Milan 0-0 Juventus 2003
A year after failing to reach the Champions League final in his native Glasgow, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United failed to reach the Champions League at Old Trafford, instead allowing culturally cool Serie A duo Milan and Juventus to play out a tactical masterclass at the Theatre of Dreams. Generally, in domestic football Juventus get their own way, but in this competition they invariably don’t, losing more finals than any other club. This one slipped away at the penalty shootout stage, with Paolo Montero the third and final Juve player to miss from the spot. No detailed data exists for this final but folk memories from the time suggest that the 0-0 was deserved and so were the sighs.
5. Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia 2000
Valencia’s commitment in this era to reaching major finals and then just sort of losing pretty easily was demonstrated in this one, with Madrid winning comfortably in the end. Real’s biggest decision was changing back into white to collect the trophy (after wearing black during the game, all black that is, not just the socks) while this game is correctly known in England as “the one where McManaman scored that quite good scissor kick from the edge of the box”. As the first Champions League final between two sides from the same country, this one didn’t have that baggage to overcome and, unless you are a Valencia fan or Hector Cuper, it’s not a bad game to remember, really.
Happy Birthday Steve McManaman
Remember this goal in the 2000 Champions League Final?pic.twitter.com/T42ZUA0R70
— Gary Erazo (@GaryErazo11) February 11, 2019
4. Real Madrid 1-1 Atletico Madrid 2016
A derby so big that it gets two entries into this list. The 2016 game was a repeat of the classic final from two years earlier but not really in the same league, although it did contain Mark Clattenburg starting his Last Big Summer, getting to referee both the Champions League final and the final of the European Championships. Cristiano Ronaldo featured in both, as a largely injured manager figure in the latter, and as the ultimate hero in the former, scoring the fifth Real penalty in the shootout, occupying the strange shadow world of the fifth taker, a position that can be classed as brave and cowardly in equal measure. No matter, he scored, and Real had their 11th title. The combined xG in the game, by the way, was 5.34, and that’s pretty decent for 120 minutes.
3. Bayern 2-1 Borussia Dortmund 2013
Anyone hanging around New Cross on the morning of this final, played at Wembley, would have seen a steady stream of Bayern and Dortmund fans driving to the game and who had almost, but not quite, reached their destination. There were more Bayern fans, it seemed, but the Dortmund cars respected the zebra crossings a bit more. The final was actually pretty engrossing, with Bayern taking the lead through Mario Mandžukić before PL winter 2021 sensation Ilkay Gundogan equalised for Dortmund. It now looks strange to see both Robert Lewandowski in a Bayern game not playing for Bayern, and Robert Lewandowski in a Champions League game not scoring a Champions League goal. Instead it was Arjen Robben sealing the game with a minute to go. Germans winning at Wembley, just as they probably should have 47 years earlier.
2. Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea
This game, in rainy Moscow, went on so long that it passed into the next day. Of course, the lasting image is of John Terry after he missed the shootout spot-kick that would have won the trophy for Chelsea, but it was, as pub quiz ultras know, Nicolas Anelka who was the final Chelsea player to miss. United’s only failure in the shootout was Cristiano Ronaldo, who didn’t take it well (in either sense), but he had given his team an early lead, before Frank Lampard’s equaliser. Maybe one thing that we need from one-nation Champions League finals is a bit of familiarity-aggro, and Didier Drogba’s red card in this one for slapping Nemanja Vidic does give this match a little extra sparkle. What we want from a final is some memorable #scenes and on that basis, the 2008 edition delivered.
John Terry Penalty Miss
2008 Champions League Final pic.twitter.com/4rD5trS7HA
— WOOOOOOO (@Letsavitlad) September 21, 2016
1. Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid 2014
We also want goals in a Champions League final and if most of the one-nation finals have been low scoring, the 2014 game between Real and Atletico was not. Not after 120 minutes anyway. For a long time it looked like a 1-0 win for Atletico was nailed on, and how that would have gone down in the club’s history. But if there’s one supervillain that looms over the modern Champions League then it is Sergio Ramos, and lo, he met a Luka Modric corner in the 93rd minute and equalised, sending the game into extra-time. Ramos’s cruel intervention seemed to break Atletico, and Bale, Marcelo and Ronaldo all scored in the additional 30 minutes, meaning Real were the first team to score four in a final since Milan back in 1994. Atletico’s final xG of 0.52 and pass completion of 66% speaks to their approach. So close, but so far.