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Biggest comebacks in Champions League history: Liverpool endure famous collapse against Real Madrid

By Kyle Bonn,

2023-02-21

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Liverpool have history when it comes to UEFA Champions League comebacks, but even the club's most ardent supporters will likely feel a 2022/23 Round of 16 turnaround is an improbable scenario.

Having roared into a 2-0 lead, the Reds somehow collapsed against Real Madrid in the Round of 16 first leg, leaving them facing a serious uphill battle to progress to the quarter finals .

Manchester City are another English side to have experienced Madrid's proclivity for a dramatic turnaround. It was all going well for at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2022... until, in a blink of an eye, it wasn't. Real Madrid stormed back in front, and Pep Guardiola found himself with yet another Champions League disappointment at the helm of City.

Even the most powerful teams across Europe are capable of finding themselves on the wrong end of a memorable list. Sporting News brings you a look back at the biggest collapses (or comebacks in some cases, depending on your point of view) in Champions League history.

MORE: UEFA Champions League top scorers 2022/23

Biggest collapses in Champions League history

Anfield astonished: Real Madrid put five past Liverpool (2022/23 last 16)

Liverpool have enjoyed some memorable European nights at Anfield in their storied history, but this was one they would sooner forget.

It all seemed to be going so well in their revenge mission against the holders, who beat them 1-0 in the final in Paris in 2022. Darwin Nunez's sublime flicked finish after three minutes and 10 seconds, the fastest Anfield Champions League goal ever for Liverpool, was followed by a Mohamed Salah finish barely 10 minutes later after a dreadful error from Thibaut Courtois.

But there is just something special about Real Madrid in this competition. After Vinicius Junior scored a stunning goal, there was a sense of foreboding around the ground; after Alisson had a pass blocked by Vinicius into his own net, it became a feeling of inevitability.

In the second half, Madrid took total control. Eder Militao headed in a clever Luka Modric free-kick, and Karim Benzema saw a shot deflect off Joe Gomez and leave Alisson helpless. A quick breakaway saw Benzema double his tally in classy style, and Madrid fans were crying 'ole!' with every pass as the game wore on.

It was the first time Liverpool had ever conceded at least four goals at home in European competition, and it showed why Madrid have won this tournament 14 times.

Bernabeu Bedlam: Real Madrid storm back vs. Man City (2021/22 semifinals)

Carlo Ancelotti had willed a flawed Real Madrid side to the semifinals of the Champions League, but it seemed that the magic had finally run out.

The Madrid boss, down 4-3 after the first leg and 5-3 on aggregate after Riyad Mahrez's 73rd-minute goal, made two prayer substitutions, hoping for a miracle. He brought on Rodrygo, replacing midfield engine Toni Kroos, looking to fully embrace the chaotic flair that saw Los Blancos to this stage in the first place.

It worked like a charm. Rodrygo scored in the 90th minute to give Madrid hope, and the substitute struck again two minutes later to stun Man City and send the game to extra time. The second goal was an exquisite header that found the top corner, a thunderous effort.

Then, with the game in extra time on a 5-5 aggregate score and Madrid holding all the momentum, Ruben Dias took down Karim Benzema in the penalty area. The France star bagged an unstoppable penalty to send Madrid through, and the Bernabeu exploded.

Pep Guardiola, who left Barcelona in 2012 after a pair of Champions League triumphs, has not won the competition since. The Catalan has another late collapse to add to the Rolodex instead of another trophy.

Karim Benzema inspires comeback over PSG (2021/22 Round of 16)

Real Madrid just had that magic about them in 2021-22. Prior to the miracle against Man City, there was the Round-of-16 stunner, inspired by Karim Benzema.

A star-studded matchup left many criticizing the mishaps in the Champions League draw, wanting to see these power clubs meet later in the competition.

Through the first leg in Paris, PSG dominated proceedings, putting a lid on Madrid and pummeling the eventual Spanish champions' back line. Still, it took a late Kylian Mbappe goal to see PSG come away with a slim 1-0 victory.

Early in the second leg in Madrid, it was more of the same through the first hour, and another Mbappe goal in the 39th minute seemed to see the Parisians through. Then, Benzema happened.

The striker played like a man possessed in the second half, bagging a stunning hat-trick to see Madrid advance 3-2 on aggregate, scoring his first in the 61st minute and securing his treble just 17 minutes later. By the time PSG knew what was happening, it was far too late, and Madrid were through to the quarterfinals, leaving PSG with yet another collapse to swallow.

PSG shocked by Barcelona (2016/17 Round of 16)

After a 4-0 win in the first leg, it appeared that PSG — led by Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, and Edinson Cavani — were on their way through to the quarter finals, and Lionel Messi would be crashing out of the Champions League with an early exit.

Then, the second leg happened, and the Messi-Neymar-Suarez trio procured one of the most memorable Champions League results in history.

Luis Suarez scored just three minutes in, and a Layvin Kurzawa own goal before halftime gave PSG something to think about, though qualification to the quarters still seemed within reach. A Messi penalty after the break made it 4-3 on aggregate and Barcelona had hope.

But PSG's Edinson Cavani seemingly erased those dreams past the half-hour mark and looked to finally see PSG through, giving the French side a precious away goal. Barcelona would need three more goals in 30 minutes to turn it around.

They somehow found all three in a stoppage-time stunner. Neymar was on hand in the 88th minute to bag the first, and he scored a penalty three minutes later to pull the aggregate score level at 5-5. Then Sergi Roberto's famous winner sent Barcelona through in the 95th minute, and PSG were sent home red-faced.

Liverpool stun Barcelona in 'Miracle of Anfield' en route to title (2018/19 semifinals)

Barcelona were on the winning side of one of the most memorable comebacks the tournament will ever see, but the Spanish giants also found themselves on the receiving end two years later.

After a 3-0 first-leg win at Camp Nou, Barcelona felt clean through to the final. Even Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp felt the weight of the mountain the Reds had to climb.

"Being 3-0 down against a team with Messi, Suarez and all those players looks like a death sentence," Klopp said after the second leg. "We didn't believe we'd win, we just knew we had a chance, and we believed in that chance."

That chance became a reality at Anfield. Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum wrote their names in Liverpool lore with braces for both, including the famous winning goal off Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner that caught Barcelona napping. A 4-0 home victory turned around the aggregate score and sent Liverpool into the final, which the Reds would win to hoist the trophy.

Reigning champions AC Milan thrashed by Deportivo (2003/04 quarterfinals)

After winning the first leg 4-1 at home over Deportivo la Coruna, a loaded AC Milan team that included Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Andriy Shevchenko, and a young Kaka saw the second leg in Spain as simply a formality.

The defending Champions League title-holders were in for a shock. At Estadio Municipal de Riazor, one of the great upsets was brewing. Goals from Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron, and Alberto Luque put Deportivo up 3-0 at halftime, and while the La Liga club already had the away-goals decider, Fran's second-half strike made it 4-0 on the day and 5-4 on aggregate, leaving no doubt.

Carlo Ancelotti may have secured the first of his two Champions League titles in Milan the year prior, but this year's European journey came to an early and unexpected end.

Miracle of Istanbul (2004/05 final)

One of the most memorable nights in Champions League history, Liverpool's comeback win over AC Milan in the final of 2005 was what dreams are made of.

Just a year on from the collapse against Deportivo, Ancelotti's Milan were back in the final. The team was flying, too, up 3-0 at halftime thanks to a first-minute opener from Paolo Maldini and a subsequent brace by Hernan Crespo.

From there, it all fell apart. Steven Gerrard hit back nine minutes after the second-half restart, and Vladimir Smicer had another just two minutes later, pulling Liverpool within one before the hour mark. Xabi Alonso's famous goal in the 60th minute was the equalizer, and while Milan survived through to a penalty shootout, the Reds had all the momentum.

Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko both missed penalties in the ensuing shootout, and the latter's failure was the deciding moment, seeing Liverpool take home the European crown.

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