The Champions League group stages get underway this week, with four English teams hoping that they can be the one to end Real Madrid’s recent dominance of the competition.
This year’s final will be in Madrid (as if Real need any more help!) but teams hoping to compete for the trophy in May will have to navigate 12 games before then, starting this week with some mouth-watering fixtures including Liverpool vs Paris Saint-Germain and Inter vs Tottenham.
Great stories often have humble beginnings, but some European campaigns start with a bang. Here are the best opening group stage matches played by each of the 10 English clubs to have competed in the Champions League.
10. Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Spartak Moscow (1995/96)
Blackburn only ever competed in the Champions League once and it was exactly as forgettable as this result suggests. Sergei Yuran’s first half goal gave the Russian side the victory in a group where they went on to record maximum points.
Rovers finished bottom of the group, only salvaging some late pride thanks to a 4-1 win over Rosenborg on matchday six.
9. Barcelona 4-0 Leeds United (2000/01)
Leeds’ only season in the Champions League began in ignominious fashion as they were thrashed by Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Goals from Rivaldo and Frank de Boer gave Barca a comfortable half time lead before Patrick Kluivert’s second half brace sealed the emphatic win.
Yet unbelievably, it was Leeds who progressed to the knockout stages at Barcelona’s expense, finishing second in the group behind AC Milan. They also beat Deportivo in the quarter-finals but a semi-final against Valencia proved a step too far.
8. Standard Liege 2-3 Arsenal (2009/10)
When it comes to Arsenal and great European nights, there aren’t many to choose from, but this 3-2 win in Belgium at the start of the 2009/10 campaign epitomised the Gunners at the time: exciting to watch, but far too vulnerable defensively to compete with the very best.
It looked like a routine fixture against a side making their group stage debut but Arsenal endured a nightmare start. Future Premier League flops Eliaquim Mangala and Milan Jovanovic gave Standard Liege a two-goal lead within the first five minutes.
Nicklas Bendtner halved the arrears on the stroke of half time and second half goals from Thomas Vermaelen and Eduardo spared Arsenal’s blushes, but their weaknesses had been cruelly exposed. No wonder Lionel Messi helped himself to four goals against them in the quarter-finals.
7. Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla (2017/18)
Liverpool often don’t click into gear in the Champions League until the knockout stages, resulting in some underwhelming opening matches. This clash last season is probably the pick of the bunch. Liverpool fancied their chances against Sevilla but fell behind within five minutes to Wissam Ben Yedder’s tap-in.
Liverpool quickly turned it around thanks to two men who would make scoring in the Champions League a habit. First Roberto Firmino popped up with a poacher’s finish from Alberto Moreno’s cross, before a massive deflection gave Mohamed Salah his first European goal for the Reds.
Jurgen Klopp’s team wasted chances to wrap the game up and were punished for their profligacy by Angel Correa’s smart finish. A frustrating night at Anfield, but Liverpool had shown the attacking potential that would take them all the way to Kiev.
6. Club Brugge 0-3 Leicester City (2016/17)
After the previous season’s unlikely heroics, the question was whether Leicester could continue their fairytale story in the Champions League. An opening match against Club Brugge gave them a chance, but they could not have dreamed of a night like this.
In just the fourth minute, a long throw into the Belgians’ box caused confusion and the ball dropped to Marc Albrighton, who bundled it into the empty net. The Foxes never looked back and Riyad Mahrez’s sublime free kick made it 2-0 before the half-hour mark.
Mahrez converted a penalty after half time to put the icing on the cake and set Leicester on their way to topping Group G. They would go further than any other English team that season, eventually bowing out in the quarter-finals to Atletico Madrid.
5. Tottenham 3-1 Borussia Dortmund (2017/18)
Plenty of people were writing Tottenham off the second they were paired with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund last season, but this was the perfect way to silence the doubters in the first Champions League match to be played at the new Wembley.
An early strike from Son Heung-min set the tone for a memorable night and although Andriy Yarmolenko curled in a brilliant equaliser, the parity didn’t last long. Harry Kane tussled his way past the Dortmund defence before scoring a carbon copy of Son’s opener.
Kane’s second wrapped it up after the interval as Spurs made a huge statement of intent. Real Madrid also lost by the same scoreline at Wembley later in the group stage, but Juventus ended Tottenham’s ambitions in the last 16.
4. Chelsea 2-2 Juventus (2012/13)
Reigning champions Chelsea looked like they were on a mission to retain their title in the first half of their opening group match against Juventus in 2012. Two goals from Oscar, the second of which was absolutely spectacular, put breathing space between the Blues and their opponents.
But Arturo Vidal caught Chelsea cold to halve the deficit before the break, and Fabio Quagliarella completed the comeback late in the second half.
By the time the two teams met again in Turin, Chelsea had lost to Shakhtar Donetsk and were staring down the barrel of an early exit. Juve’s 3-0 win eliminated the Blues and manager Roberto Di Matteo lost his job just six months after lifting the Champions League trophy.
3. Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City (2012/13)
Manchester City’s Champions League debut the previous season had ended with a group stage exit and a group containing Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax looked like a very difficult assignment on paper.
But City were not daunted by the surroundings of the Santiago Bernabeu on opening night. Edin Dzeko’s composed finish broke the deadlock with 20 minutes remaining, and although Marcelo equalised, Aleksandar Kolorov’s free kick put the English side within touching distance of a famous victory.
Alas, it was not to be. Karim Benzema brought the scores level again just two minutes later before Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-minute shot deceived Joe Hart for the winner. It was all downhill from there for City, who didn’t win any of their six group games.
2. Newcastle United 3-2 Barcelona (1997/98)
Newcastle’s first ever Champions League group game remains one of the most memorable matches in the club’s history, and it is for these sorts of occasions that Magpies fans can only yearn in their current predicament.
The hero of the hour was Tino Asprilla. The Colombian striker won and converted a penalty to break the deadlock midway through the first half, before burying Keith Gillespie’s fantastic cross from point-blank range eight minutes later.
Asprilla looked to have sealed the win with his hat-trick goal just after the restart, although Newcastle were made to sweat by goals from Luis Enrique and Figo. The home side held on for a famous triumph, but that was as good as it got: they finished third in the group and were eliminated.
1. Manchester United 3-3 Barcelona (1998/99)
A Champions League campaign that would end in the craziest fashion also started that way for Manchester United, who shared six goals with Barcelona in one of the best opening matches the competition has ever seen.
Goals from Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes gave United the perfect start in front of an electric atmosphere at Old Trafford. But complacency crept in after half time and Barcelona pulled level thanks to Sonny Anderson’s strike and Giovanni’s controversial penalty.
A trademark David Beckham free kick restored the hosts’ advantage, but Nicky Butt was sent off for handball in the box and Barca were awarded a second penalty, which Luis Enrique converted to leave United hanging on for a point.
Remarkably, United would also draw 3-3 against Barcelona in the reverse fixture as they finished second in the group behind Bayern Munich. The following spring, United and Bayern were reunited in Barcelona for the final, and we all know what happened there.