The incredible drama of the 2019 Champions League knock-outs

By Sports Desk May 07, 2020

The Champions League delivered drama in droves last season.

With the 2019-20 competition on hold for now, it is the perfect opportunity to remember just how crazy Europe's premier competition became 12 months ago.

In a run of games from early March to early May, the Champions League churned out a succession of classic contests that will live long in the memory.

Here we look back at three months where Europe's grown-up football tournament started behaving like a devil-may-care teenager and was all the better for it.

March 5, 2019: Real Madrid 1 Ajax 4 (3-5 agg)

Ajax's team of fearless young stars produced one of the great Champions League campaigns.

Despite their impressive display in a 2-1 first-leg defeat, nobody really seemed to think Erik ten Hag's side could turn things around in the last 16 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Sergio Ramos certainly did not – he earned a booking to avoid the risk of a quarter-final ban, earning an extra game suspension from UEFA in the process.

In the absence of their captain, Madrid completely capitulated to their fearless and thrilling opponents.

Hakim Ziyech and David Neres put the visitors 2-0 up after only 18 minutes and it was 3-0 just after the hour mark thanks to the inspired Dusan Tadic.

Marco Asensio got a goal back, but Lasse Schone's free-kick beat Thibaut Courtois and sent Madrid crashing out. It was the first time they had ever been knocked out after winning the first leg of a Champions League tie.

March 6, 2019: Paris Saint-Germain 1 Manchester United 3 (3-3 agg, United won on away goals)

A day on from Ajax's thrashing of Madrid, Manchester United made history at the Parc des Princes.

No side had ever won a knockout tie after trailing 2-0 from a first leg at home and with 10 senior players missing, including the banned Paul Pogba, United's chances looked slim.

Romelu Lukaku scored just two minutes in, though, and despite Juan Bernat's equaliser on the night, Lukaku struck again after a Gianluigi Buffon error to make it 2-1.

As the game crept towards second-half injury time, Diogo Dalot's shot struck Presnel Kimpembe's arm and the referee awarded a penalty after a lengthy VAR review. Marcus Rashford scored it, United progressed, and the clamour for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be given the permanent manager's job grew louder.

April 17, 2019: Manchester City 4 Tottenham 3 (4-4 agg, Spurs win on away goals)

Tottenham scored through Son Heung-min in a tense, frenetic first leg. Crucially, as it turned out, City did not. They were not about to make the same mistake as Raheem Sterling thrashed an early opener past Hugo Lloris at the Eithad Stadium.

Son responded with two superb finishes of his own, leaving Pep Guardiola's side with a mountain to climb. They duly began to scale it. Bernardo Silva scored, Sterling scored again. There had only been 21 minutes played.

Something faintly resembling a normal football match broke out and Sergio Aguero finished emphatically to give City the lead in the tie for the first time in the 59th minute.

In a sight Ajax are now familiar with, Spurs looked spent until Fernando Llorente bundled them back into the lead on away goals. That advantage ultimately remained, but only after Sterling thought he had completed his hat-trick. Bedlam ensued until VAR showed Aguero was fractionally offside during the build-up.

May 7, 2019: Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0 (4-3 agg)

Fresh from netting a late winner at Newcastle United the weekend before, Divock Origi allowed the Liverpool faithful to dream by poaching his maiden Champions League goal in the seventh minute. Still, overturning the 3-0 advantage Barca had brought to Merseyside looked a tall order.

Jurgen Klopp needed Alisson to be on form as he saved from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, before another unlikely hero emerged.

Andy Robertson's injury forced James Milner to left-back and Georginio Wijnaldum into the fray at half-time. By the hour, the Dutch midfielder had Liverpool level thanks to two goals in 122 delirious seconds.

Origi had the final word thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold's quick thinking from a 79th-minute corner, leaving Barcelona and Messi crestfallen.

May 8, Ajax 2 Tottenham 3 (3-3 agg, Spurs win on away goals)

As they did at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Ajax made a smooth start and led through their inspirational captain Matthijs de Ligt in the fifth minute.

Ziyech emphatically made it 2-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate, but Lucas changed the complexion of the contest as he was supported by Dele Alli's intelligent running from midfield and Llorente's robust accompaniment in attack.

Ziyech hit the post and Spurs centre-back Jan Vertonghen hit the bar. Amsterdam held its breath and Lucas proved to be the coolest man in the stadium in the 96th minute, sending his side through to face Liverpool in Madrid, where the Reds ultimately prevailed.

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    8 – Only Robert Lewandowski (10) scored more group-stage goals last season than Erling Haaland (eight). Haaland averages a goal or assist every 50 minutes in the competition.

     

    RB Leipzig v Istanbul Basaksehir:

    6 – Istanbul Basaksehir are the sixth Turkish team to play in the Champions League. Only one of the previous five won their first match – that was Trabzonspor, who beat Inter 1-0 away in September 2011.

    14 – RB Leipzig's Hwang Hee-chan created the most chances in open play in the Champions League group stage in 2019-20 (14) when he played for RB Salzburg. He was directly involved in six goals in his six group-stage appearances (three goals, three assists) and was one of two players to both score and assist three goals in the group stage, along with Kylian Mbappe.

     

    Rennes v Krasnodar:

    2 – Rennes have lost just twice at home in major European games, winning five and drawing seven of those 14 matches, all of which were in the UEFA Cup/Europa League between November 2007 and December last year.

    36 – Krasnodar boss Murad Musayev is 36 years and 345 days old, the second-youngest coach in this season's competition (behind Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann, 33). He could become the fifth-youngest to win his first game and the youngest since Andre Villas-Boas in September 2011.

     

    Zenit v Club Brugge:

    11 – Artem Dzyuba has been directly involved in 11 goals in his 12 Champions League group-stage matches with Zenit (eight goals, three assists). That run includes goals in both games against Belgian side Gent in 2015-16.

    19 – Of the 51 teams to have featured in at least 40 Champions League matches, only Steaua Bucharest (9.5 per cent), Dinamo Zagreb (11.9 per cent) and Anderlecht (16.7 per cent) have a lower win percentage than Club Brugge (19 per cent). They have won just eight of 42 matches.

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