Borussia Dortmund – 1996/97
Back in the days where the Champions League was strictly reserved for the literal champions of UEFA’s top twenty-three leagues in their coefficient rankings, Borussia Dortmund romped to their first (and only to date) triumph following a 3-1 win against then-holders Juventus in 1997.
Having ended the 1995/96 Bundesliga campaign six points ahead of Bayern Munich, Dortmund entered the 96/97 Champions League in the group stage, drawn against Polish champions Widzew Łódź, Romanian champions Steaua București and Spanish champions Atletico Madrid. They finished the group in second place and overcame Auxerre and then Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the semi-finals.
The Black and Yellow were heavy outsiders in most football fixed odds ahead of their final against holders Juventus, with the Bianconeri, managed by Marcello Lippi, boasting talents such as Didier Deschamps, Christian Vieri, Alessandro del Piero, Alen Bokšić and Zinedine Zidane. However, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Dortmund side had a number of underrated gems at their disposal; the likes of Micheal Zorc were coming through the ranks, Karl-Heinz Riedle was a star striker in his own right, Stefan Reuter and Jurgen Kohler were ever-presents at the back and exciting foreign imports such as Paul Lambert and Paulo Sousa were examples of how transfers would be conducted by other clubs going forward.
To sprinkle an extra dusting of magic on proceedings, the 1997 Champions League final was hosted in the Olympiastadion in Munich, the home of Dortmund’s Der Klassiker rivals, Bayern Munich in front of a packed out crowd of 59,000. To date, it remains Dortmund’s only European triumph and the key figures behind that fateful run have continued to be immortalised by the club ever since.
Barcelona – 2014/15
The last time Barcelona were really a side to be both admired and feared as definitively the world’s finest football team, Barcelona’s 2014/15 season will forever be remembered as the prime of the legendary ‘MSN’ trio in attack. Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, were all playing with such an infectious amount of joy on the pitch and translated their chemistry into numbers that were freakishly alien. 122 Goals were scored by the trio over the course of the season, with Messi scoring 58, Suarez 25 and Neymar 39 in all competitions.
With the ‘MSN’ trio up top being supported by notable club legends such as Ivan Rakitic, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves, Barcelona became one of only six sides in all of Europe’s top leagues to romp to a treble, dismantling all domestic sides in La Liga and the Copa del Rey, however their finest nights as a unit undoubtedly came in the Champions League.
The ‘MSN’ era is well remembered by most football fans, however the true ins and outs of just how good their Champions League triumph was is ridiculously underrated. As well as topping a group containing APOEL, Ajax and PSG, Barcelona’s European campaign included wins over the champions of England (Manchester City), the champions of France (PSG), the champions of Germany (Bayern Munich) and the champions of Italy (Juventus) in the final.
In terms of beating the best, there’s simply no overstating just how good 2014/15 Barcelona were.
Real Madrid – 2017/18
No side in the history of the Champions League had ever managed to win the tournament back to back before Real Madrid in 2015/16 and 2016/17, so their third triumph in a row in 2017/18 really deserves some recognition as a reminder of Los Galaticos’ dominance in Europe. Their fourth final in five years and quest for a record thirteenth title, the Champions League is the number one goal for any Madrista at the start of a new season but, in 2017/18 especially, it was vital the side triumphed in Europe to cover up what had been a fairly ordinary domestic season.
Whilst Zinedine Zidane’s side would finish far behind the likes of Barcelona (-17 point difference) and Atletico Madrid (-3 point difference) in La Liga and be knocked out of the Copa del Rey in the quarter-finals by Leganes, their European form was as steely and robust as ever.
Real actually concluded their group stage in second place behind Tottenham Hotspur, but ahead of Borussia Dortmund and APOEL. This left them with a much tougher route to the final than their eventual opponents Liverpool, having to take on the French champions PSG, the Italian champions Juventus (who were downed with THAT bicycle kick by Cristiano Ronaldo) and the German champions Bayern Munich.
And whilst the final might be remembered as a disastrous time for Liverpool with the early injury to Mohammed Salah and two howlers from Lorius Karius, it shouldn’t take the shine off Madrid’s campaign on their way to their 13th European triumph. A tale of big characters stepping up at big times, it was every definition of what separates champions from the rest of the pack.
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