Chelsea’s Champions League triumph was one of the least likely finales to the tournament in recent memory. Having looked set for an early exit, Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment as interim boss helped an astonishing run of results in Europe’s premier club competition. Needing to overturn a 3-1 deficit against Napoli, Chelsea went on a run that saw them run out 5-4 aggregate victors against the Italians, beat Benfica in Portugal and then send Barcelona crashing out at the Nou Camp. In Munich, only a late Didier Drogba header and an extra time penalty save from Arjen Robben’s tame spot kick was enough to spare Chelsea further European heartbreak. Drogba’s cool penalty to seal the victory was a fitting way to end a magnificent tournament and his own Chelsea career.
APOEL FC became the first Cypriot side to get past the group stages of the Champions League this year, taking four points from Porto in the process as they topped group G. Gustavo Manduca’s goal took APOEL into a shootout with Lyon and finally a dream quarter-final tie against Real Madrid. An 8-2 aggregate defeat in the end showed the gulf in quality between Europe’s elite and the plucky Cypriots, but APOEL’s exploits will be remembered in their homeland for a long time yet.
Lionel Messi was this year’s top scorer with an incredible 14 goals in 10 matches; Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Gomez were the only other players to reach double figures with 10 and 12 goals respectively. Gomez has no doubt done the most to enhance his reputation; despite an uncharacteristic performance in the final his position amongst Europe’s elite strikers is no longer in question (despite this columnist’s scathing comments about him at the start of the season).
Romania’s Oțelul Galați participated in the Champions League for the first time this year, as did Viktoria Plzen and Manchester City.
Ryan Giggs became the oldest goal scorer in Champions League history, aged 37 years 289 days against Benfica.
Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis scored the quickest ever Champions League hat-trick, taking just seven minutes to do so against Dinamo Zagreb in a 7-1 thrashing.
Manchester City were drawn into arguably the toughest group in their debut Champions League appearance. However, the debutants often looked out of their depth against Bayern Munich and Napoli, despite only finishing a point behind the second placed Italian outfit. Though qualification was always going to be a tough ask, considering how much money has been invested into the playing squad progression to the knockout stages was expected prior to the draw. Couple this with the Carlos Tevez debacle in Munich and you have a disappointing debut for City.
Manchester United failed to reach the knockout stages for the first time since the 2005-06 season when they finished dead last in the group stages. The fact that it was Basel who knocked last year’s Premier League champions out only heightens the embarrassment of a hugely disappointing continental campaign. Having finished third in their group, United became one of the hot favourites for the Europa League but were dispatched by eventual finalists Athletic Bilbao.
Though for most teams a semi-final berth would be a great success, for Real Madrid it wasn’t enough. In a year in which Jose Mourinho’s side finally overturned the now departed Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona for the La Liga crown, it was disappointment again for the nine-time winners, who have now gone 10 years without lifting the trophy. Like Manchester City, Real have pumped huge amounts of money into their playing squad over the past few years, but President Florentino Pérez’s demands are much greater. Mourinho will be expected to lead Madrid to the final soon now that he has inked a new deal that will see him stay in Spain through to 2016.
Three teams finished without any points in the group stages this year. Villareal, Oțelul Galați and Dinamo Zagreb were the unfortunate sides. Zagreb had the worst goal difference, -19, having scored just three times and conceding a staggering 22 in just six matches.