UEFA Champions League: The 50 Greatest Champions in European Football History

Mikhail TurnerContributor IIIMay 18, 2012

UEFA Champions League: The 50 Greatest Champions in European Football History

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    Europe's Premier club competition has been won by some of the greatest teams to play the game.

    21 different teams from 10 different countries have held up a European Cup/Champions League trophy since it begun in the 1955/56 season.

    This Saturday Bayern Munich and Chelsea will be playing to try and add their names to a list like this. Chelsea will be seeking the club's first title while Bayern Munich will be looking for their fourth.

    This list takes a look at the teams' runs during the competition and how successful they were against their opposition throughout the tournament.

    Here are the 50 greatest champions in European Football history.

Real Madrid 1955-56

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    Let's start with the first winner of the tournament—a Real Madrid side that included the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Francisco Gento.

    Real Madrid suffered two away losses to Partizan Belgrade and Milan but beat both the teams comfortably at home. The two-legged win over Milan was impressive in its own right as the club boasted players like Gunnar Nordahl and Cesare Maldini. 

    In the end, Real Madrid came through and won a high-scoring final, 4-3, against Stade de Reims which signaled the start of years of great European football.

Real Madrid 1957-58

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    Real Madrid rolled through the majority of the competition to make its way to the final in their 1957-58 campaign.

    They suffered one loss to Hungarian side Vasas in their away game in the semifinal, but had already done enough at home to get through.

    The final was a tight affair against an AC Milan team that fought really hard to get to that point in the tournament, but Madrid pulled out a 3-2 win. It was Real Madrid's third straight European Cup victory.

Real Madrid 1958-59

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    This Real Madrid side became the first and only side to win four straight European championships.

    Not many teams stood in their way with Besiktas, Wiener Sport Club and Atletico Madrid all falling before Madrid beat Stade de Reims for the second time in the final to mark their place in history.

Real Madrid 1959-60

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    Winning the inaugural tournament wasn't enough for Real Madrid as the side picked up five titles on the trot with this one in 1960 being the fifth.

    This team was almost perfect throughout the competition and their dominance showed in the number of goals they scored. The addition of Ferenc Puskas and Jose Santamaria to old boys Alfredo Di Stefano and Francisco Gento made certain of the club's dominance.

    Their 7-3 win in the final was over a team that came all the way from the preliminary rounds, but the scoreline emphasizes their greatness.

Benfica 1960-61

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    Benfica's first of two European cup triumphs saw them beat the team that knocked the previous winners, Real Madrid, out of the tournament.

    Benfica went all the way from the preliminary round through to the final and beat teams like Hearts and Rapid Wien along the way.

    The Portuguese club was very solid and that was evident in their 3-2 win over Barcelona in the final.

Benfica 1961-62

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    It's always hard to retain a title, and while Real Madrid made it look easy during the team's five straight championships, that was not the case.

    Benfica had a very tough semifinal against Tottenham during their run to the title and the final wasn't much easier. Real Madrid was back to retain its trophy and Alfredo Di Stefano and his teammates made Eusebio and Co. work hard for their 5-3 victory.

Milan 1962-63

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    Milan finally won its first title in 1963 and beat the former champions Benfica to do so.

    Like the Portuguese club did two years before them, Milan went all the way from the preliminary round through to the final and beat British sides Ipswich Town and Dundee along the way.

    Jose Altafini popped up with two goals to overcome Eusebio's strike and helped Milan to a memorable 2-1 victory.

Inter 1963-64

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    Inter continued Italy's European reign with its first trophy after a long campaign.

    With Sandro Mazzola leading the way, Inter came through a lot of tough matchups such as Everton, Partizan and Dortmund to meet Real Madrid in the final. They did all of that without losing a single game.

    A 3-1 victory over the ever-present European competitors Real Madrid showed just how efficient and dominant this side was.

Inter 1964-65

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    Inter repeated its European Cup triumph with some solid performances all the way through the tournament.

    After dominating Dinamo Bucharest in the first round, Inter took care of Rangers and then Liverpool before getting the better of a very strong Benfica side with a 1-0 win, thanks to a Jair strike.

Real Madrid 1965-66

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    Real Madrid had to come all the way from the preliminary round and beat the defending champions in the semifinal to come up with their sixth title.

    They didn't have much trouble getting through the first few rounds, but had a tight two-legged tie against Inter before going into the final against Partizan. Things didn't get any easier as Madrid had to come from behind to win the final 2-1.

Celtic 1966-67

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    Celtic became the first British side to win the trophy and credit has to be given where it is due.

    They suffered only one loss on their way to the final and were completely in control of virtually all their ties. Considering the fact that this was their first time in the final and that they played against former champions Inter, their final victory was even more impressive.

    Celtic went down early to a Sandro Mazzola strike and that could have been all she wrote, but two late goals exemplified the team's resilience and helped them to a 2-1 victory over the Italians.

Manchester United 1967-68

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    This trophy victory could have come a lot sooner for Manchester United, but it came nonetheless.

    Coming from the back of the success of a fellow British club, George Best and Bobby Charlton led Manchester United through some very tight two-legged ties, including a 4-3 aggregate win over Real Madrid in the semifinal, to meet Benfica for the title.

    This game was only the second one to go to extra time, but that gave George Best a chance to score one of his best goals and help seal the 4-1 win. Having come all the way from the preliminary rounds, United had done very well indeed and this victory went a long way to erasing memories of the "Munich Air disaster."

Milan 1968-69

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    Milan got a little luck in this tournament thanks to some Eastern European countries withdrawing.

    Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that they beat the two previous champions to make it to the final. That then led to a very dominating win 4-1 win over Ajax.

Feyenoord 1969-70

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    Feyenoord faced—and beat—two former champions to gain this title.

    An AC Milan side boasting players like Gianni Rivera and Giovanni Trappatoni was looking to defend its title, but Feyenoord took care of the business at home in the second leg to progress.

    After tight quarterfinal and semifinal encounters, Feyenoord faced a Celtic team three years removed from its own title. The game was as tight as one would expect and Feyenoord had to come from behind to claim a 2-1 victory and the European title.

Ajax 1970-71

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    Ajax continued the Dutch reign with its first of three titles. With Johan Cruyff leading the way, Total Football swept Europe and brought the Amsterdam club its first European title.

    Having been beaten for the title two years prior, Ajax dealt with previous winners and finalists Celtic in the quarterfinal and then Atletico Madrid in the semifinal before dispatching Panathinaikos 2-0 to claim the silverware.

Ajax 1971-72

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    Ajax continued the Dutch dominance in Europe with an almost perfect record in the 1971-72 campaign. Europe still couldn't keep up with Total and Amsterdam side reaped the benefits.

    Benfica provided Ajax with its toughest competition in the tournament, but not many teams managed to ruffle the Dutch team and they did not lose a single game.

    A 2-0 win over Inter in the final showed just how strong the team was.

Bayern Munich 1973-74

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    Bayern Munich didn't make things easy for themselves at the very beginning of the competition as they scraped through on a goal difference over their Swedish opponents.

    The Germans produced a ton of goals throughout the campaign, which is not surprising considering Gerd Muller was in the side. The first time they played the final against Atletico Madrid the game ended in a tie, but in the replay two days later Munich produced one of the most emphatic final victories with a 4-0 scoreline.

    The fact that Munich had to work so hard throughout the tournament and always came up on top ensured their spot on this list.

Bayern Munich 1975-76

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    Bayern Munich's third successive title saw them beat top teams Benfica and Real Madrid in the quarterfinal and semifinal stages.

    Saint Etienne was the opponent in the final and a Franz Roth strike was enough to give the team a 1-0 win.

Liverpool 1976-77

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    Liverpool faced Borussia Monchengladbach in the final of the 1977 European Cup after a very long road. The side notched up six wins en route to the final and were generally comfortable in all their ties.

    A 3-1 win against Borussia Monchengladbach gave Liverpool its first European cup and started a long run of English dominance in the competition.

Nottingham Forest 1978-79

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    Nottingham Forest did not lose a single game in its run to the European final. They knocked off the champions from the previous year in the first round and never looked back.

    They scored 19 goals and conceded seven in nine games. They finished the tournament with a 1-0 win over Malmo FF.

Nottingham Forest 1979-80

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    Nottingham Forest's second straight trophy was almost as good as its first, but the team suffered one loss in its run to the final.

    Forest was generally in control of both those ties against Dinamo Berlin in the quarterfinal and Ajax in the semifinal.

    The team dealt with every other stage of the competition with efficiency and the final against Hamburg—the favourites, despite Forest being the defending champions—produced a 1-0 scoreline and a great victory for the club.

Liverpool 1980-81

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    Liverpool rolled through the majority of the competition but had to deal with a tough semifinal opponent in Bayern Munich.

    The away goals rule helped Liverpool get past the German side and get to another final against a European power. Real Madrid was the opponent in the final and an Alan Kennedy goal gave the Reds a 1-0 victory.

Aston Villa 1981-82

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    Aston Villa pulled of a surprising European run to win the European Cup in the 1981-82 season. Villa's first season in the competition saw them lose only once and beat a tough Anderlecht team in the semifinal.

    They weren't fancied to win against a Bayern Munich side led by Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, but one goal was all the team needed to win its first European trophy.

Hamburg 1982-83

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    With Ernst Happel masterminding things on the sideline, Hamburg became the second straight underdog to win the European Cup.

    Hamburg played some tough teams including Dynamo Berlin and Real Sociedad before meeting a very strong Juventus side in the final.

    Just like Aston Villa, a 1-0 scoreline was all the side needed as they held off a team including Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and Zbigniew Boniek.

Liverpool 1983-84

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    Liverpool was a pretty dominant squad on the way to their fourth European Cup title. The Reds did not lose a single game and on the way to the final they scored 15 goals and conceded two in eight games.

    The final against Roma was a tight affair and Liverpool needed successful penalty kicks from Phil Neal, Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and Alan Kennedy to pick up the trophy.

Steaua Bucharest 1985-86

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    Steaua Bucharest became the first Eastern European team to win a cup and did so as underdogs.

    While their opponents Barcelona had to go past Juventus and make a comeback against Swedish side Gothenburg in the semifinals, Bucharest did not face too much competition until they reached the semifinal against Anderlecht.

    Bucharest won that tie 3-1 but faced a much tougher challenge against the Catalans. Penalties eventually decided the game for the Romanian side with Bucharest keeper Helmut Duckadam saving all four Barcelona efforts.

Porto 1986-87

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    Porto was another underdog to win the competition, but it was much deserved after their semifinal win over Dynamo Kyiv and their performance in the final.

    Bayern Munich were favourites after beating the likes of Real Madrid, Anderlecht and Juventus, but that did not deter the Portuguese team.

    They went down in the first half but continued to press and ended up 2-1 winners over the Germans.

Milan 1988-89

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    This Milan side played some very tough opposition on their way to their title win. They did not lose a single game against the likes of Red Star Belgrade and Werder Bremen and Real Madrid en route to the final.

    They swept aside a Steaua Bucharest team who had won the title two years before with a 4-0 scoreline in the final.

Milan 1989-90

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    AC Milan's second straight trophy and fourth title overall wasn't without a few tough games.

    A straightforward win against Finnish side HJK Helsinki was followed by tightly contested affairs against Real Madrid, KV Mechelen and Bayern Munich with Milan needing extra time in the last two ties to come out on top.

    Benfica provided what opposition it could in the final and a 1-0 result gave Milan the title.

Red Star Belgrade 1990-91

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    Red Star Belgrade was pretty comfortable in the lead up to the final minutes of a very tightly contested semifinal tie against Bayern Munich.

    They did not lose a single game in the tournament and ended up confirming their status as one of the contenders with a trophy.

    While the final did not turn out to be the spectacle that everyone expected, Belgrade outlasted Marseille on penalties to provide the tournament with another Eastern European winner.

Barcelona 1991-92

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    After years of getting beaten at various hurdles of the competition, Barcelona won the last edition of the European Cup in a tight 2-1 final scoreline over Sampdoria.

    They faced a new format and had tough opponents every single step of the way. The second-round winners were divided into two groups of four with the winner of each group advancing to the tournament final.

    After facing German clubs Hansa Rostock and Kaiserslautern in the first two stages, Barcelona had to contend with Sparta Prague, Dynamo Kyiv and Benfica. They went through that group losing only once in six games.

Marseille 1992-93

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    Marseille did not lose a single game when they won the 1992-93 Champions League title. They faced Rangers, Club Brugge and CSKA Moscow in the group stage and came out with three wins and three draws.

    Milan was the opponent in the final and a 1-0 result gave Marseille a deserved victory.

Milan 1993-94

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    Another small format change meant more hoops for this Milan side to go through. They did so with ease and did not lose a single game in the competition.

    The change involved two teams advancing from the group stages meaning two one-legged semifinals were played to confirm the finalists.

    The champions allowed only two goals in 12 games and their 4-0 victory over Barcelona in the final was a good example of their strength that year.

Ajax 1994-1995

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    This tournament brought one more format change that brought the Champions League much closer to the edition we are used to today.

    Ajax passed all tests with flying colors and remained undefeated throughout the competition. Their group included Milan, Casino Salzburg (now Red Bull Salzburg) and AEK Athens. The Swiss team was the only side not to be defeated by Ajax as they held the club to two draws in their encounters.

    Milan never really had a chance in the final after losing 2-0 twice in the group stages but the eventual 1-0 result was a much closer affair and that was to be expected, considering the fact that they defending their title at the last hurdle.

Juventus 1995-96

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    Juventus had to work hard to take the title from Ajax in this campaign. They were solid in the group stages and came away with a record of four wins, one loss and one draw.

    Tough ties against Real Madrid and Nantes came before a final matchup with a very formidable Ajax team which was looking to retain its title.

    Juventus eventually won the game on penalties after a 1-1 scoreline in regulation and extra time.

Borussia Dortmund 1996-97

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    Borussia Dortmund overcame a tough semifinal opponent in Manchester United and their underdog status in the final to pick up the clubs first Champions League trophy.

    Dortmund was second-best in its group by goal difference despite having the highest goals scored statistics in that section of the competition.

    The defending champions Juventus were defeated 3-1 in the final.

Real Madrid 1997-98

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    Real Madrid had to contend with the two previous champions in the knockout rounds to win their seventh title.

    The group stages were straightforward for the Spanish side who gained 13 points out of six games to finish atop of their group.

    Bayer Leverkusen was easily dealt with in the quarterfinal after a 3-0 win at home, and though Borussia Dortmund was not willing to give up its title easily, they went down 2-0 on aggregate.

    Juventus were the opponents in the final and they could not stand in the way of the inevitable, succumbing to Real Madrid 1-0.

Manchester United 1998-99

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    Manchester United started this tournament in the second qualifying round and rolled through the tournament without a single loss while beating some of Europe's best.

    The group stages matched them up with eventual finalists Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Brondby with United finishing second in a very tight group. They advanced as the second-best second-placed team and made the most of their opportunity.

    First Inter and then Juventus were dispatched before a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over Bayern Munich confirmed Manchester United as the champions with possibly one of the toughest run of games in the competition.

Real Madrid 1999-2000

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    Real Madrid faced another format change in the tournament with first group stage being followed by a second one to confirm the participants for the knockout stages.

    Their first group provided a decent challenge with Porto and Olympiacos being the main threats, but the second group with Bayern Munich and Dynamo Kyiv was tough. Madrid and Kyiv were equal on points but the Spanish side went on to the knockout rounds ahead of due to a better head-to-head record.

    Manchester United and Bayern Munich were defeated in the quarterfinal and semifinal before Madrid dealt fellow Spanish side Valencia a 3-0 loss in the final.

Bayern Munich 2000-01

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    Bayern Munich did not make things easy for themselves in the first group stage of this tournament but they never looked back from the second group stage on.

    The Germans had an overall record of 12 wins, three draws and two losses during the tournament and really strutted their stuff in the knockout stages.

    Wins over Manchester United and Real Madrid, the two previous champions, in the quarterfinal and semifinal led to a meeting with Valencia which Munich won on penalties.

Real Madrid 2001-02

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    Real Madrid eased through the first group stage and were even dominant in the second stage, losing only one game out of 12 before reaching the knockout rounds.

    Two-legged ties against Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the quarterfinal and semifinal were tight affairs, but Madrid went through picking up only one more loss before reaching the final.

    Bayer Leverkusen were the opposition, and despite their underdog status, the teams run to the final—which included knockout wins over Liverpool and Manchester United—gave them the confidence to make things difficult for Madrid. A 2-1 scoreline secured the title for Real Madrid in the end.

Milan 2002-03

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    AC Milan had a long route to the trophy with their campaign starting in the qualifying rounds. They ended up in first place in the first group stage as well as the second, beating out Spanish teams Deportivo La Coruna and Real Madrid respectively.

    Ajax and Inter were the team's knockout opponents before the final and Milan dealt with each threat with some solid performances.

    A final against a Juventus side who knocked holders Real Madrid required a lot of effort and Milan eventually won the game on penalties.

Porto 2003-04

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    Both finalists were surprise participants and Porto could have been replaced by Monaco in this list had they won the 2003-04 Champions League.

    Porto was the first champion to deal with the current version of the Champions League and they might have benefited from that and their previous European Cup winning experience in the UEFA Cup the year before.

    The team finished second to Madrid in the group stages and the fun began in the knockout rounds with a 3-2 aggregate win over favourites Manchester United followed by wins over Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna.

    After all that, the final against Monaco seemed a simple affair as Porto brushed aside the French team 3-0 for their second cup victory in the competition.

Liverpool 2004-05

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    Liverpool produced one of the most exciting runs in the tournament and probably the most memorable final to end up as champions.

    They began their journey in the third round of qualifying and moved on to the group stages. The Reds advanced as the second-placed team after dramatically beating Olympiacos in the last game in the group stage.

    Their first knockout tie against Bayer Leverkusen was dealt with easily but ties against Juventus and Chelsea were tight affairs.

    The final pitted Liverpool against Milan and no one could have guessed the game would have played out as it did. Down 3-0 after the first half, Liverpool tied the game and came out winners on penalties.

Barcelona 2005-06

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    Barcelona was almost perfect from start to finish in this Champions League campaign. They recorded five wins and one draw in their group stage and had no losses in the knockout rounds.

    Chelsea, Benfica and Milan all fell to the Catalans before they met Arsenal in the final. A 2-1 victory was the final result as Arsenal did their best to make the game difficult despite going down to 10 men early on.

Milan 2006-07

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    Milan started off this tournament in the third qualifying round and won their group. The team then had to deal with Celtic, Bayern Munich and a very tough matchup against Manchester United in the semifinal.

    A 2-1 result in the final allowed them to exact revenge on Liverpool for their loss two years before.

Manchester United 2007-08

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    Manchester United followed up on Barcelona's undefeated Champions League campaign two years before with a similar record and somewhat similar results.

    The group stage went by without much trouble as the Red Devils recorded five wins and a draw before beating Lyon, Roma and Barcelona on the way to the final.

    Chelsea, a semifinalist in the last two editions, worked hard from start to finish and it wasn't until penalties that Manchester United could claim its third trophy in the competition.

Barcelona 2008-09

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    Barcelona produced some breathtaking football en route to their Champions League title. Results in the previous season meant the squad had to start from the third qualifying round and they rolled their way through the tournament.

    The Catalans finished their group on top and went on to beat Lyon, dismantle Bayern Munich and squeeze past the finalists of the previous year, Chelsea.

    In the final they met a Manchester United team trying to retain its title, but the Blaugrana exhibited all their footballing talents to come away as  2-0 victors.

Inter 2009-10

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    Inter's performances against Chelsea and Barcelona stand out in their third Champions League winning campaign.

    Stuck in a very tough group containing the aforementioned Barcelona as well as Eastern European sides Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kyiv, Inter finished second by two points.

    They really took matters into their own hands in the knockout rounds beating a recent finalist in Chelsea, CSKA Moscow and overcoming the tournament favourites Barcelona after a surprising 3-1 win at home.

    A 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the final topped it all off.

Barcelona 2010-11

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    Barcelona did not achieve the near perfection it did during its last Champions League win, but the team was still pretty dominant throughout.

    There were no losses in the group stage, but Arsenal gave the Catalans a real test in the first knockout round right out of the gate.

    Barcelona lost at the Emirates but came roaring back at the Nou Camp and did not look back, smashing Shaktar Donetsk and controlling a tie against Real Madrid in the semifinal.

    Manchester United could not exact revenge in the final and suffered a 3-1 loss.