Ranking Liverpool's Best Champions League Nights at Anfield

Rob LancasterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2017

The Kop has experienced some special nights in Europe during Liverpool's long and illustrious history.
The Kop has experienced some special nights in Europe during Liverpool's long and illustrious history.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Anfield has played host to some special European nights through the years.

Perhaps it's because of the history: Liverpool have been crowned champions of Europe five times, although their fans don't like to talk about it too often.

Maybe it's the ground itself: When the floodlights are on and the Kop is in full voice, the famous old stadium creates a unique atmosphere. Many an opposing side has crumbled under the pressure of playing at Anfield.

It could also be the supporters themselves: Some remember the successes under Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, while others grew up on tales of the famous teams from the past.

On Wednesday, Liverpool return to Europe's top table. For just the second time in seven seasons, they will be involved in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Jurgen Klopp's squad will hope to carve out memories of their own during the course of this season, starting with their Group E opener against Sevilla.

As the current crop get set for action, Bleacher Report looked back at the not-too-distant past to pick out six of the best Anfield nights in the Champions League era.

              

6: 4-2 vs. Arsenal, quarter-final second leg, April 2008

Ryan Babel proved to be Liverpool's hero in a quarter-final classic against Arsenal.
Ryan Babel proved to be Liverpool's hero in a quarter-final classic against Arsenal.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Unlike previous knockout contests against domestic rivals Chelsea (more on those to come), the second leg of Liverpool's quarter-final against Arsenal wasn't so much a tense arm wrestle as an all-out slugfest between two Premier League foes.

After a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium in the opening legthe first of three games between the two clubs in the space of six daysLiverpool and Arsenal produced a duel for the ages on Merseyside.

The Gunners came out firing from the off and took the lead when Abou Diaby—making a rare appearance between injuries—sent a shot through goalkeeper Pepe Reina in the 13th minute.

Liverpool were thrown by the early onslaught, yet they landed a crucial counter when Sami Hyypia headed home a free-kick, levelling not only the score on the night but also the tie on aggregate.

Fernando Torres tilted the balance in the home side's favour with a rapid turn and an even quicker shot, only for Arsenal to land what looked to potentially be the knockout blow in the 84th minute. After a sensational, slaloming run by substitute Theo WalcottEmmanuel Adebayor tapped home from close range.

Yet Rafael Benitez's boys refused to be counted out in their own ring.

Ryan Babel won a penalty that Steven Gerrard converted and Liverpool's progress to the last four—and yet another meeting with Chelsea—was sealed when the Dutchman scored in front of a delirious Kop.

"There are the good Anfield European nights, there are the great ones and then, like this one, there are those remarkable occasions which fall into a different category altogether," Sam Wallace wrote in the Independent, as Liverpool lived to fight another day in the competition.

              

5: 2-0 vs. AS Roma, second group stage, March 2002 

Gerard Houllier made an emotional return to the bench for the clash with AS Roma.
Gerard Houllier made an emotional return to the bench for the clash with AS Roma.Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

The equation was simple for Liverpool when they hosted AS Roma; win by two clear goals and they would progress beyond the second group stage and into the knockout rounds.

The occasion, however, was about more than any result. The great Bill Shankly once raised eyebrows when he suggested football was "much more important" than life or death. For Gerard Houllier, he nearly lost his while watching the game he loved.

The Frenchman had fallen ill midway through a Premier League fixture against Leeds United in October 2001. Rushed to hospital, he underwent emergency heart surgery to repair an aortic dissection. 

There was uncertainty at first over whether Houllier would be able to manage again. Eventually, though, he was given the all-clear, with the crucial clash against the Italian champions his first game back at work.

The Anfield crowd roared at the first sight of the returning manager. Even Roma boss Fabio Capello became wrapped up in the emotion of the moment, offering his opposite number a hug before kick-off.

Houllier's players responded on the field, too. Jari Litmanen slotted home a sixth-minute penalty to ease the nerves before Emile Heskey claimed the crucial second goal after the break, with the forward nodding home from Danny Murphy's free-kick.

"This was one of the greatest nights in this football club's history," assistant manager Phil Thompson, an ex-Liverpool player who won leagues and European Cups in a glittering career, said after the game, per Michael Walker of the Guardian.

It was special, for sure. With Houllier watching on, Liverpool booked their place in the quarter-finals.

                 

4: 1-0 vs. Chelsea, semi-final second leg, May 2007

Liverpool players celebrate after winning a penalty shootout against Chelsea.
Liverpool players celebrate after winning a penalty shootout against Chelsea.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For the second time in three seasons, Liverpool and Chelsea clashed in the last four. Just like their 2005 meeting, the semi-final lacked goals but was still packed with drama.

The Blues were back at the scene of one of their most disappointing moments of Jose Mourinho's first spell in charge. Unlike two years earlier, however, they had a one-goal lead to protect heading to Merseyside.

That advantage lasted just 22 minutes, though, as a clever free-kick routine allowed Liverpool to draw level on aggregate.

As defenders and attackers waited for Gerrard to deliver a cross into the middle, the Reds captain instead slipped a square pass to the unmarked Daniel Agger, who swept home a left-footed shot.

The English heavyweights fought each other to a standstill for the remainder of a contest that carried on into extra time. Dirk Kuyt came the closest to scoring a second for the hosts, hitting the bar with a header.

In the end, penalties were needed to find out who would progress to the final. Liverpool secured shootout glory at the Anfield Road end, with Kuyt slotting home the winning kick to seal a 4-1 triumph and send his team to Athens (where they would lose a rematch with AC Milan).

"The first time round was special but to do it again after being a goal down to a magnificent team like Chelsea is unbelievable," Gerrard said in his post-match interview, per BBC Sport. "Together we achieved it.

"The atmosphere helped, the manager's tactics, everything was spot on. But we crossed the line and we stuck together."  

                 

3: 4-0 vs. Real Madrid, first knockout stage, March 2009

Steven Gerrard starred when the Reds put Real Madrid to the sword in 2009.
Steven Gerrard starred when the Reds put Real Madrid to the sword in 2009.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

It's not every Champions League matchday that you see your team put a European powerhouse to the sword.

In March 2009, the Reds ran riot against a Real Madrid team containing Sergio Ramos, Fabio Cannavaro, Raul, Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuain. Were it not for goalkeeper Iker Casillas' heroics, the Spanish side would have conceded six, seven, maybe even eight.

Having stifled their opponents in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benitez let his hungry tigers loose in more familiar surroundings. Madrid's collection of ageing superstars didn't stand a chance.

Holding a one-goal advantage thanks to Yossi Benayoun's late header, Liverpool set about their opponents from the first whistle at Anfield.

Kuyt and Torres pressurised Pepe into a mistake that led to Liverpool's first, with the former squaring across for the latter to poke home and finally get the ball beyond compatriot Casillas.

Gabriel Heinze's debatable handball allowed Gerrard to double Liverpool's lead from the spot before half-time, and the captain added a third after the break when he met Babel's centre with a controlled half-volley finish.

When Javier Mascherano's low cross from the right allowed Andrea Dossena, of all people, to slot home a fourth just before the final whistle, Liverpool fans were forgiven for thinking it was all a dream.

Kevin McCarra wrote in the Guardian: "Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to the World Cup and was world player of the year in 2006, had to be taken off for his own good. Ramos switched to a 3-4-3 system thereafter, but he would have needed to sneak [a] batch of additional footballers on to the field if Liverpool were to be made uncomfortable."

2: 3-1 vs. Olympiakos, group stage, December 2004

Gerrard wheels away to celebrate his dramatic winner against Olympiakos.
Gerrard wheels away to celebrate his dramatic winner against Olympiakos.PAUL BARKER/Getty Images

Liverpool so nearly suffered a Greek tragedy in the 2004/05 Champions League campaign. Were it not for a famous swing of Gerrard's right boot, the miracle of Istanbul would never have happened.

Rivaldo's free-kick had Olympiakos 1-0 ahead at half-time. The Reds required three goals in the remaining 45 minutes to make sure they, and not their opponents, qualified behind AS Monaco in Group B.

Substitute Florent Sinama Pongolle offered a ray of hope with a goal soon after the break, yet Liverpool entered the final 10 minutes of the match still needing two more to go through.

Neil Mellor poked home from close range in the 81st minute and suddenly Anfield believed again. The scorer of the second had a hand in the crucial third five minutes later, albeit Gerrard had much to do when he ran on to his team-mate's layoff.

The captain took aim and fired. The Kop drew breath, perhaps helping suck the ball towards the goal, and watched as Gerrard's blistering drive beat goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis to nestle in the net.

It's fair to say television commentator Andy Gray enjoyed the moment:

"That Olympiakos game was about a special player in Steven Gerrard and the power of the fans. It's the kind of game that reminds you what a difference they can make," Paul from Redmen TV told Greg Stobart of Goal on the 10-year anniversary of the game.

Stuck in a hole, Liverpool turned to their leader to dig them out. Not for the first time, he put the team on his back to rescue them in a seemingly desperate situation.

                

1: 1-0 vs. Chelsea, semi-final second leg, May 2005 

Did it cross the line? Luis Garcia's goal stood in the second leg against Chelsea in 2005.
Did it cross the line? Luis Garcia's goal stood in the second leg against Chelsea in 2005.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Of course Luis Garcia's famous "Ghost Goal" was going to feature high on this list.

After overcoming Olympiakos in dramatic fashion, Liverpool crushed Bayer Leverkusen and then edged out Juventus to reach the last four of Europe's top club competition for the first time in 20 years.

Standing in their way were Chelsea, with Mourinho's newly crowned Premier League champions having already beaten the Reds in the final of the League Cup earlier in the season.

The first leg, staged at Stamford Bridge, finished in a 0-0 draw, but it took just four minutes for the deadlock to be broken in the return fixture.

As those watching waited for referee Lubos Michel to award a penalty after Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech appeared to take out Milan Baros, Garcia nipped in to poke the loose ball towards the net.

Despite William Gallas' best attempts to clear off the line, the goal was awarded. Did it cross the line? Frankly, who cares.

Chelsea never recovered from the early setback. Eidur Gudjohnsen fluffed a late opportunity as the west London club were beaten by a debatable strike that will forever be Garcia's lasting legacy on Merseyside.

"The linesman scored the goal. No-one knows if that shot went over the line and you must be 100 per cent," Mourinho said, per BBC Sport. "But they are in the final and from my heart I hope they win it. The night belongs to them and I don't want to criticise them."