Ranking Chelsea's Best Champions League Nights at Stamford Bridge

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2017

Ranking Chelsea's Best Champions League Nights at Stamford Bridge

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    Champions League football is back at Stamford Bridge this week. So what better way to celebrate Chelsea's return to elite European club football than looking back at some of their best moments in the competition?

    And there have been plenty under the lights in west London. Ever since the Blues' first campaign as a Champions League club, there has been something special about welcoming the biggest and best teams from the continent to their home ground.

    In 1999/2000—their inaugural Champions League campaign—Chelsea entertained the likes of AC Milan, Barcelona, Marseille and Feyenoord. That gave the club a taste, but they had to wait until 2003 before they could sample such delights again when Claudio Ranieri took them back into the competition.

    Chelsea remained a Champions League mainstay until last season when they endured a one-year hiatus as further punishment for a poor showing in 2015/16.

    But now Chelsea are back, licking their lips as the club relish another assault on Europe's finest.

    The question now is how far can Antonio Conte's men go to emulating some of the best moments from the past? They'll have their work cut out to make it into our top five Champions League nights at Stamford Bridge, though.

    Here's our ranking.

5. Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona, April 18, 2012

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    Few clubs relish facing Barcelona in Europe. For Chelsea, if anything, it's the opposite.

    In the past decade, the Blues have gone toe-to-toe with Barca and often come out on top. Even when the Catalan giants were at their best, Chelsea somehow found a way past them.

    It happened most recently in 2012 in the semi-finals, thanks to Didier Drogba and a performance of defensive expertise.

    It was the sixth time the clubs had faced each other in the Champions League—the second in a semi-final. In a tense night of drama, Drogba's header proved the difference to give Chelsea a slight advantage heading into the second leg at the Camp Nou.

    Defeating Barcelona in the manner they did just added to the whole underdog narrative of the Blues' campaign that year. Too often they had been written off, but time and again they defied popular opinion to upset the odds.

    Barcelona were reigning European champions, yet it mattered little. Chelsea and Drogba were on a mission, and the Catalans suffered for it.

    The 1-0 scoreline set Chelsea up for one of the most memorable nights in their history, as they sealed a breathtaking 2-2 draw in Spain and booked their place in the final against Bayern Munich.

    Drogba did the rest from there.

4. Chelsea 4-1 Napoli, March 14, 2012

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    Before Chelsea could deny Barcelona a place in the 2012 Champions League final, they had to come back from the brink against Napoli.

    If they were written off before that semi-final with Barca, the Blues were deemed dead and buried when they entertained Napoli in the second leg of their last-16 tie.

    Chelsea had been in turmoil, losing 3-1 in Italy. It was a demoralising defeat—a game that saw Andre Villas-Boas' brief reign as manager completely unravel before our eyes.

    The Blues were shambolic, and the death knell rang out for a generation of players who had come so close on many occasions before but had had European glory snatched from their grasp.

    Perhaps it was all that heartache that saw Chelsea do the unthinkable? Maybe it was some divine intervention? Whatever it was, Chelsea's stars rolled back the years to deliver a performance that was defined by nothing other than sheer guts to take the game into extra-time.

    All the big names turned up. Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard had scored the goals to make it 3-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate, reminding the world that there was life in this side still.

    Villas-Boas had attempted to phase that trio out in his grand plan for Chelsea's future, but they were put back in the lineup under new boss Roberto Di Matteo and repaid the faith shown in them.

    On the stroke of the break in extra-time, Branislav Ivanovic powered home the winner in front of the Shed End to send Stamford Bridge delirious.

    Somehow Chelsea had got out of jail and there would be no stopping them en route to lifting the ultimate prize.

3. Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool, April 30, 2008

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    This was football at its cathartic best.

    Chelsea's Champions League battles with Liverpool have defined the modern rivalry between the clubs. A traditional power, the Reds saw it as their duty to deny Chelsea, who had muscled their way into Europe's elite with the influence of Roman Abramovich's vast fortune.

    And they had done a good enough job at that. In 2005 and 2007, Liverpool had defeated Chelsea in two Champions League semi-finals. But when they met for a third time at the same stage in 2008, the Blues made it a case of third time lucky.

    With all that recent history heading into the game, there was little need to hype the tie any more than it already was. But after a 1-1 draw at Anfield in the first leg, Lampard had to tackle personal tragedy when his mum passed away just days before the teams would step out at Stamford Bridge.

    Few expected Lampard to figure in Avram Grant's side, but sure enough, Chelsea's No. 8 was on the teamsheet. And with the game going into extra-time with the score at 1-1, Lampard's moment to put Chelsea back in control arrived when Michael Ballack was hacked down by Sami Hyypia and won a penalty.

    Stamford Bridge fell silent for the briefest of moments as the capacity crowd questioned whether or not Lampard would step up to take the spot kick. But he couldn't turn his back on the responsibility, grabbing the ball without hesitation to place it on the spot.

    Almost a decade on, Lampard's legs look heavy as he runs up; we understand the thought process, the fine line between success and failure.

    He sent Pepe Reina the wrong way before running to the corner flag, kissing the armband he was wearing in his mum's memory. Those inside the Bridge celebrated with him.

    With Drogba scoring his second goal of the night—Chelsea's third—seven minutes later, the tie was Chelsea's. For the first time in their history, the Blues were in a Champions League final.

2. Chelsea 3-1 Barcelona, April 4, 2000

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    Remember we said that Chelsea relished Champions League ties with Barcelona? Well, even before the Blues could be considered a European giant, they laid down a marker against the Catalans.

    Few expected much from the Blues in their debut Champions League campaign in 1999/2000. Progress from their first group would've been good enough, but they defied the odds to make it to the quarter-finals.

    Getting that far would prove to be the end of the road, but boy did Chelsea go out in some style.

    With a side boasting a young Xavi, Patrick Kluivert, Luis Figo and Rivaldo, Barca were no match at Stamford Bridge for a Chelsea playing on pure adrenaline. Goals from Gianfranco Zola and Tore Andre Flo (two) in just eight first-half minutes blew the Spanish giants away in a 3-0 victory.

    Chelsea were good value for it, too. They had Barca shell-shocked, putting them on the ropes as, blow by blow, the Blues raced at them. It was mesmerising, "beyond belief" stuff from a side that had never punched this high in close to 100 years.

    Chelsea came crashing back down to earth in the second leg, however. Figo had given Barca a lifeline after the break with an away goal, and his team-mates made full use of it at the Camp Nou, winning 3-1 in regulation time before blowing Chelsea away in extra-time to eventually win 5-1 on the night and 6-4 on aggregate.

    Still, Chelsea would always have that Stamford Bridge victory.     

1. Chelsea 4-2 Barcelona, March 8, 2005

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    At No. 1, it's another tie with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. And just like the previous two in our rankings, this game had everything. Mirroring that April 2000 victory, Chelsea raced to a 3-0 lead after a sudden burst of goals (this time it was a breathtaking 11-minute spell in the first half that put them in control).

    This game was about so much more than the 90 minutes, though. Chelsea had lost 2-1 in the first leg at the Camp Nou in a game that was shrouded in controversy.

    Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had called out referee Anders Frisk for his performance that night after he had sent off Drogba shortly after the interval. In among the fallout from that, Frisk would retire from football altogether amid reported death threats.

    That led to Mourinho being labelled as an "enemy of football" by UEFA referees' committee chairman Volker Roth, and the heat intensified with claims that Frisk and Barca manager Frank Rijkaard had met in private at half-time.

    The bad blood carried over onto the pitch, with leading referee Pierluigi Collina appointed to officiate the game. Fireworks were expected, and we got them.

    From 2-1 down on aggregate at kick-off, 19 minutes into the game the Blues were 4-2 ahead thanks to Eidur Gudjohnsen, Lampard and Damien Duff. Like they had five years earlier, Chelsea were overwhelming Barca.

    By half-time, however, the pendulum had swung back in the visitors' favour thanks to the brilliance of Ronaldinho. First, he scored a penalty before unleashing a goal that, even now after thousands of replays, has us all baffled as to how he pulled it off.

    With his route to goal blocked on the edge of the area and with zero backlift, Ronaldinho dug the ball from under his feet, poking his effort with power into the bottom corner of Petr Cech's goal to leave Stamford Bridge stunned.

    It was audaciously sublime.

    With the clock ticking down, Chelsea needed inspiration, and they got it from a reliable source. "Captain's goal from John Terry," Clive Tyldesley said from the commentary box as Terry connected with Duff's corner to head home the winning goal.

    Even then, the game couldn't avoid controversy as Ricardo Carvalho tugged at Victor Valdes' shirt to deny the goalkeeper the opportunity to prevent a goal. Barca were fuming.

    From minute one through to the end, this was a heart-stopping game. One of the finest in Champions League history and most certainly the best Stamford Bridge has ever witnessed.