Similar to this season, there have been some entertaining nil-nil draws in the knockout phase over the years.
There are occasions when two massively talented squads clash against each other, provide the fans with exquisite football to experience but fail to register a single goal in the whole duration of the game. Such goalless draws are anything but boring.
Point-in-case is the Round of 16 first-leg result between Liverpool versus Bayern Munich & Olympique Lyonnais versus FC Barcelona on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League campaign of 2018-19. Both fixtures ended without a goal scored but delivered plenty of entertainment, leaving the tie perfectly poised for the second-leg.
This gives us the opportunity to look back at top-five ties in the Champions League to have ended goalless in the first-leg.
AFC Ajax Vs Bayern Munich – 1994-95
With the tie poised for goals in the second-leg, Ajax coasted past Bayern with comfortable ease in Amsterdam
The Champions League campaign of 1994-95 will always be etched in the memory of AFC Ajax fans. Before going on to win the European title, they were to face a tough challenge from German side, Bayern Munich, in the semi-final stage. The Amsterdam side comprised of some of the best upcoming talents in world football with the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert in their line-up. Under then manager Louis van Gaal, the Dutch outfit had a tough first-leg in Germany against an in-form Bayern Munich.
Bayern had invested all their hopes in the UCL tournament after enduring a horrid domestic campaign where they finished sixth at the end of season. Bayern’s squad featured legends like Oliver Kahn, Dietmar Hamann, Lothar Matthaus and Jean-Pierre Papin. Playing away to Bayern was always going to be tough despite their form and such was the case. Ajax knew if they managed to avoid defeat in the first-leg away match, then they’d be favorites in their own backyard. That is what transpired as Ajax held Bayern to a goalless draw after absorbing relentless attacks from the Bavarians. Ajax went on to dispose off the German giants in the second-leg with a 5-2 scoreline.
PSV Eindhoven Vs Atletico Madrid – 2015-16
PSV were eliminated without conceding a goal from open play
PSV Eindhoven has always been one of those sides who has played Dutch-inspired attacking football that is easy on the eye but are not the best when it comes to defensive capabilities. In the Round of 16 of the Champions League that year, they were up against an Atletico Madrid side who were playing some of the best football in Europe, which enabled them to reach their second UCL final in three years. The Atletico line-up was led by Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres and Yannick Carrasco who were a threat to any defence.
The main objective for PSV playing the first-leg at home was not to concede an away goal. The same was achieved after a gritty show of teamwork and will. PSV showcased a defensive masterclass and denied Atletico any clear cut chances. The Spanish side had most of the possession and shots but were constantly frustrated by the collective effort put in by their opposition. The match got tougher for the home team after their striker, Gaston Pereiro was dismissed after collecting two yellow cards with 20 minutes and injury time left to play. However, PSV successfully managed to keep Atletico strikers at bay.
The resulting second-leg was also a goalless draw despite Diego Simeone’s men taking 26 shots on goal. Match was decided on penalties that saw Atletico Madrid come out as victors (8-7). PSV were eliminated without conceding a goal from open play.
Sevilla Vs Manchester United – 2017-18
The English side held Sevilla to a goalless draw in Spain but couldn’t prevent defeat in the second leg
This was the fixture that is widely believed to have been the onset of Jose Mourinho’s downfall at Manchester United. After having secured Champions League qualification by winning the UEFA Europa League in the previous season, United were favoring their chances when they were drawn against Sevilla in the Round of 16. Little did they know, that playing the first-leg away at Sevilla could become such a daunting task.
The home side came out all guns blazing and took the English club by surprise. Sevilla completely dominated the whole match, registering 25 shots in total and were superior in every other stat. Manchester United were at the end of a rude awakening and scraped out a draw thanks to some heroic goalkeeping from David de Gea. The goalless draw put Sevilla in advantage as an away goal would have a greater value in the second-leg.
The second-leg played at Old Trafford was evenly matched but even then, Sevilla looked more threatening. Vincenzo Montella’s men defeated Manchester United thanks to a quick-fire brace from Wissam Ben Yedder. Romelu Lukaku’s late goal was nothing more than a consolation.
AC Milan Vs FC Barcelona – 2011-12
It was a stalemate in the first leg at San Siro, but the Catalans ousted the Italian side in the second leg
Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona were a class apart and are still pegged to be one of the best squads ever. This was a time when their tiki-taka football was at the pinnacle and no opposition stood for long against the continuous and relentless Barcelona pressure led by the striking trio of Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, and Andres Iniesta.
AC Milan, on the other hand, were under a transitional phase with their long-serving players such as Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf reaching the last stages of their career. Both the teams had already clashed in ‘Group H’, where the Catalans had defeated I Rossoneri at the San Siro.
As expected, FCB came to the San Siro as favorites in the first-leg of the quarter-final match-up but were met by a resolute AC Milan side that stood fast against waves of attacks from the Spanish outfit. The match only lacked goals but delivered on all fronts. It was a perfect clash between a supremely confident attacking unit and an unwavering defensive unit that was not going to allow their opposition to score under any circumstances. FCB dominated the possession and had more shots than the home side, but the match ended goalless, leaving the tie poised in the second-leg.
However, Barcelona were too strong a force and eliminated Milan from the tournament with a dominating display in a 3-1 victory; marched into the semis where they lost to the eventual champions, Chelsea.
Atletico Madrid Vs Real Madrid – 2014-15
It was Javier Hernandez who got the winner for Real Madrid in the second leg after a draw in the first leg
The same two sides met in the UCL final of the previous edition where the Galacticos edged their rivals 4-1 in a one-sided clash. The quarter-final meeting between the two Spanish giants became the perfect opportunity for Los Colchoneros to take revenge for the previous campaign’s defeat. The first-leg did not disappoint where both teams played an end-to-end game that saw chances created at both ends.
Real Madrid took control of the game in the second half and showed why they were the defending champions. The home side soon fell on the back-foot and denied the attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale (popularly known as ‘BBC’) a chance to break the deadlock. A memorable performance from Jan Oblak was needed to take the game into the second-leg on even terms.
The second-leg was everything the Spanish rivalry was known for, beautiful attacking football at display with a tinge of controversy. Arda Turan’s red card in the 76th was a turning point after which Real unleashed everything in their arsenal, ultimately going through thanks to an 88th-minute goal from Javier Hernandez.
There we have it, an entertaining goalless draw in the first-leg often leads up to epic second-leg clashes if the above instances are to be taken as reference. All eyes will be on the two Champions League fixtures which ended nil-nil in the first-leg where it remains to be determined which team pulls the first punch.