UEFA Champions League alternative awards: From best goal to funniest meltdown
The 2018-19 Champions League came to an emotional end on Saturday night in Madrid as Liverpool outlasted Tottenham 2-0 to win and claim their sixth European Cup/Champions League title in the process. This season's edition was notable not just for ending with an all-Premier League final; Nick Miller recaps the most memorable highs and lows from a tournament with plenty of both.
Winner: Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona vs. Tottenham, group stage
Picking the best goal from a Champions League season is like trying to choose your favourite star. This season has been no different, with any number of brilliant goals from Mauro Icardi's volley against Tottenham, to David Neres' superb team goal against Real Madrid in the round of 16, to about five of Leo Messi's including his inch-perfect free-kick against Liverpool at the Camp Nou.
But our top choice is Rakitic's superb volley/half-volley against Tottenham at Wembley: The technique required to arrange his whole body so he didn't shank such a difficult, bouncing chance way over the bar was remarkable. The fact that it pinged in off the post was just an aesthetic bonus.
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Winner: Man City vs. Tottenham, quarterfinal second leg
How could it be anything other than the utterly bananas quarterfinal between two of the Premier League's best teams? After a nervy 1-0 win for Spurs at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the first leg, the first 21 minutes of the return leg alone would probably qualify for "best game" honors alone: The score was already 3-2 and the lead had changed hands three times before anyone could figure out what was going on.
The denouement, with City convinced they had won it only for the VAR to intervene and find the most marginal offside, added a perfect and probably unrepeatable moment of drama.
Winner: Ajax vs. Real Madrid, round of 16 second leg
While Tottenham's comeback in the semifinal was glorious drama, Ajax almost deserved to be in the final simply because of their performance against Real Madrid in the second round. It was the hubris that made it: Real's 2-1 win in the first leg seemed to convince them the tie was in the bag; Sergio Ramos getting booked so he would miss the return confirmed that. But the most thrilling performance imaginable from Ajax blew the holders away in the Bernabeu: from Hakim Ziyech's opener to Lasse Schone's outrageous free-kick to seal it all, this was utterly extraordinary.
Winner: Tottenham vs. Ajax, semifinal second leg
Liverpool might reasonably complain that their brilliant evisceration of Barcelona isn't chosen here, but they at least had a whole game to overturn a 3-0 deficit, starting their scoring early: Tottenham had 55 minutes to stop what looked like an unstoppable Ajax side and score three goals. That they did it, and that the third came deep, deep, deep into injury time, simply added to the magic.
Winner: Lionel Messi
Sometimes, Messi probably gets pretty annoyed that he is forced to share a pitch with mere footballers. The thing about him is that he often spends long periods of games wandering around and not really doing much, but then he'll do a couple of absolutely otherworldly things and the rest doesn't matter even a tiny little bit. It certainly wasn't his fault that Barcelona did not win a Champions League that, from the round of 16 onwards, certainly looked to be theirs for the taking.
There are plenty of Liverpool players represented but equally, some of the heroes who helped get Tottenham to the final and Ajax within minutes of it make the cut.
Allison (Liverpool); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Mathijis De Ligt (Ajax), Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool), Jordi Alba (Barcelona); Lasse Schone (Ajax), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham); Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Sadio Mane (Liverpool); Leo Messi (Barcelona)
Most underwhelming team
Winner: Bayern Munich
At least the other giants to flame out this season -- Juventus, Barcelona, Manchester City, Real Madrid -- did so with some drama, but Bayern Munich simply shuffled out with barely a whimper. This is a team in transition and it really showed against Liverpool, who in the second leg of their round of 16 game simply cruised past them without any particular problems. They may dominate the Bundesliga but it might take a while for Bayern to reach that level in Europe again.
Winner: Paris Saint-Germain
Who knows what the central reason for PSG's apparent mental fragility in the Champions League is, but they keep doing it. When they faced Manchester United in the round of 16, they faced a severely weakened opponent and had a 2-0 lead from the away game, an advantage no team had ever squandered in Champions League history. But they somehow managed to do just that and even if United had some help from the VAR and a harsh interpretation of the handball law, they should have been out of sight well before that.
Winner: Divock Origi
Last summer, Liverpool were trying to send Divock Origi out on loan to Huddersfield. With no chance of getting in the first-choice front three, he was also probably behind Xherdan Shaqiri, Daniel Sturridge and Dominic Solanke in the pecking order, with youngster Rhian Brewster waiting too. But here he is, having scored twice in the semifinal comeback at Anfield and calmly notching the clinching goal in the Champions League final. There really is nothing like football for redemption stories.
Winner: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool vs. Barcelona
He'll never have to buy a drink in Liverpool again after one of the great corners of all time.
Most ludicrously cool assist
Winner: Dele Alli, Tottenham vs. Ajax
If you're in injury time and know that unless you do something quickly, you won't make the Champions League final, panic would be understandable. But instead Dele Alli summoned some unnatural composure to gently dink a pass with the outside of his boot around an Ajax defender and perfectly into the path of Lucas Moura, who did the rest.
Winner: Jurgen Klopp
"They are f---ing giants." After Liverpool's win over Barcelona, Jurgen Klopp either forgot he was on live TV or didn't care. Probably the latter.
Funniest meltdown moment
"This is a disgrace. Four guys who know nothing about football watch a slow-motion replay in front of the television. It was nothing! What can [Kimpembe] do with his hand while his back is turned? Go f--- yourselves!"
Posting on Instagram, the preferred medium for a good rant, Neymar didn't take the decision to give Manchester United a penalty against PSG particularly well, earning him a three-game suspension that means he'll miss half of next season's group stage as a result. Shame.