The start of the qualification process to the Champions League in the 2013-2014 season is a good opportunity to look at the last decade and single out the most successful teams in the competition since the beginning of the current format, which is similar to the World Cup, with 32 teams in the group stage, with 16 making it into the knockout stage.
The teams that made it in? Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, AC Milan and Bayern Munich, ranked based on a scoring system that disregards the record of a club during the group stage, and hands out 1 point for making it into the last 16, 2 points for being stopped in the quarterfinals, 3 points for losing in the semifinals, 4 points for finishing as competition runners up and 5 points for the champions.
Two clubs that are worth mentioning: Porto, the 2004 champions, making the round of 16 seven times over the last 10 years, and Olympique Lyon, making it to that stage nine consecutive times, including four quarterfinals and the competition’s semifinal in 2010.
9th – Real Madrid, 15 points (No Final)
Real Madrid have made the knockout stage of the Champions League all 10 times under the current format, but the last decade can be split into two: Before Mourinho, and after Mourinho. For the first seven seasons, Real Madrid built a streak of disappointments, bowing out in the round of 16 six consecutive times, following losing in the quarterfinals of 2004 to Monaco. Then came Mourinho, and the disappointment simply came later on: In 2011 by losing to Barcelona; in 2012 to Bayern Munich and in 2013 to Dortmund.
8th – Internazionale FC, 15 Points (One Title)
Besides winning the title (with Jose Mourinho on the sidelines) in 2010, Inter haven’t been a real success story in the Champions League knockout stage. Yes, they’ve been quite consistent, making it out of the group stage 8 times, but only once, in 2010, have they made it past the quarterfinals. In 2010 however, thinks just clicked, beating Barcelona in the semifinal and Bayern Munich (2-0) in the final.
7th – Liverpool FC, 15 Points (One Title, One Final Loss)
Liverpool haven’t been to the Champions League since 2010, but five seasons in the competition under the current format were enough to put them in the top 9, thanks to winning the title in 2005 after a dramatic 3-3 with AC Milan and a successful penalty shootout, and making the final in 2007, losing to AC Milan this time, 2-1. They made the semifinal in 2008, but lost in extra time to Chelsea.
6th – Arsenal FC, 18 Points
Consistency, rather than excellence, helps Arsenal reach sixth place. They’ve made it out of the group stage in all of the 10 seasons of the current format, but have only been to the semifinal twice. First in 2006, beating Villarreal to reach the club’s first ever European Cup final, losing to Barcelona 2-1, and then again in 2009, which was probably the final season of Premier League domination in the competition, losing to Manchester United in the semifinal.
5th – AC Milan, 20 Points
Like Liverpool, most of Milan’s success is based on their two finals in 2005 and 2007, lifting the trophy after a 2-1 win over the Reds in Athens. Since that triumph, the Rossoneri have been to the knockout stage five times, making it into the quarterfinals only once, losing to Barcelona in 2012.
4th – Manchester United, 21 Points
Surprisingly, Manchester United have missed out on the knockout stage twice over the last 10 years (in 2006 and 2012), but four semifinals, three finals and one trophy on a rainy night in Moscow, beating Chelsea in a penalty shootout, make up for those less successful years. Both of their losses in the finals have been to Barcelona.
3rd – Bayern Munich, 22 Points
Bayern Munich missed out on the last 16 only once over the last decade, but it wasn’t until 2010 when they reached their first semifinal in the tournament under the current format. In 2010 and 2012 they had their hearts broken in the final, losing to Inter and Chelsea, but made up for it with a third final in four years two months ago, beating Dortmund 2-1 to claim the trophy for a fifth time in the club’s history.
2nd – Chelsea, 25 Points
Chelsea were in the knockout stage for nine consecutive seasons under the current format until last year, when they didn’t make it out of the group stage. Almost like Barcelona (7), they’ve been to the semifinal of the competition six times over the last decade, making it to the final twice. Both times it reached penalty kicks, losing to United in 2008 but beating Bayern Munich in 2012.
1st – FC Barcelona, 29 Points
Missing out on the knockout stage only once (in 2004), Barcelona are the only team from the last 11 years to win the competition more than once. They’ve reached the semifinal for six consecutive seasons, and have three finals, all of them victories, to show on their CV. First in 2006, beating Arsenal 2-1 and then kicking off the Guardiola era with a 2-0 win over Manchester United and two years later, against the same rival with a 3-1 win.