The best Champions League comeback of all time was even more ridiculous than you think.
Barcelona entered the second leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain down 4-0. They conceded an away goal, which should have put a lid on proceedings. But they came back to win 6-5 on aggregate, completing one of the best comebacks in soccer history.
This sounds incredible on the surface, but the comeback was even more impressive than it looks.
1. No one comes back from four goals down
This is the most obvious reason, but it can’t be overstated how rare it is for a team to overturn a 4-0 first-leg defeat. No one has ever done it in the Champions League or even in the old European Cup, dating back to the 1955-56 season.
1 – Barcelona are the first side in Champions League and European Cup history to overturn a first-leg 4-goal deficit. Mesmeric.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 8, 2017
But a team has come down from four goals before, in a different European competition. It was …
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 8, 2017
… Real Madrid! In the third round of the 1985-86 UEFA Cup, Los Merengues lost 5-1 away to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the first leg. But that away goal made their task a bit easier than Barca’s was, and Real Madrid progressed with a 4-0 second-leg victory.
But despite the unlikely nature of the comeback, Barcelona is good enough that ESPN’s in-house Soccer Power Index thought it was possible for something like this to happen.
SPI gave Barcelona a 7% chance to advance entering today’s match
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 8, 2017
2. The winning goal came because Barcelona’s goalkeeper got in on the action
Marc-André ter Stegen has always been a bit eccentric. Barca signed him to replace Victor Valdés for that reason specifically — no team likes a keeper that can play with his feet more than the Blaugrana.
That ultimately paid off in the dying minutes on Wednesday when ter Stegen — who had run forward for a previous free kick — sprinted back to recover the ball and draw a foul. Thirty seconds later, Barcelona had the ball in the goal.
1 – Barcelona’s 95th min goal came from a free-kick given after a foul on goalkeeper Marc-André Ter Stegen on the opposition half. History. pic.twitter.com/Ps6aalmkeF
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) March 8, 2017
Barca wouldn’t have won this match if they didn’t have a goalkeeper willing to put moves on an on-rushing defender in his own half.
3. Barca didn’t even create great chances
If a team scores six goals, you assume that they put on an attacking masterclass. Barcelona didn’t exactly do that. The chances they created weren’t terribly impressive at all.
xG map for Barcelona – PSG.
someday, people will seek to explain the events we just witnessed. they will fail. pic.twitter.com/XHvNxnTzGA
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 8, 2017
This is worse than a typical Barca game. Their finishing prowess is such that you might expect them to score two goals from a 1.6 expected goals game, and three isn’t terribly uncommon. But six? Teams don’t score six goals from these shots. It’s unheard of.
The reason Barca was able to pull it off was a fatal error by PSG early in the match, plus — and sorry Barca fans, we have to be honest here — some questionable officiating. The own goal came on a comedy of errors by Marquinhos and Layvin Kurzawa, and the penalties were very lucky. On the first drawn by Neymar, there was at least significant contact, even if Neymar went looking for it. But the second penalty was just a dive by Luis Suárez, without qualification. That call can’t be justified.
How often do teams get handed a terrible own goal and two shaky penalty calls?
4. Neymar had the best seven minutes of his life
Neymar is an excellent player, one that PSG could have expected to play a huge part in Barcelona’s win. He does lead the Champions League in assists, after all.
Most Champions League assists
2015/16: Sanchez, Coman (5)
2014/15: Iniesta, Messi (5)
2013/14: Di Maria, Benzema (5)
Neymar already has 8! pic.twitter.com/MB6uhn6IJh
— James McManus (@JamesMcManus1) March 8, 2017
But it’s extremely rare for a player to take over in the dying minutes like he did, putting the entire Barcelona squad on his back and dragging them to victory. While PSG was focused on making sure Lionel Messi didn’t see much of the ball, Neymar did something that matched any of Messi’s amazing Champions League performances.
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 8, 2017
And it’s fair to say that until the very end of the match, Neymar was just very good, not exceptional. His 88th-minute free kick goal is what sparked some belief in Barcelona that their comeback was possible, but he did most of the work to finish it off, converting a penalty in the 91st minute and assisting the game-winner with a perfect chipped ball over the top of the defense.
Find a replay of the game, if you can. Watch it again and enjoy it, because you’re unlikely to see anything like it happen again.