The excitement at the core of the Champions League is Europe's elite coming together in blockbuster ties during the knockout stages. Clashes between the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Juventus, that would never happen in domestic leagues.
Given the amount of nations in UEFA, and the amount of different countries that have produced teams capable of reaching the Champions League knockouts in recent years, it's incredible just how often the most memorable ties in the competition have been between teams from the same nation.
It's becoming a more regular occurrence, though. In the 21st century, there have been eight finals between teams from the same country, and 30 knockout ties in total. We had a look back over those games to pick out some of the most iconic and memorable.
The best same-country clashes in Champions League history
8. Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid (2016-17 semi-finals)
Given that they met so many times in the mid-2010s, it seemed wrong not to have at least one Madrid derby entry in this list. Though the 2014 final saw some late drama, it was ultimately decided by an extra-time rout from Real, so we've plumped for an alternative here.
The 2017 semi-finals incredibly saw Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid meeting for the fourth consecutive year in the Champions League. The first-leg saw the greatest goalscorer in the competition's history, Cristiano Ronaldo, put in arguably his best ever performance in the competition, as his hat-trick gave Real a commanding lead for the second leg.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 2, 2020
It was in that second-leg on the other side of Madrid, however, that the real highlight of the tie came about. Pinched against the touchline, Real striker Karim Benzema produced some incredible skill to work his way out of a corner and set up Isco for Real's only goal of the night. Credit to Atletico, they won on the night and threatened a comeback.
— D O F (At 🏠) (@theDOFootball) May 10, 2020
But this tie was the epitome of their four clashes in the Champions League. Atletico giving it their absolute all, but Real's star power just about finding a way through on every occasion.
Final league positions - Real Madrid: champions, Atletico Madrid: 3rd
7. Valencia v Barcelona (1999-2000 semi-finals)
This one mightn't immediately seem memorable, but it set up another all-Spanish clash in the final, the first time that two teams from the same league had ever met in the final of the competition.
Valencia captain Gaizka Mendieta lining up for the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, 10 May 2000 🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/B2xMkqvXv1
— The North Project (@thenorthproject) March 27, 2021
Perhaps most significant here was the team that prevailed. The rules had only changed two seasons previously to allow multiple teams from the same country to qualify for the Champions League, so it was inevitable that a final would eventually emerge between two teams from the same league.
The expectation would naturally have been that, if it were to be an all-Spanish final, it would be an El Classico final. Credit to Valencia, though - they not only beat Barcelona, but embarrassed them, beating them 4-1 in the first-leg of the semi-final.
They would eventually fall to defeat to Real Madrid in the final, and to Bayern in the following year's final, but Valencia's 2000 semi-final triumph was a memorable one.
Final league positions - Barcelona: 2nd, Valencia: 3rd
6. Chelsea v Liverpool (2008-09 quarter-finals)
Though it may not seem the obvious choice of all of the iconic Chelsea v Liverpool clashes of the mid-to-late-2000s, this game epitomised everything that made this tie such an iconic Champions League fixture.
Incredibly, this was the fifth season in a row that the two teams had met in Europe's top competition. They had shared some memorable moments, including the infamous "ghost goal" of 2005, and two semi-final meetings in '07 and '08.
In 2009 they met in the quarter-finals and, having fallen to a 3-1 home defeat, Liverpool needed to score three on the night to give themselves a chance of going through.
Two goals in quick succession gave them hope, before Chelsea fought back to take a 3-2 lead. Remarkably, Liverpool themselves fought back to make it 3-4, before a late Frank Lampard goal settled a 4-4 draw and nervy progression to the semi-finals for Chelsea.
We won't say anything about the standard of goalkeeping on show from Petr Cech and Pepe Reina...
Final league positions - Liverpool: 2nd, Chelsea: 3rd
5. Milan v Inter (2004-05 quarter-finals)
A Madrid derby in Europe is one thing, but a Milan derby? That's a whole different ball game.
2005 was not the first time that the Rossoneri and Nerazzuri had met in the Champions League - in fact, when they met in the 2002-03 semi-finals, Milan progressed on away goals. Given that they share a stadium, you'd understand if Inter felt a bit aggrieved with that.
When they met again in the 2005 quarter-final, tempers flared (quite literally) in the second-leg, where Inter were designated as the home team. Milan led 1-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate, when a goal from Esteban Cambiasso was ruled out for offside for Inter.
The atmosphere boiled over, with flares thrown onto the pitch from the Inter fans - one striking Milan goalkeeper Dida, who needed treatment for first-degree burns. The match was ultimately abandoned, with Milan awarded a 3-0 win.
The reason for this game's feature in our list is not necessarily down to the quality of the game - but because it gave us perhaps the most iconic photo and moment in Champions League history.
On this day in 2005:
A UEFA Champions League quarter-final between Inter Milan & AC Milan was abandoned when a flare hit Milan goalkeeper Dida
It gave us this iconic photo of Marco Materazzi & Rui Costa pic.twitter.com/W7NvguE0AT
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) April 12, 2020
Final league positions - Milan: 2nd, Inter: 3rd
4. Manchester United v Chelsea (2008 Champions League final)
The first final to appear on this list, and the best of the three all-English offerings in Europe's showpiece event.
This was a rare occasion of the two best teams in Europe meeting in the Champions League final. This was the season in which no English team was knocked out by an overseas team (Arsenal were knocked out by Liverpool, who were knocked out by Chelsea), and these two teams had finished just two points apart atop the Premier League.
In the midst of his best ever season in the red of Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the opener, and United should have been further ahead before a scrappy equaliser from Frank Lampard kicked off a period of dominance for Chelsea. It was a game filled with big chances, but somehow finished 1-1 after extra-time.
Penalties only brought further drama, with Ronaldo sensationally missing his spot-kick, before Chelsea captain John Terry slipped and missed the potentially match-winning penalty. Chelsea would not get a second chance, with Edwin van der Sar making a crucial save in sudden death to win the European Cup for United on a rain-drenched night in Moscow.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 21, 2021
Final league positions - Manchester United: 1st, Chelsea: 2nd
3. Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund (2013 Champions League final)
On the surface, it doesn't seem like one of the best finals of recent memory, but this really was a final that had it all.
Not only was the city of London awash with colour for the entire weekend, with the vibrant yellow of Dortmund clashing with the red of Bayern and packing out Wembley, but there were a multitude of storylines at play underneath the surface.
These two sides actually met in the first ever intra-country clash in the Champions League in 1998 - a dramatic tie which Dortmund won as the defending champions of Europe. The coming decade brought a barren spell, in which the club almost went out of business at the turn of the century.
Having fought their way back, Dortmund had finally toppled Bayern in the league in 2011, and retained their title in 2012, with their up-and-coming manager Jurgen Klopp at the helm. In an omen of things to come, Bayern had snatched Dortmund's star man Mario Gotze for the 2013-14 season. Injured for the final, Gotze watched on stoically from the stands in Wembley.
The push for power in German football meant a lot was at stake in 2013 and a tense final didn't disappoint. After goals in quick succession for either side in the second half, a dramatic late winner from Arjen Robben ensured that the Champions League returned to Bavaria for the first time in over a decade.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 25, 2019
Given Bayern had lost two of the previous three finals, they were worthy winners, though perennial neutrals' favourites Dortmund would experience a fall from grace over the coming decade. The final in London was a true "sliding doors" moment in German football, with more of Dortmund's stars making the move to Munich in the years after the Wembley defeat.
This match perhaps signifies the last moment the two clubs were on a true level playing field.
Final league positions - Bayern Munich: 1st, Borussia Dortmund: 2nd
2. Barcelona v Real Madrid (2010-11 semi-finals)
This game could have topped the list for the first-leg alone but, when you see our choice for number one, you'll hopefully understand why it's just about been pipped.
This game came at the pinnacle of the Guardiola v Mourinho / Messi v Ronaldo era of the Barcelona v Real Madrid rivalry. El Classico was always a venomous rivalry but this was the era in which it was consistently one of the biggest sporting events in the world, mainly due to how well both teams were performing and the superstars on either side.
The 2011 semi-finals threw up this mouthwatering clash between the Spanish titans, as Guardiola's Barcelona team sought to push on from their 2009 triumph. The atmosphere between he and Mourinho was bitter (Jonathan Wilson's book The Barcelona Legacy is a gripping read on this) and tensions were high.
It was an ill-tempered clash, with Pepe sent off for Madrid in the first-leg and tempers fraying in the press in the week between the games. Barcelona ran out 3-1 victors in the end but, ultimately, this game will be remembered for producing what should be regarded as one of the Champions League's greatest ever goals - if not the greatest ever goal from a man who was simply unstoppable in 2011.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 5, 2020
The goal also featured the greatest assist of all time from Sergio Busquets.
Final league positions - Barcelona: 1st, Real Madrid: 2nd
1. Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur (2018-19 quarter-finals)
It seems fitting that the 2018-19 season provides the top of the list here, given it was one of the most memorable seasons of European competition in recent memory.
From Juventus' comeback against Atletico, to Manchester United's unlikely win in Paris, to Ajax toppling Juve and Real Madrid, to the scarcely believable semi-final comebacks from Liverpool and Spurs, this was a season that had it all.
That semi-final comeback from Spurs wouldn't have happened, however, if it wasn't for an outrageous quarter-final second leg away to Manchester City.
Taking a 1-0 lead into the second-leg, Spurs went 1-0 down after just two minutes - but the game was 2-2 by the 11th. Another goal ten minutes later for Raheem Sterling put the game on a knife-edge, before a goal early in the second-half from Sergio Aguero appeared to have Spurs heading out.
Controversy reigned in the closing stages of the game, as Spurs retook the lead on aggregate on away goals with a bundled finish from forgotten man Fernando Llorente.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 17, 2021
The drama didn't stop there, however, with City pushing forward in the dying moments to try and find the goal that would put them through to the last four.
In the 95th minute, the Etihad erupted after Raheem Sterling made it 5-3 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate. That was until VAR intervened and, spotting an offside in the buildup, ruled the goal out, sealing a breathless win for Spurs and a first ever semi-final appearance.
Pep Guardiola’s recent Champions League record reads quite damning:
2014: ❌SF (Real Madrid)
2015: ❌SF (Barcelona)
2016: ❌SF (Atletico)
Money spent: €204m
2017: ❌last 16 (AS Monaco)
2018: ❌QF (Liverpool)
2019: ❌QF (Spurs)
Money spent: €600m pic.twitter.com/dcFh6RGBvt
— David Kappel (@kappilinho) April 18, 2019
Final league positions - Manchester City: 1st, Tottenham: 4th
So, there you have it, our picks for the best same-nation clashes in Champions League history. Will we get any more this season? If the evidence of the past few years is anything to go by, we'd be in for a treat if so.