Today’s tie between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich is the rarest of Champions League treats – a rematch between the previous season’s finalists.
Only twice before in the 56 seasons of European Cup football have the winners and runners up met again in the following season. This is partly to do with the runners up not being guaranteed to be in the competition, and before the acceptance of more than one side per nation this was a very real hurdle to overcome, but remarkably since the competition was expanded to include more representatives of Europe’s top leagues not a single final has been replayed.
The finals that have been replayed the following season were Liverpool v Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1978, and Juventus v Ajax in 1997. Coincidentally, both rematches occurred at the semi final stage of the following year’s competition, and both of the holders progressed to another final.
Mönchengladbach edged out the first leg 2-1 but a crucial away goal from David Johnson in the 88th minute gave Liverpool a lifeline for the second leg. They ran out 3-0 winners at Anfield with goals from Kennedy, Dalglish and Case making it quite a comfortable victory.
Similarly, Juventus had an easy time dispatching Ajax for a second consecutive season. Two first half away goals from Nicola Amoruso and Christian Vieri made the Amsterdam club’s task very onerous, and although Jari Litmanen did pull one back in the second half to make a game of the second leg in Turin, he might as well not have bothered. Juventus ran out 4-1 winners in the second leg and won 6-2 on aggregate.
Admittedly, it is a small sample size but history is lining up against Bayern as are recent Champions League trends.
Since the abolition of the second group stage Bayern have been eliminated by Italian sides more than by any other country; and overall the record in knock-out ties over that period between German sides and Italian ones is four victories for Serie A and only one for the Bundesliga.
It is often remarked how difficult it is for a side to retain the Champions League, no one has managed to yet, although four sides (AC Milan, Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United) have lost in the final the year after winning it. What is actually more difficult is to lose in the Champions League Final and get back there the following year. Only AC Milan (93 & 94) Juventus (97 & 98) and Valencia (00 & 01) share that particular distinction, and only Milan have bettered their performance second time round to become champions.
Since Valencia’s second final defeat in 2002, it has been more common for previous runners up to miss out on the last 8 than to be participating, and no team has since gone to back to the Final. It takes 13 games to win the Champions League assuming a team qualifies automatically for the group stages, to be that consistent against Europe’s top teams is difficult, particularly more so after the deflating experience of losing a Champions League final. The losers have all of the fatigue and none of the sustaining glory.
If Bayern are to triumph over two legs then they will be bucking several trends, none with exceptionally great statistical significance in its own right – but when drawn together present a pretty convincing tapestry as to why Inter Milan should be regarded as favourites for this tie.