How Every Champions League Winner Has Started the Defence of Their Title

Manuel Neuer
Bayern Munich won the Champions League in 2019/20 | Pool/Getty Images

Winning the Champions League puts an additional target on every club’s back, of that there can be no doubt.

Reaching the top of the mountain means every opponent you face the following season will do their utmost to raise their game against Europe’s finest, which may go some way to explaining why clubs find it so hard to successfully defend their title.

Although the holders rarely lose on matchday one, there have been plenty of draws over the years. Here, 90min looks back at how every Champions League winner has fared in their opening group game of the following season…

Alen Boksik of MarseilleAlen Boksik of Marseille
Marseille were banned from defending their title | Howard Boylan/Getty Images

To begin with, this was a complete non-starter.

Marseille won the inaugural Champions League in 1992/93, but a match fixing scandal in Ligue 1 saw them banned from the competition in 1993/94 and they could not defend their title.

Because the bribery took place over a Ligue 1 game, Marseille were not actually stripped of the Champions League trophy, even though UEFA barred them from defending it.


Sebastiano Rossi, Paolo Maldini, Filippo Galli, Marcel Desailly, Zvominir Boban, Christian Panucci, auro Tassotti, Roberto Donadoni, Demetrio Albertini, Dejan Savicevic, Daniele MassaroSebastiano Rossi, Paolo Maldini, Filippo Galli, Marcel Desailly, Zvominir Boban, Christian Panucci, auro Tassotti, Roberto Donadoni, Demetrio Albertini, Dejan Savicevic, Daniele Massaro
AC Milan had won a one-sided 1994 Champions League final | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Milan won the 1994 Champions League final in stunning fashion, dismantling Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘Dream Team’. But the defence of their title started with a whimper when they were beaten 2-0 by a young Ajax.

Ronald de Boer and Jari Litmanen scored the goals in Amsterdam and Milan went on to barely scrape through the group stage after a points deduction for crowd trouble in a later game. They did eventually reach the final, though, only to be once more were beaten by Ajax.

Ajax 2-0 AC Milan

Ajax were crowned European champions in 1995 | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ajax began the defence of their European crown in perfect fashion in the autumn of 1995, beating Real Madrid by a single goal from Marc Overmars in Amsterdam.

Louis van Gaal’s side, which was already starting to be carved up, eventually reached the 1996 final but lost to Juventus on penalties in Rome.

Ajax 1-0 Real Madrid

Juventus teamgroupJuventus teamgroup
Juventus beat Manchester United in September 1996 | Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

There were some key changes for Juventus between winning the Champions League in 1995/96 and defending it in 1996/97, with Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravenelli and Paulo Sousa all moving on, to be replaced by Christian Vieri, Alen Boksic and Zinedine Zidane.

As holders, they started off in September 1996 by facing a young but developing Manchester United side. Boksic scored the only goal and Juve eventually went all the way to another final.

Juventus 1-0 Manchester United

Borussia Dortmund v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Semi Final 1st LegBorussia Dortmund v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Semi Final 1st Leg
Borussia Dortmund were unified Germany’s first Champions League winners | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund were surprise Champions League winners, overcoming a heavily fancied Juventus team in the final – Lars Ricken’s goal straight from the bench remains an all-time great.

Dortmund opened the 1997/98 campaign by securing a 1-0 win at the hostile Ali Sami Yen Stadium against Galatasaray, courtesy of a second half strike from Stephane Chapuisat.

Galatasaray 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

Clarence Seedorf, Diego Simeone and Paulo SousaClarence Seedorf, Diego Simeone and Paulo Sousa
Clarence Seedorf scored aginst his future club | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Real Madrid ended a 32-year drought to be crowned European champions in 1998 by beating Juventus, who had reached a third consecutive final.

They were ordered to play their ‘home’ opener of 1998/99 away from the Bernabeu as punishment for crowd trouble the previous season. They hosted Inter at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Sevilla, and left it late to win thanks to goals from Fernando Hierro and Clarence Seedorf.

Real Madrid 2-0 Inter

Paul Scholes and Igor BiscanPaul Scholes and Igor Biscan
Man Utd couldn’t break down Croatia Zagreb in 1999 | Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

From the highs of winning the Champions League in such dramatic fashion in May 1999, Manchester United started the new European campaign in 1999/00 with a goal-less draw against Croatia Zagreb, now known as Dinamo Zagreb.

Fringe youngsters Michael Clegg and Mark Wilson both started the game at Old Trafford.

Manchester United 0-0 Croatia Zagreb

Real Madrid Team Line-UpReal Madrid Team Line-Up
Real Madrid begn their title defence in Lisbon | Getty Images/Getty Images

Real Madrid had to come from behind to avoid defeat in their first Champions League game after reclaiming their title in 2000, trailing Sporting CP by two goals at half-time.

Roberto Carlos pulled a goal back, while the equaliser was an own goal from Sporting defender Rui Jorge. The game also marked record signing Luis Figo’s Champions League debut for Real.

Sporting CP 2-2 Real Madrid

Bayern Munich team groupBayern Munich team group
Bayern Munich won their fourth European title in 2001 | Tom Shaw/Getty Images

Although they went unbeaten in both group stages in 2001/02 as defending champions and were only knocked out by eventual winners Real Madrid, Bayern Munich started slowly.

Sparta Prague visited Munich to kick things and fought for a 0-0 draw.

Bayern Munich 0-0 Sparta Prague

Roberto Carlos, GutiRoberto Carlos, Guti
Guti inspired Real Madrid to victory in Rome | GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

The first Galacticos era was in full swing at Real Madrid by 2002, but in their opening Champions League game of 2002/03 as holders it was two home-grown players who made the difference.

Guti twice against Roma at Stadio Olimpico either side of one from Raul, who was at the peak of his powers at that time. Pep Guardiola came off the bench for Roma, but there was no Ronaldo for Real.

Roma 0-3 Real Madrid

Andriy Shevchenko (L) of AC Milan in actAndriy Shevchenko (L) of AC Milan in act
AC Milan met Ajax again to kick off 2003/04 | VINCENZO PINTO/Getty Images

AC Milan have a sizeable Champions League history with Ajax. They played each other three times in 1994/95, opened their 1995/96 campaign together, met again in the 2002/03 quarter-finals and opened up again in 2003/04.

Milan were holders on the latter occasion and secured a 1-0 win at San Siro.

AC Milan 1-0 Ajax

FC Porto's player Francisco Jose RodirguFC Porto's player Francisco Jose Rodirgu
A different Porto side started the 2004/05 season | MIGUEL RIOPA/Getty Images

Having won the Champions League in 2003/04, things were already quite different for Porto when they began the 2004/05 European season as holders, with Jose Mourinho, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira all having left the club.

They would go on to face Mourinho, Carvalho and Ferreira later in the group stage after being drawn with Chelsea, but kicked off with a goalless contest against CSKA Moscow.

Porto 0-0 CSKA Moscow

Liverpool players celebrate after SinamaLiverpool players celebrate after Sinama
Florent Sinama Pongolle scored Liverpool’s first goal as Champions League holders | JOSE LUIS ROCA/Getty Images

Having won the Champions League but finished outside the qualifying places in the Premier League, Liverpool had to be given special dispensation just to compete in 2005/06, starting out in the first qualifying round and later going into the same group as Chelsea.

Liverpool started the group with an away win over Real Betis, with early goals from Florent Sinama Pongolle and Luis Garcia. They topped the group but crumbled in the Last 16.

Real Betis 1-2 Liverpool

Barcelona's players celebrate after AndrBarcelona's players celebrate after Andr
Barcelona easily beat Levski Sofia to begin 2006/07 | LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

As European champions for the first time in the Champions League era, Barcelona made light work of Levski Sofia in the opening game of their title defence in September 2006.

The Catalans ran out 5-0 winners over the Bulgarians, with five different goalscorers – Andres Iniesta, Ludovic Giuly, Carles Puyol, Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho.

Barcelona 5-0 Levski Sofia

Andrea PirloAndrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo scored when Milan beat Benfica in September 2007 | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

AC Milan enjoyed revenge over Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League final in Athens, making up for throwing away a 3-0 lead against the Reds two years earlier in Istanbul.

The Rossoneri began the 2007/08 campaign as holders by beating Benfica at San Siro. Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi scored the goals in the first half that ultimately proved decisive.

AC Milan 2-1 Benfica

UEFA Champions League Manchester United v Villarreal at Old Trafford 2008UEFA Champions League Manchester United v Villarreal at Old Trafford 2008
Villarreal frustrated Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2008 | David Ashdown/Getty Images

Both times that Manchester United have won the Champions League, their opening group stage of the following season has been a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

As mentioned, it was the case in 1999 against Croatia Zagreb and it happened again when Villarreal were the first opponents of the 2008/09 competition. Recovering from injury, Cristiano Ronaldo only appeared from the bench.

Manchester United 0-0 Villarreal

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Walter Adrian SamuelZlatan Ibrahimovic, Walter Adrian Samuel
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was thwarted by his old Inter teammates | Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

Barcelona’s opening game of the 2009/10 Champions League season presented the beginnings of the Pep Guardiola/Jose Mourinho managerial rivalry as the Catalans faced Inter.

It was an early reunion with his former club for Barça striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had moved from Inter that summer. But he couldn’t help his new team break down his old one.

Inter 0-0 Barcelona

FC Twente player Bryan Ruiz (L) fights fFC Twente player Bryan Ruiz (L) fights f
Champions League holders Inter couldn’t beat Twente | AFP/Getty Images

For the second time in his career, Jose Mourinho immediately moved on after winning the Champions League. It was Rafa Benitez who then picked up the reins at Inter.

The Nerazzurri opened the 2010/11 season as Champions League holders by travelling to the Netherlands to face Twente. All four goals of a 2-2 draw were scored in the first half.

Twente 2-2 Inter

Barcelona's players pose before the ChamBarcelona's players pose before the Cham
Barcelona were held by AC Milan in September 2011 | LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

The Barcelona team that won the Champions League in 2010/11 is widely remembered as the greatest club side in history, but opening the following season with a victory was beyond them.

Barça were stunned when Alexandre Pato scored for AC Milan inside the first minute at Camp Nou and the game ultimately finished 2-2. That was arguably the last strong Milan side.

Barcelona 2-2 AC Milan

Chelsea succumbed to a Juventus comeback to begin 2012/13 | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Chelsea were not supposed to win the Champions League in 2011/12, which at that time had been their worst Premier League season since before Roman Abramovich bought they club.

They later started their title defence against a Juventus side that had recently been crowned Serie A champions for the first time since the Calciopoli scandal, but threw away a two-goal lead.

Chelsea 2-2 Juventus

David AlabaDavid Alaba
Bayern Munich cruised to an opening victory in 2013/14 | Boris Streubel/Getty Images

It took three minutes for defending champions Bayern Munich to get the ball rolling in what was Pep Guardiola’s first European game in charge at the club in September 2013.

David Alaba scored that opener, with further goals from Mario Mandzukic and Arjen Robben. Bayern proceeded to take 15 points from the group stage, but fell to Real Madrid in the semi-finals.

Bayern Munich 3-0 CSKA Moscow

James Rodriguez scored on his European debut for Real Madrid | JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

A rampant Real Madrid side fresh off the back of the elusive Decima title won all six group games they played in 2014/15 as defending champions. It started with a thrashing of Basel.

Los Blancos were 4-0 after 35 minutes, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and €80m signing James Rodriguez among the scorers. Karim Benzema added the fifth late on.

Real Madrid 5-1 Basel

Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luis SuarezNeymar, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez
Barcelona’s ‘MSN’ couldn’t get the better of Roma | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

A few months on from the greatest triumph of the ‘MSN’ at Barcelona, the Champions League holders were pegged back by Roma thanks to an unlikely goal from Alessandro Florenzi.

Luis Suarez had opened the scoring to begin the defence of Barça’s title in Rome, but then Florenzi struck a remarkable equaliser from out wide by the touchline and approaching the halfway line.

Roma 1-1 Barcelona

UEFA Champions League - "Real Madrid v Sporting Club de Portugal"UEFA Champions League - "Real Madrid v Sporting Club de Portugal"
Cristiano Ronaldo denied Sporting CP a famous win over Real Madrid | VI-Images/Getty Images

For the second time, Real Madrid kicked off the defence of a Champions League title by facing Sporting CP. But having only drawn in Lisbon back in 2000, they won in Madrid in 2016.

Real were actually trailing until the closing stages when Cristiano Ronaldo equalised against his first professional club. Alvaro Morata then got a 95th minute winner.

Real Madrid 2-1 Sporting CP

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Cristiano Ronaldo & Sergio Ramos helped Real Madrid beat APOEL | TF-Images/Getty Images

Having become the first club in the Champions League era to successfully retain the trophy, Real Madrid started the 2017/18 European season looking to win a third straight title.

They started as they meant to go on breezing past Cypriot champions APOEL, with Cristiano Ronaldo (2) and Sergio Ramos on the score-sheet. There were some blips along the way, but they eventually lifted the trophy once more by beating Liverpool in the final.

Real Madrid 3-0 APOEL

UEFA Champions League"Real Madrid v AS Roma"UEFA Champions League"Real Madrid v AS Roma"
Roma were no match fro Real Madrid on matchday one of 2018/19 | VI-Images/Getty Images

Roma have faced several Champions League holders on matchday one over the years. And having been beaten 3-0 by Real Madrid in 2002, they again lost 3-0 in 2018.

This time it was Isco, Gareth Bale and Mariano among the scorers, with Roma unable to respond. But Real couldn’t make it four Champions League titles in a row, crashing out to Ajax in the Last 16.

Real Madrid 3-0 Roma

Virgil van DijkVirgil van Dijk
Liverpool were the first defending champions in 25 years to lose their opening game | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Liverpool became the first reigning European champions to lose their opening game of a Champions League season since AC Milan were beaten by Ajax on matchday one back in 1994/95.

Napoli were the team that got the better of the Reds, scoring twice late on through veteran forwards Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente.

Napoli 2-0 Liverpool

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