Club Atlético de Madrid were a breath of fresh air, Cristano Ronaldo was astonishing and Jürgen Klopp incomprehensible: UEFA.com digests the 2013/14 season.
Club: Club Atlético de Madrid
Like Borussia Dortmund last season, Atlético have given the established order a shake-up with their refreshing style, tireless work-rate and seemingly unbreakable team spirit. Drawn in a group alongside FC Porto and FC Zenit, Diego Simeone's men cruised through the section with five wins and a draw, before former European champions AC Milan, FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC were overcome in relentless fashion to send Atlético into a fairy-tale final unbeaten.
Diego Costa's eight goals also make a strong argument for him as the competition's best newcomer and even without their chief goalscorer, Atleti were two minutes from glory in Lisbon. Real Madrid CF had other ideas, though Simeone and his side are not done yet, saying: "Once we've done the work with the club's sporting management, we'll have a break with our families, watch the World Cup and then excitedly begin again.
Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid CF)
"Obviously I'm happy with the record but it's not something I was obsessed with," said Ronaldo after scoring his 15th and 16th European goals of 2013/14 in Madrid's 4-0 semi-final triumph at FC Bayern München – thus breaking Lionel Messi's record for goals in a single UEFA Champions League season in the same campaign he ended the Argentinian's winning streak in the FIFA Ballon d'Or.
The elaborate celebrations that greeted his record-breaking 15th would suggest the prospect of carving another piece of history had crossed the 29-year-old forward's mind. Also Spain's leading marksman with 31 Liga goals, you need only look at his strike-rate to know Ronaldo was stupidly good this term. Oh, and he made it 17 with the last goal of the competition.
Goal: Diego (Club Atlético de Madrid v FC Barcelona)
With Atleti advancing to the quarter-finals without facing a real European heavyweight, bar an out-of-form Milan, there were still question marks as to whether Simeone's team could really challenge for the title. Diego delivered the answer in style in the first leg at Camp Nou.
From a improbable position wide on the right, the diminutive playmaker fired a swerving rocket of a shot into the top-right corner from 30 metres, leaving José Manuel Pinto helpless and setting the tone for the drive to the final. "That was a wonderful strike, from such distance," said Barcelona's Andrés Iniesta after the 1-1 draw. "There is very little you can do when someone hits it that well."
Numbers: 10, 5, 93, 3
The Décima, of course, as Madrid ended their 12-year wait to capture a tenth European Cup. Carlo Ancelotti took his personal tally to a record five as player and coach, though he and the Merengues were ultimately indebted to another key number, 93 – the minute of Sergio Ramos' dramatic equaliser to force final extra time in Lisbon. The first three goals UEFA Champions League finals have ever witnessed (the previous six showpieces undecided after 90 minutes failed to produce a goal) then sealed the title.
Contrasting fortunes: SSC Napoli / FC Zenit
Napoli were left wondering how they failed to progress to the knockout phase after four wins from six games in a fiendishly difficult Group F earned an impressive 12 points. However, they became the first team to be eliminated from the group stage with that tally, as Arsenal FC and Dortmund matched it to proceed in a three-way head-to-head.
How different things could have been had the Partonepei been drawn in Group G, where Zenit won just once, scoring five and conceding nine in the process, yet conversely became the first side to advance from their group with only six points. "Not going through is incredible," said mystified Napoli forward Gonzalo Higuaín. "It's hard to receive congratulations after this," added a rather sheepish Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti.
"He likes having the ball, playing football, passes ... it's like an orchestra. But it's a silent song, yeah? I like heavy metal."
Coach Jürgen Klopp, pretending to play the violin, uses a musical analogy to compare the style of his Dortmund squad with that of Group F opponents Arsenal FC.
Comeback: FC Bayern München 2-3 Manchester City FC
It would have been eclipsed if Dortmund had managed to overturn their three-goal quarter-final first-leg deficit against Real Madrid, but City's success in Germany was the pick of the bunch. After receiving a footballing lesson in the first Group D game between the sides in England, Manuel Pellegrini's men looked in for more of the same when Thomas Müller and Mario Götze put Bayern two up within 12 minutes on matchday six.
However, City refused to roll over and David Silva pulled one back ahead of the interval, before Aleksandar Kolarov 's 56th-minute penalty and James Milner's cool side-footed finish clinched it to end the holders' ten-match UEFA Champions League winning run. "We made it difficult for ourselves, it is not the ideal start when you are up against one of the best teams in the world," said Milner.
Oldest newcomer: Mark Schwarzer
Cometh the hour, cometh 'Superman'. Chelsea's semi-final opener against Atlético was 18 minutes old when Petr Čech suffered a shoulder injury that left the Blues' hopes resting on the creaking shoulders of Schwarzer. "It was great," said the second oldest player to grace the competition after standing firm to earn a 0-0 away draw.
"Even at my tender age of 41 you can still experience something new and to play in a Champions League semi-final was fantastic." It was just his second UEFA Champions League appearance, the Australian having become the oldest debutant in December, and it temporarily earned him the sobriquet Superman. "Did you not see me rip off my pants?" the age-defying Schwarzer asked.
Unlikely hero: Demba Ba (Chelsea FC)
After scoring twice in three group stage outings, Senegal forward Ba's chances of featuring again in the UEFA Champions League seemed over after he failed to come off the bench during the round of 16 tie with Galatasaray AŞ or the quarter-final first leg at Paris Saint-Germain.
However, things were getting desperate for Chelsea in their second leg against the Parisian club, and with 24 minutes remaining Ba made his entrance before pouncing in the area with three minutes left to secure José Mourinho's men an away goals passage to the semi-finals. "I am happy to have liberated us," he said after the final whistle. "I have not been given my chance much this season and I've taken it."
No-show: Rod Stewart (Celtic FC)
Neil Lennon's men were unable to repeat their 2012/13 UEFA Champions League scalp of Barcelona, with Cesc Fàbregas hitting the only goal at Celtic Park in Group H; it was a disappointment to the ten-man Hoops, but perhaps no surprise given that singer Rod Stewart – who famously wept in the VIP seats during Celtic's 2-1 win the previous year – was a no-show on the night.
Scheduled to play a run of gigs in Glasgow, Stewart made "one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make" and dutifully decided not to turn up for the game. "After what happened last time Barcelona played at Celtic Park, I'm afraid I'd sing myself stupid and have no voice left for the remaining shows," he explained.
Perhaps instead, we could nominate the Scotsman's 1972 album Never a Dull Moment to be the soundtrack of the 20134/14 UEFA Champions League season?