If Tom Cruise’s espionage movie franchise had been named Mission Improbable it’s unlikely that it would have done so well at the box office, but it’s a fitting title for Manchester City’s efforts to overcome Liverpool in the Champions League on Tuesday.
They face a 0-3 deficit after being humbled in the first leg at Anfield, and the complexity of their task can be simplified thus: if the Reds score in Tuesday’s second leg, City will need to score five times on the night just to take the contest into extra time.
They can take some solace, however, not only from their own goal power but also in the catalogue of some outstanding comeback victories that have taken place in the history of the Champions League (and formerly the European Cup).
The bookmakers have Pep Guardiola’s men down as a 9/2 long shot to qualify for the semi-finals, so can they take inspiration from these memorable underdog stories and get the job done?
The Rain in Spain: Barcelona 6-1 PSG
Only once in Champions League history has a team overcome a four-goal deficit from the first leg, and this act of footballing escapology was prompted by a virtuoso performance, yet again, from Lionel Messi.
Trailing 0-4 from the first leg in Paris, Barcelona needed to produce something bordering on the impossible to rescue their position in the tie, but goals from Messi, Luis Suarez and a PSG own goal changed the complexion of the fixture.
Dreams of a sensational comeback were dashed when Edison Cavani netted for the French outfit. Barca now trailed 3-5 on aggregate with just two minutes of regulation time to play.
What followed was one of the most surreal seven minutes of football you are ever likely to see.
Neymar netted from a free kick and scored an injury time penalty when Luis Suarez was brought down, but at 5-5 PSG would have progressed via the away goals rule.
But up stepped the unlikeliest of sources, Sergi Roberto, to bag a 95th minute winner and send the Camp Nou absolutely loco.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition: Deportivo 4-0 AC Milan
“Miracles often happen, things you might not rationally expect.”
Those were the words of Deportivo head coach Javier Irureta after his side took a 1-4 tonking against AC Milan at the San Siro. He would prove to be justified in his positivity ahead of this quarter-final clash in 2003/04….
In contrast to Barca in the game mentioned above, Deportivo did the heavy lifting of their comeback in the early going – Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valerón and Alberto Luque all netting in the first half to level the contest at 4-4 but hand themselves the advantage given their all-important away goal.
Milan pressed for some divine intervention of their own in the second period, but Fran González netted a fourth to secure the unlikeliest of victories for the Spaniards.
Milan Misery: Barcelona 4-0 AC Milan
Less than a decade after crumbling against Deportivo, AC Milan were up to their old tricks against Barcelona once more in the last 16 of the 2012/13 renewal.
Again, the Italians were excellent on home soil in the first leg: running up a 2-0 lead to take to Spain.
But Barcelona showed Manchester City the way by overcoming the deficit without the need for an away goal: Lionel Messi (x2), David Villa and Jordi Alba netting to prove that you can win a two-legged tie without an away goal; but keeping a clean sheet on home soil is crucial.
The Early Birds: Bayern 6-1 Porto
The history books show us that if City are to overcome Liverpool on Tuesday, they will need to get off to a fast and ferocious start.
Porto had beaten Bayern 3-1 in the first leg of this 2014/15 quarter final, and while that is by no means conclusive – we all know how good the Germans are in front of their own supporters – they at least gave themselves a decent chance.
rem when Bayern beat Porto 6-1 and Muller convinced fans that they are gonna win UCL, African Cup and American Idol? pic.twitter.com/Pc5LNWi4PZ
— Stifler (@Samzen_) May 13, 2015
But Bayern showed just why their record at the Allianz Arena is so impressive: Porto’s first leg lead was wiped out in just 22 minutes by goals from Thiago Alcantara and Jerome Boateng, and by half-time the hosts had raced into a 5-0 lead thanks to Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller.
That, as they say, is all she wrote. Porto pulled one back in the second half, but a further strike from Xavi Alonso added the cherry on the cake as far as the Germans are concerned.
My how Manchester City would love something similar this week.