Monday, September 23

Premier League


Champions League Team of the Week - Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk

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Sports Mole selects its star-studded Champions League team of the week from the second legs of the last-16 ties, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
By , Editor | 6mo

All four English clubs made it into the quarter-finals of the Champions League to equal their own competition record and usher in a new era of Premier League dominance on the continent.

Manchester City did so the most emphatically, racking up seven goals in a second-leg destruction of Schalke 04 to go through 10-2 on aggregate and fire a statement to the rest of Europe in the process.

Liverpool were the last of the English clubs to confirm their place in the quarters courtesy of a memorable 3-1 win away to Bayern Munich, and Tottenham Hotspur made it a trio of English wins over German opposition as they completed the job against Borussia Dortmund to seal an impressive 4-0 aggregate win.

Manchester United produced arguably the most stunning result of the Premier League quartet, though, as they pulled off a miraculous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain despite arriving in the French capital without 10 first-team players available.

Indeed, comebacks were the story of the round, with Ajax producing their most famous European night since lifting the trophy in 1995 when they ended Real Madrid's Champions League dominance with a stunning 4-1 victory at the Bernabeu.

Juventus also came from two goals down to progress at the expense of Atletico Madrid courtesy of a starring role from perhaps the competition's greatest ever player, while Porto overturned a first-leg deficit to beat last season's semi-finalists Roma.

Barcelona are now the only club left flying the Spanish flag and defending their recent dominance in the competition courtesy of a comfortable 5-1 second-leg win over Lyon at Camp Nou.

Here, Sports Mole selects its star-studded Champions League team of the week from across the last-16 second legs.

This team was undoubtedly the most difficult to choose yet, given the incredible standard of some of the individual performances over the eight matches, and that leaves the likes of Ajax and Manchester United criminally underrepresented, the latter missing out entirely despite one of their most famous European nights.

There was only one standout choice for the gloves, though, with Hugo Lloris leading the charge for Spurs as they somehow kept Dortmund at bay during a one-sided first half. The World Cup winner made seven saves overall - some of which were world class - as Spurs kept a priceless clean sheet.

Only two other teams in the whole round also kept clean sheets, and one of them provide our right-back. Juve's Joao Cancelo not only helped to prevent Atletico scoring a potentially tie-ending away goal in Turin, but he also weighed in with an assist as the Italian champions completed their turnaround.

Two goalscoring defenders make the cut at centre-back, with Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk once again imperious at the back and weighing in with a crucial second away goal. As important as that towering header was, his ability to keep this season's top Champions League scorer Robert Lewandowski quiet was every bit as influential in their win.

Gerard Pique also got amongst the goals in Barcelona's win over Lyon, with that enough to see him narrowly edge out Chris Smalling and Jan Vertonghen for a place alongside Van Dijk in defence.

It is Manchester City who dominate this XI with four players from their 7-0 win over Schalke, and Oleksandr Zinchenko kicks that quartet off having provided an assist and been a constant threat down the left flank as City cut through Schalke almost at will.

There were a number of standout performances from that match, but Ilkay Gundogan was as influential as anyone with a quarterback-esque display. The German is ensuring that City do not miss the presence of Fernandinho too much and, while he may not have got an assist or a goal himself, he had a big part in play in many of the seven.

Bernardo Silva did help himself to one in that match, as well as registering an assist, and he also ended the game with a 96% pass completion rate - the highest on the pitch.

Not even that was enough to earn him the man of the match award, though; Leroy Sane was the chief tormentor against his former club with a goal and three wonderful assists to fire a reminder to Pep Guardiola as to why he should be starting more often for City.

Incredibly, Sane is one of four players who could be given a perfect 10 rating for their performances, and all of them come in the most attacking positions. This means that the likes of Raheem Sterling, Romelu Lukaku, Sadio Mane, Hakim Ziyech, Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Moussa Marega all miss out despite putting in performances which, in most other weeks, would guarantee them a spot.

Perhaps the most unexpectedly impressive display came from Ajax's Dusan Tadic, who put in one of the great away performances at the Bernabeu to orchestrate the downfall of the defending champions. The former Southampton man scored one and created two more in what he himself described as his best ever game.

If that came as a surprise, there was an air of inevitability about Cristiano Ronaldo stepping up to the biggest occasion for Juventus. That did not make his hat-trick against Atletico any less incredible, though, with the five-time Champions League winner sending another batch of records tumbling with two towering headers and a penalty as he almost single-handedly dragged Juve into the quarters.

The spotlight invariably switches to Lionel Messi when Ronaldo achieves such a feat, but the Barcelona talisman responded in kind by scoring twice and creating two more in the win over Lyon just one day later to earn his place in the team alongside his perennial rival.

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