UEFA Champions League: Picking a Combined XI Ahead of the Mini-Tournament

Sergio Ramos, Kevin De Bruyne
Sergio Ramos and Kevin De Bruyne – two of the Champions League’s top performers | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a long 16 weeks without it, but the Champions League is very nearly back.

Europe’s elite knockout competition will play out to its conclusion later this month with an impromptu mini-tournament, where the clubs lucky enough to have made the quarter-finals – or haven’t played their round of 16 second legs yet – will vie for the showpiece prize of the 2019/20 season.

We’ll see some of the best players on the planet go head to head, so to build the hype, we’ve analysed the 12 remaining squads, and come up with the best XI of all of them combined.

It hasn’t been easy, so please don’t shout.

Jan OblakJan Oblak
Oblak is the best keeper around | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Where would Atléti be without their Slovenian Superman between the sticks this season? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The title of best goalkeeper in the world has rarely been more tightly contested than it is now, but Oblak is a truly special talent who can probably now lay claim to it.

You don’t often come across a keeper with cat-like reflexes, sublime distribution, and the authority to command his box like a military sergeant preparing for battle, but here is is.

Honourable Mention: Marc-André ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois

UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"
Klostermann impressed against Tottenham | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Liverpool’s elimination means the default instinct to just select Trent Alexander-Arnold is void. As it turns out, outside of the England right-back, there isn’t really an outstanding choice for this position.

Lukas Klostermann has been a consistent, versatile and energetic presence for an impressive Leipzig team, however, and continues to grow under the radar as one of the most quietly impressive full-backs on the continent.

Honourable Mentions: Hans Hateboer, Kieran Trippier

Sergio RamosSergio Ramos
Ramos saw red against City but is still one of the tournament’s outstanding defenders | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Ok so he might have had a bit of a mare against Manchester City, but c’mon, this is Sergio Ramos we’re on about.

The best goalscoring centre half ever, Mr. Champions League, Captain Sh*thouse himself.

This Real team by no means look like the best in Europe, but purely through virtue of having Ramos there to kick ass and take names, you wouldn’t bet against them going at the way…if they can first manoeuvre their way past City without him.

Neymar, MarquinhosNeymar, Marquinhos
Marquinhos celebrates with Neymar after his goal against Borussia Dortmund | UEFA – Handout/Getty Images

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender in the world, you’re kidding yourself. That’s Virgil van Dijk.

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender left in the Champions League, however, you’re probably right.

Marquinhos’ ridiculous passing range and composure on the ball have been a massive part of why PSG are still in with a chance of advancing beyond the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. He’s not bad at the old defending either – Paris have conceded just three goals in eight UCL matches this term, a run through which he has been a virtual ever-present.

Honourable Mentions: Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano, Felipe, Matthijs de Ligt

Davies’ star is rising about as quickly as he can sprint – and that’s very, very, very fast.

He was famously monikered ‘Roadrunner’ by Thomas Muller earlier this season, and his pace and dynamism have already proved too much for Tottenham and Chelsea to handle.

A real creative bright spark down the left hand side, Davies adds another string to Hansi Flick’s fearsome attacking bow – as if he needs it.

Honourable Mentions: Roben Gosens

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne helped City to a key first leg win over Real Madrid | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

38 goal-involvements this season. And counting.

From central midfield.

Honestly, De Bruyne, just give it a rest.

Joshua KimmichJoshua Kimmich
Kimmich swings in a corner against Chelsea | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

It doesn’t seem to matter where you play Kimmich. Centre-midfield, right-back, centre-back, in goal, assistant manager; it really has no bearing, because he’ll still chip in with ten assists every year.

He’s the definition of reliable, and at times this season he’s held together a Bayern team that might have otherwise fallen apart.

Saul NiguezSaul Niguez
Saul pays his respects to Liverpool | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid’s midfield warrior rounds out our fantasy trio after yet another impressive season in Los Rojiblacos’ engine room.

He might have picked up more bookings (13) than goals or assists (7) in all competitions, but if anything that just further emphasises that he’s doing what he’s in the team for; to win battles, stifle creativity, and move the ball on.

He does like the odd important goal, however – just as Liverpool about that one.

Honourable Mentions: Houssem Aouar, Marcel Sabitzer, Casemiro

Lionel MessiLionel Messi
Messi on the prowl against Napoli | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Well…yeah.

Barcelona may be reaching the limits of how bad they can be while still relying on Messi to drag them over the line, but that hasn’t stopped the little magician from trying.

He single-handedly got them through the group stage, scoring or assisting five of their nine goals, and looks poised to try and repeat that feat when Napoli come to town to keep his team in with a chance of actually winning a trophy.

Honourable Mentions: Christian Pulisic, Serge Gnabry

Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso DaviesRobert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso Davies
Lewandowski celebrates scoring against Chelsea | Visionhaus/Getty Images

11 goals in six Champions League games. Eleven goals, in six Champions League games.

Lewandowski’s had a good season in the same way Michael Jordan was good at basketball. He looked a shoe-in for Ballon d’Or before it was unceremoniously cancelled, but you’d safely bet he’d happily trade that individual accolade to finally get his hands on the Champions League.

Honourable Mentions: Josip Ilicic, Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First LegOlympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Ronaldo advancing on goal against Lyon | RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images

We have to apologise for choosing the most predictable and obvious front three in Champions League history, but when you’ve got Messi, Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo all available, what are you going to do? Not pick them?

Ronnie has hit the ground running this season after using 2018/19 to settle in at Juve, and although his European form doesn’t quite match his Serie A exploits, his 35 goals in all competitions means he still warrants a place in this team.

That and the fact that he’s, y’know, the all-time Champions League top goalscorer.

Honourable Mentions: Raheem Sterling, Papu Gomez

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Lionel Messi: Remembering La Pulga’s First Year as a Professional

A fresh-faced Messi in 2005
A fresh-faced Messi in 2005 | Luis Bagu/Getty Images

With 25 La Liga goals and 21 La Liga assists, Lionel Messi finished the 2019/20 season as the top-scorer and top assist provider in the Spanish top division, further demonstrating his other worldly footballing ability.

For almost 15 years, Messi has been the star of the show at the Camp Nou and the best player in the world (sorry Cristiano) – collecting a record six Ballons d’Or along the way.

Having won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and numerous other trophies throughout his career, Messi is regarded by many to be one of, if not the, greatest footballer in the history of the beautiful game, and after watching the Argentine smash every record known to man over the past 15 years – who are we to argue?

Haven’t you always wanted to see how the all time greats started out? Muhammad Ali’s first boxing match, William Shakespeare’s first play, Lionel Messi’s first season in football, well you’re in luck. 90min invite you to hop into our hypothetical Delorean and take a little journey back to where it all began, back when a 17-year-old Messi took to the field for Barcelona for the very first time, and changed football forever.

Having shot through the ranks at Barcelona, Messi began training with Barcelona’s first-team during the 2003/04 season and instantly caught the eye of his elder teammates. French winger Ludovic Giuly even admitted the young Argentine destroyed them in training, insisting the team’s starting centre-backs were even terrified to come up against the prodigy.

Messi was that impressive that Barcelona great Ronaldinho – a man many considered to be the best footballer in the world at the time – admitted to his teammates that he thought the then 16-year-old would go on to become a better player than him.

Barcelona's coach Frank Rijkaard (L) hugBarcelona's coach Frank Rijkaard (L) hug
Frank Rijkaard gave Messi his debut at Barcelona | LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

The Argentine’s first appearance for the club was actually in a friendly against Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Messi would only play the final 15 minutes, but was already showing signs of the player he would go on to become, with Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard saying the following after the game:

“He only had 15 minutes, but he played really well and he had two chances to score. The future he has is promising.”

Mourinho would go on to face the Messi many times over the years as manager of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter, and while the Special One’s record against Barcelona isn’t great, he credits facing La Pulga for making him a better coach.

This debut was back in 2003, but it wasn’t until October 2004 that Messi finally got a chance in La Liga. In a testament to just how much talent he’d shown in training, numerous first-team players had asked Barcelona’s then-manager Frank Rijkaard to utilise Messi in a competitive game, leading to his debut on 16 October against Espanyol. Traditionally a left winger, Messi was moved to the right so Rijkaard could fit both the youngster and Ronaldinho in his team, and it paid off tenfold.

Ronaldinho, Lionel MessiRonaldinho, Lionel Messi
Ronaldinho could see the potential Messi possessed even at the age of 16 | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

At the time of his debut, Messi – aged 17 years, three months and 22 days – was the youngest ever player to represent Barcelona in an official competition, but despite impressing his teammates and manager alike, the Argentine found gametime hard to come by during his first season in Barcelona’s first team.

Throughout his debut season, Messi only played more than 20 minutes in three of his nine appearances, but with Ronaldinho taking the youngster under his wing, his debut season was a huge learning curve and helped shape what would go on to be a monumental career.

“This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona. Leo Messi reminds me more of Maradona, both left-footed and short, Messi is the best player in the world, along with Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. For us it is not a surprise. Since he began to come and train with us and we knew we would go down this path. Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi.”

– Ronaldinho – After 2005 Ballon d’Or win

It wasn’t until Messi’s final appearance of the season, the last La Liga game of the season, that he scored his first senior goal for Barcelona, with an audacious chip following a perfectly weighted lob from Ronaldinho. The goal made Messi the youngest goalscorer in Barcelona’s history at the time. The attacker would go on to see his side win their first La Liga title in six years, a feeling he would become all too familiar with in the years to follow as the club dethroned Real Madrid as Spain’s kingpins.

Although it was a fairly uneventful first professional season for Messi, he’d return the year after and improve significantly, with eight goals in 25 appearances – and, as you know, it only got better from there. Despite being in his 16th season as a Barcelona first team player, Messi hasn’t failed to hit double figure goals scored since his second season in the side, a testament to the truly remarkable player he’s gone on to become.

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Mauricio Pochettino Opens Door to Replacing Quique Setien at Barcelona

Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino has been out of work since his sacking from Tottenham last November | Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images

Former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has backtracked on previous comments saying that he’d never take up the managerial job at Barcelona, opening the door a crack for him to be Quique Setien’s successor at Camp Nou.

The pressure has mounted exponentially on Setien after the Catalans surrendered their La Liga title to Real Madrid for the first time since 2017, with the Spaniard struggling to impose his ideals and manage the bigger egos within the Barcelona squad.

Quique SetienQuique Setien
It’s been a mixed bag for Quique Setien thus far, but losing the title to Real Madrid was a huge blow | Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Despite receiving constant backing from the Barça board, Setien’s future at the club is in serious doubt and he may even depart following the conclusion of La Blaugrana’s Champions League run this month. It may take European glory for Setien to keep his job.

Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, has reopened the door to any potential managerial vacancy in Catalunya by backtracking on comments he made in 2018.

A club legend at Barça’s cross-city rivals Espanyol both as a player and coach, the Argentine once famously said that he would return to his farm in his homeland before taking over the reins at the Camp Nou.

The Catalan giants had a serious interest in hiring Pochettino following the January departure of Ernesto Valverde but Setien was hired instead, with the Argentine displaying a distinct lack of enthusiasm when Barça made an approach.

Espanyol's coach Mauricio Pochettino froEspanyol's coach Mauricio Pochettino fro
Pochettino oversaw 160 games in charge of Espanyol – his first of just three jobs in management thus far | JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

He appears to have changed his tune, though.

“I did not want to disrespect Barcelona. I could have said things differently. Espanyol has made a name for me. But I’m not arrogant and I didn’t like making a statement like that. Maybe now I wouldn’t because in life you never know what will happen,” Pochettino said speaking to El Pais (via Forbes).

It appears the Argentine has dropped his name in the hat for the potential managerial sweepstake at Barcelona this summer, with the former Spurs boss out of work since his sacking from N17 last November.

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The World’s Most Valuable Sports Teams in 2020 – Ranked

Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid
Real Madrid are one of the most valuable teams worldwide | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a bit of a weird year for sports teams of all kinds around the world, but there’s still a crazy amont of money in sport.

As they do every year, the people over at Forbes have put together a list of the most valuable sports teams across the globe, and a solid number of football teams managed to make their way into the rankings.

Let’s take a look at the top 50 teams – we’ll dive deeper into the ones that we care about over here.

Maintaining the same value as last year is Arsenal, who have fallen five spots down to 47th.

While it hasn’t been the best year on the pitch for Arsenal, inconsistent performances and sacking manager Unai Emery haven’t had too much of an impact financially.

Thanks to their FA Cup final triumph, the Gunners will have the chance to build on that in next year’s Europa League.

Just like Arsenal, Chelsea have also dropped five places while still retaining their same value from 2019.

The Blues had planned to have a busy year, with a brand new stadium complex on the cards, only for Chelsea to allow their planning permission to expire while they evaluate the current financial landscape.

Frank Lampard managed to guide Chelsea back to the Champions League, ensuring their income won’t take much of a hit over the coming year.

Yet again, City retained their value from 2019, but growth from teams from other sports has seen them drop nine spots down to 34th.

City’s financial power is no secret, and they flexed their muscle last summer by striking huge deals for Rodri and João Cancelo, and there’ll probably be a fair bit of money spent this year too.

Pep Guardiola’s side managed to get their Champions League ban overturned, ensuring they can remain competitive for years to come, although they did have to swallow a hefty fine.

Despite no drop in value, Bayern Munich find themselves falling from 17th in 2019 to 24th in 2020.

Being so far down in any rankings is an alien concept for Bayern, who have been overwhelmingly dominant in the Bundesliga in recent years.

Perennial favourites to win the Champions League, their value would enjoy a tidy rise if they can get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2013.

Despite dropping from sixth to tenth, Manchester United remain the third most valuable football team in the world.

It’s that kind of financial power which has given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some big plans for the summer transfer window, and qualifying for the Champions League will only help United strengthen, both on and off the pitch.

The Red Devils hope to be back on track after a few years of turmoil, so don’t be surprised to see them climb higher up this list in 2021.

Dropping down four spots are Barcelona, who still sit second on football’s rich list.

There was no drop in value for Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and co. this year, but the impact of the coronavirus outbreak might have a pretty rough impact on Barcelona’s finances for the 2021 rankings.

It’s been a frustrating year for the Catalan club, who need to win the Champions League to finish the campaign with any silverware. No pressure.

Sitting atop football’s financial Mount Olympus for the second straight year are Real Madrid.

Los Blancos spent big money last summer, recruiting Eden Hazard, Luka Jovi?, Éder Militão, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo Goes, and their reward was yet another La Liga title.

The spending might be a little calmer this time around, with Zinedine Zidane instead focusing on selling some of the club’s fringe players.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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Barcelona President Hits Out at ‘Disrespectful’ Arthur for Champions League Choice

Arthur Melo
Arthur Melo has refused to leave Brazil until his Juventus agreement kicks in | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has hit out at midfielder Arthur for his refusal to return to Camp Nou this summer.

Arthur has already agreed a deal to join Juventus, despite publicly admitting he wanted to stay in Barcelona, and he has now refused to come back and compete in the Champions League in an attempt to force through an early exit.

Arthur MeloArthur Melo
Arthur wants his Barcelona contract to be terminated | Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Speaking to Sport, Bartomeu claimed that Barcelona simply could not afford to pay Arthur what he wanted and therefore allowed him to leave, but the Brazilian had agreed to remain at Camp Nou and compete in the Champions League.

“What Arthur’s done is a lack of respect towards his teammates because the team is desperate to do well in the Champions League, as is the club,” Bartomeu said. “It’s not normal that, with such a big trophy on the line, a player decides to remove himself from selection. It’s unjustifiable and completely incomprehensible.

“We reached an agreement for him to continue with Barça until the end of the Champions League. He’s an important player that could help us. But he didn’t come back after a mini-break. It’s an unacceptable act of indiscipline. And for that reason, we have opened disciplinary proceedings because there’s no argument to justify his absence. He called and he said: ‘I won’t come back, I am staying in Brazil.’ It’s his decision. No one gave him permission.”

As well as all the controversy surrounding Arthur, manager Quique Setién has also found himself dominating headlines recently, with many reports suggesting the boss could be sacked this summer after a poor end to the campaign.

“Setién has a contract. When we appointed him, we explained it was a project for this season but also for the next one,” Bartomeu added. “Measuring a coach by a few months, with a pandemic in the middle, is tough. Arturo Vidal said it, he’s had very little time to get to know the players and work.

“At no moment have we thought about a change of coach. I know there were some reports about [reserve manager Francisco Javier García Pimienta] but that’s never been spoken about. Setién is our manager. We’ve not spoken with anyone. Not with Laurent Blanc or anyone. I speak with Xavi because we have a good relationship but he just renewed with his team. He will coach Barça one day, but he will decide when.”

Finally, Bartomeu took the chance to discuss the future of young winger Ansu Fati, who has been the subject of ‘interest from some clubs’.

Ansu FatiAnsu Fati
Fati’s emergence has been one of the best parts of the season | Alex Caparros/Getty Images

“Barça’s response has always been no. Ansu is not for sale. He’s essential for the club’s future,” the president added. “He represents La Masia from which players come out, learn and earn a spot in the first team.

“There are not many players like him and Barça cannot sell him, even if it was an economic solution for the club in these times of pandemic. At no time have we considered selling him. On the contrary: what you have to do is help him in his growth and renew him for the future, so that he plays here for life.”

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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