What a surprising week of results in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. The beginning of the knockout stages saw Paris Saint Germain crush Barcelona, Benfica stun Dortmund and Bayern Munich roll over Arsenal as if they weren’t even there. Through all the surprising and intriguing results, these are the best 11 players from the Round of 16’s opening week of fixtures.
Goalkeeper: Ederson Moraes
The main reason why Benfica were able to beat Dortmund in the Round of 16 was because of goalkeeper Ederson Moraes. The 23-year old was brilliant, saving a soft penalty from Aubameyang when he intelligently stood still and waited for the attacker to make the first move and secured Benfica’s clean sheet with four other superb stops. Moraes also had 51 touches on the ball and dominated his penalty area, winning 2 duels in the air and claiming 100% of the crosses he came for. Moraes may be a relative unknown in the world of football right now but if he keeps on performing to this level may soon be on his way to one of Europe’s elite clubs. For now, he looks set to lead Benfica into the Quarter Finals. Rating: 9.5/10.
Right Back: Thomas Meunier
Thomas Meunier has had an incredible start to 2017 and has seemingly officially kicked Serge Aurier out of the side for good. The Belgian fullback has been one of the best defenders in Ligue 1 since the start of the year and had a fantastic performance in Paris Saint Germain’s first knockout stage game against FC Barcelona. Meunier is one of the best all-around fullbacks in the game and proved that to magnificent effect on February 14th against the Spanish giants. The Belgian played a key role for PSG in attack, assisting Cavani’s goal with an insanely good through ball and completing 88.4% of his passes. But he was even better in defense, making a stunning total of 8 tackles, taming Neymar and Suarez and making 7 clearances as well. It was just a brilliant all-around performance from Thomas Meunier against one of the world’s best sides and one that surely solidifies his place in the XI for the forseeable future. Rating: 10/10.
Centre Back: Luisao
Another one of Benfica’s key performers against Borussia Dortmund, club captain Luisao played an immense role in helping lead the Portuguese side to victory. Luisao assisted Benfica’s only goal of the game from a header right to the feet of Kostas Mitroglu and was magnificent in defense as Dortmund never found their footing. The Brazilian defender may be 36-years old but didn’t look it at all, winning 4 duels in the air, making 9 clearances, 4 interceptions and 3 tackles as the Portuguese side hung on to keep a clean sheet. As dreadful as Dortmund were finishing off chances on Tuesday, Luisao was equally good at thwarting them. Luisao has been one of Benfica’s best servants ever and is proving that at the age of 36 that he is still on top of his game. Rating: 10/10.
Left Back: Layvin Kurzawa
Like Thomas Meunier, Layvin Kurzawa has stolen a permanent role in Unai Emery’s team this year away, taking it away from one of PSG’s long-serving defenders, Maxwell. Kurzawa is having a marvelous season for Emery’s side and is having no difficulty at carrying his magnificent form in Ligue 1 over to the UEFA Champions League. The Frenchman completed 2 tackles and made 4 interceptions in the match as Lionel Messi completely went missing. He also assisted a goal, had the second most touches (69) of all PSG players and delivered 4 crosses as Sergi Roberto and Barcelona were completely exposed down that left-hand side. Although he may not get the recognition he deserves, Layvin Kurzawa is one of the best left-backs in the world right now and was one of the key factors to PSG’s massive 4-1 win over Barcelona. Rating: 8.5/10.
Defensive Midfield: Adrien Rabiot
Adrien Rabiot has really come into his own this year and showed just how much he has matured this season under Unai Emery with a dominating performance against FC Barcelona’s star-studded midfield. Rabiot hardly put a foot wrong all night and made Iniesta and Gomes anonymous in their attacking third, completing 3 tackles and 4 clearances. He was also a calming presence for PSG in possession of the football, completing 87% of his passes and never finding it difficult to get the ball out of his feet, completing 4 take-on’s. His tally of 79 touches was also more than any other midfielder on the pitch except for Iniesta (82), and the 21-year old also had 100% of his shots on target. Adrien Rabiot like the next player in this team of the week is slowly turning into one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and despite all the competition from Krychowiak, Matuidi, Verratti and more, is truly established now in that PSG midfield. Rating: 9/10.
Defensive Midfield: Casemiro
Zinedine Zidane has taken no time at all in bringing Brazilian midfielder Casemiro back into the side following his injury and the 24-year old has been superb since re-entering the team, appearing as though he never missed a game at all. Casemiro was magnificent against Napoli defensively and offensively and scored an insane volley to give Los Blancos a 3-1 win over the Italian giants. The Brazilian midfielder completed 90% of his passes and was critical at getting the ball forward for Zidane’s side, completing 8 of the 10 long ball passes he attempted and creating 1 chance. Casemiro was also a rock for Los Blancos in defense, always covering for Modric and Kroos and completing 3 tackles and 7 interceptions! Casemiro is slowly turning into one of the best defensive midfielders in world football and if he keeps on performing to this level will certainly start to get even more recognition in that regard. Rating: 9.5/10.
Right Wing: Angel di Maria
Angel di Maria just loves playing against Barcelona. The Argentinean wing wizard has been sublime since joining PSG from Manchester United in the summer two seasons ago and turned it on to another level in his team’s knockout fixture against his old arch nemesis. Di Maria was a constant source of attacks for the French giants, was always a prominent figure when they had the ball in Barcelona’s defensive third and got his side off and running with a phenomenal free kick that froze ter Stegen. The Argentinean was just on fire, scoring two fantastic goals and with 4 chances created was incredibly unlucky not to add an assist to his name. It seems as though Angel di Maria just knows Barcelona’s weaknesses and with the help of Unai Emery, exploited them brilliantly in the Round of 16’s opening match. Rating: 10/10.
Attacking Midfield: Thiago Alcantara
Thiago Alcantara has been the shining star in Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich this season. Thiago was the orchestrator of Arsenal’s demise, leading his side to a 5-1 victory with two fantastic goals and an assist. Thiago scored both times from his only two shots in the match and also created 2 chances in the match. But most impressively he ran the show as he always seems to do now for Bayern, touching the ball 111 times, completing 90 passes, (93% of those he attempted) and was constantly looking to get the ball up field, completing all 12 of the long balls he attempted. Arsenal probably never had any chance at getting out of this round alive, but Thiago Alcantara made sure of it with his dominating performance in the centre of Ancelotti’s midfield as the Gunners now look to go out in the Round of 16 for the seventh straight season. Rating: 10/10.
Left Wing: Julian Draxler
Julian Draxler has been immense since joining PSG from Wolfsburg in January and was one of the stars of the show as the French champions stunned Barcelona in the Round of 16. Draxler was instrumental in attack for PSG, creating 1 chance, scoring one phenomenal goal, and dancing his way around Sergi Roberto with 3 dribbles. The German winger even helped out in defense with 1 tackle and 4 interceptions as the French side just completely dominated over last year’s La Liga champions. Julian Draxler has had an amazing start to life in the French capital and with his performance in the UEFA Champions League this round has certainly stolen a spot in the side for good. Rating: 9.5/10.
Striker: Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski has always been a man for the big occasion and on Wednesday the 15th ended his run of two games without a goal by putting in a brilliant performance against Arsenal. The Polish striker scored his 6th goal in the UEFA Champions League this season with a typical incisive Lewandowski finish, and he also assisted Thiago’s first goal with an incredible backheel through ball. Lewandowski may have missed 4 chances, including one that hit the woodwork but he still had a fantastic second half, linking up excellently well with Thiago and Robben, creating 2 chances and and completing nearly 90% of his passes. Robert Lewandowski just gave Arsenal all sorts of problems and proved exactly why he is one of the best number 9’s on the planet with his dominating performance against the Gunners. Rating: 9/10.
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo
The race to 100 UEFA Champions goals between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is heating up and even though neither could find the back of the net this week, it was the Portugese who stole the show between the two this week. Ronaldo was one of Real Madrid’s key men in attack against Gil Azzurri, creating a stunning total of 5 chances and assisting one goal. Impressively as well, Ronaldo also kept his shot tally to just 3 attempts, showing a much more mature and unselfish side as he turned into the provider instead. The Euro 2016 winner also completed 88% of his passes, completed 5 take-0n’s, more than any other player this week, and won 2 duels in the air. With Barcelona’s horrific loss to Paris Saint Germain it now looks as though it is going to be Ronaldo to get to 100 goals first and with his impressive performance against Napoli, Real Madrid look set to go all the way again. Rating: 9/10.
Player of the Week: Thiago Alcantara
The star of the show in the biggest result of the weekend. Thiago Alcantara scored two and assisted another as Bayern Munich thrashed Arsenal by a score of 5-1. The Spanish midfielder controlled the match with 111 touches, 90 passses and 12 accurate long balls and almost single-handedly ended Arsene Wenger’s hopes at getting into the Quarter Finals of this tournament. Thiago Alcantara is this week’s Player of the Week!
Manager of the Week: Unai Emery
Nobody expected PSG to win this match but they absolutely thumped Barcelona with a shocking 4-0 win, thanks to the brilliance of Unai Emery. First and foremost, the Spanish manager got his team selection right in every single regard. You might have thought Lucas Moura would start this match but Emery opted for Angel di Maria and Julian Draxler instead and the two turned out to be the best players on the pitch. Draxler, a new arrival surely wouldn’t have been expected to start this match but under the influence of Emery had one of his best games ever. Di Maria meanwhile has struggled at times this season and wouldn’t have been guaranteed a place either but recognizing how stellar he has been against Barcelona in the past, Emery correctly gave him the nod as well. Rabiot was also a brilliant selection in defensive midfield, controlling the game alongside Verratti and Matuidi while Meunier and Kurzawa put in masterclasses of performances that Maxwell and Aurier probably wouldn’t have been capable of. But Emery was also brilliant with his tactics, completing shutting out Iniesta, Busquets and Gomes (was he even there?) in midfield and somehow making Neymar, Suarez and Messi all go missing. His side put on a very high press on Barcelona’s defense, were clinical at finishing off their chances and completely out-ran their opposition on route to a massive 4-0 win. Unai Emery surely has to be thought of as one of the best managers in world football and with his incredible footballing brain and managerial masterfulness, this could be Paris Saint Germain’s year.
So there it is! The Team of the Week for February 14th-February 15th in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. Like what you read? Click to follow or check out where all of these players rank in our latest edition of the Top 200 Footballers In The World List. See you next week!