How good has the UEFA Champions League been this year?! The Round of 16’s first week of second leg fixtures did not disappoint in any regard and was one of the most exciting weeks of action the tournament has ever seen. March 7th-8th saw unsurprising results like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich thumping their opponents in Napoli and Arsenal but also amazingly shocking results in Borussia Dortmund destroying Benfica 4-0 and Barcelona with what is being called the greatest comeback the Champions League has ever seen. Through all the incredible excitement, there were some incredible performers and these are the best 11 of them!
Goalkeeper: Roman Burki
No goalkeeper really stood out this week, making it the hardest position to fill. But it’s only fair that the only goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet this week in Roman Burki, is the man that gets the nod as this week’s Goalkeeper of the Week! Burki was on top of his game for BVB against SL Benfica and whenever he was called upon always seemed to be in the right place to make the save. The Dortmund keeper claimed 100% of the crosses he came for and was also successful in making 2 saves as Dortmund cruised to the quarter finals. In truth Roman Burki didn’t have too much action to deal with on Wednesday but in the future is going to need to continue to produce top class saves to help keep Dortmund in the competition for the long-haul. Rating: 8/10.
Right Back: Lukasz Piszczek
Long-time Dortmund right-back Lukasz Piszczek has been one of BVB’s best performers this season and came up crucial yet again as the Black and Yellows thumped SL Benfica 4-0. Piszczek’s game over the years has evolved considerably since he joined Dortmund; starting out as a right-midfielder when he first came to BVB, developing into one of the best right-back’s in the world when they nearly won the UCL and now flourishing as a centre-half in a three man defense. The best part of Piszczek’s game has always been his defending and now as part of a three-man defense, the Pole is as comfortable as ever. But as highlighted in Dortmund’s 4-0 win on Wednesday, he still has tremendous ability going forward. On top of 5 defensive clearances, 2 blocked shots and a 96% pass accuracy, Piszczek also supplied Christian Pulisic’s goal with a sublime pass, showing his quality going forward. Lukasz Piszczek has become extremely underrated in recent years but those that watch him closely still regard him as one of the best right-back’s in the world of football. Rating: 8.5/10.
Centre Back: Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos always comes up big in big matches, particularly in the UEFA Champions League where he has a certain knack for scoring significant goals. Ramos was Real Madrid’s best player against Napoli on Tuesday, scoring a brace and leading his side to victory. His second goal of the night is being debated as to whether or not it was an own goal off the head of Dries Mertens, but The Mastermind believes it is 100% Sergio Ramos’ goal as the shot was always on target without Mertens’ touch. So with that in mind, for any defender to score two goals in a match it is just incredible and something that only a player of the quality of Sergio Ramos could manage. On top of his two brilliant goals, his impact for Real Madrid was unsurpassed, having more touches (87), aerial duels won (2), interceptions (8!) and clearances (4) than any other player for Los Blancos. The Spaniard also notched 4 tackles and just to reiterate, made 8 interceptions against Napoli, proving his influence on stopping Gil Azzurri in attack. Sergio Ramos had a phenomenal performance for Real Madrid at both ends of the pitch and if they are going to have any chance at becoming the first ever back-to-back winners of the tournament he is going to be absolutely crucial to Zidane’s side. Rating: 10/10.
Left Back: Marcel Schmelzer
Joining Sergio Ramos and his teammate, Lukasz Piszczek in defense this week is Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer. Initially I raised an eyebrow at the inclusion of Schmelzer ahead of the in-form Raphael Guerreiro for this match but the decision proved incredibly effective. The German international had a massive impact on Borussia’s 4-0 thrashing of Benfica. Crucially, Schmelzer grabbed his third assist of Dortmund’s UEFA Champions League campaign this season with an incredible one touch pass over to Aubameyang, the goal that ended Benfica’s hopes of advancing to the quarter finals. The leader also whipped in four crosses, made four clearances and created two chances in total. Marcel Schmelzer may be eased out of the team in place of Raphael Guerreiro in the nearby future, but with his performances in the UEFA Champions League this season is continuing to prove that he still has an integral part to play in this BVB team. Rating: 8.5/10.
Defensive Midfield: Arturo Vidal
Forced to bide his time from the bench and hide behind the shadows of youngster Johsua Kimmich in the first half of the season, Arturo Vidal has reclaimed his place in Carlo Ancelotti’s side and has made 4 Team of the Week appearances since. The Chilean midfielder has been in arguably the best form of his entire life in the past month and arguably had one of his best performances of his entire career against Arsenal this past Tuesday. Let’s get one thing straight, Laurent Koscielny’s red card changed the match. Without it, Bayern don’t win so comfortably and Vidal doesn’t completely dominate this game. But Koscielny received red shortly after the second half began and Vidal went on to control the match, get on the ball and force his way forward. That persistence and stamina by the Chilean midfielder to push on when everyone else was tired was what ultimately wore Arsenal down and gave Bayern Munich such a hefty victory. First and foremost as The Mastermind always admires, Vidal was incredibly effective at both ends of the pitch. In attack, the Bayern Munich man scored two goals from three shots, created one chance and forced two fouls, while in defense he was arguably even better, making 8 interceptions and 5 tackles! The former Leverkusen man was also amazing in possession, having more touches (100) than any other player on the pitch and completing 91% of his passes, including the only cross and through ball he attempted and all five of the long balls he tried out! Arturo Vidal was just amazing in all areas of the game and all areas of the pitch on Tuesday night and completely dominated over Arsenal, profiting from Laurent Koscielny’s red card and leading Bayern Munich to a 5-1 victory. Rating: 10/10.
Centre Midfield: Toni Kroos
Proving exactly why he is one of the deadliest set piece specialist on planet earth, Toni Kroos assisted both of Sergio Ramos’ goals, both from corner kicks, as Real Madrid walked to a 3-1 triumph. While attempting to try out several long balls and always being on corner kick and free kick duty, Kroos’ passing percentage of 82.3% wasn’t up to his normally high standards but his impact on Madrid was still immense. The German midfielder had 78 touches, created three chances, made 4 tackles and was the provider of 2/3 of Real Madrid’s goals. Toni Kroos is just such an elegant footballer and with Casemiro in behind him and Modric close by, the German flourishes in Zidane’s team like he never has before. Kroos is one of the best midfielders on the planet and like Ramos, will be absolutely massive in their bid to become the first ever back-to back-winners in UEFA Champions League history. Rating: 9.5/10.
Right Wing: Christian Pulisic
In place of the injured Marco Reus, Christian Pulisic came straight into Thomas Tuchel’s lineup for this match and was at the heart of everything good as the Black and Yellows advanced to the quarter finals. Pulisic, still only 18, was just instrumental to Dortmund’s 4-0 win on Wednesday, scoring a goal and assisting another. The 18-year old also had a tremendous work rate in defense, always hungry to win the ball back for his team. Pulisic made 4 tackles and 2 interceptions to help keep that clean sheet for his side. His influence at the other end of the pitch however was unsurpassed, creating 2 chances, forcing 2 fouls, completing 3 take-on’s in addition to that aforementioned goal and assist. Christian Pulisic is certainly the best 18-year old footballer there is and now with Marco Reus forced to spend another month out with injury he will certainly be given his chance to shine in Thomas Tuchel’s team! Rating: 10/10.
Attacking Midfield: Douglas Costa
Douglas Costa only played 20 minutes against Arsenal but in that time Bayern Munich scored three goals and the Brazilian was involved in two of them! Arguably, Costa was the key man that changed the match for Bayern Munich and without him the gap in the scoreline probably isn’t quite as great. Costa’s infleunce over Bayern Munich in just 20 minutes was insurmountable, scoring one goal, assisting another, completing 4 take-0n’s and even completing 100% of his passes. The wing wizard’s pace was just far too much for the Gunners to handle, making Nacho Monreal look woeful with his dazzling footwork and Ospina look dredful with his natural ability to finish off chances. Douglas Costa changed the match, led Arsenal’s final twenty minute surge toward a 5-1 win and just could not be left out of this week’s Champions League Team of the Week! Rating: 9.5/10.
Left Wing: Neymar
All throughout the Barcelona match we were all thinking, surely they can’t do it! And then miraculously they did it! Barcelona came back from a four goal deficit to beat a woeful PSG side by a score of 6-1 in the second leg of this Round of 16 encounter. The star of the show and the reason as to why Barcelona are going to be advancing to the Quarter Finals is all down to one man, Brazilian forward Neymar. Not that Suarez, Messi and the rest of Enrique’s team weren’t fantastic but without Neymar, there is no way Barcelona advance to the next round. The Brazilian winger just came up so clutch towards the end of the game; not cracking under the pressure, getting on the ball at every opportunity and making things happen for his side. With his two late goals and an extra late assist for Sergi Roberto’s goal, Barcelona were able to advance to the next round 6-5 on aggregate. His influence for the Catalan club was just incredible on all fronts, touching the ball 109 times, more than any other player, completing 4 take-on’s, forcing 8 fouls and even making 3 tackles! This was the greatest comeback of all time in the UEFA Champions League and Neymar was the man who should receive all of the headlines for it. Rating: 10/10.
Centre Forward: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
What more can be said about this incredible striker that hasn’t already been said on this site? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of the deadliest goal-scorers in the world of football and has been ever since he joined Borussia Dortmund back in 2013. Aubameyang has scored 21 goals in 21 Bundesliga appearances this season and now with a hat-trick against Liga Zon Sagres title contenders SL Benfica, has netted 7 goals in 7 UEFA Champions League appearances this season. Aubameyang just knows how to finish off chances and the striker from Gabon always seems to find himself in the right place at exactly the right time to bulge the back of the net. But this was something else. This was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at his finest! Auba took five shots in the match, four of which were on target and three of which were converted for goals. He also created 2 chances, won 2 headed duels and completed 83% of his passes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of the best strikers on planet earth and it isn’t even a question. With three goals, the BVB striker led his team into the quarter finals and is going to continue to have to find the back of the net if Dortmund are going to continue to progress. Rating: 10/10.
Striker: Luis Suarez
No one would have predicted Barcelona to beat PSG by such a hefty score-line this week and it is truly amazing what they have accomplished in advancing to the quarter finals. Argentinean striker Luis Suarez was integral to this stunning twist of events and was one of Barca’s best performers, helping to lead his team to a 6-1 triumph. Suarez bagged a goal and won a crucial penalty late on to keep the Catalan club’s hopes alive before Neymar did the rest and won his team the match. The Argentinean was also crucial in winning 2 aerial duels, drawing three fouls and even having 100% of his shots on target. This was just an unthinkable result and one that no one saw coming. But with Suarez and Neymar in their team, Barcelona managed to advance to the quarter finals against all odds. Rating: 9/10.
Player of the Week: Neymar
Without Neymar, there is no way Barcelona advance to the quarter finals. The Brazilian winger just came up so clutch towards the end of the game; not cracking under the pressure, getting on the ball at every opportunity and making things happen for his side. With his two late goals and an extra late assist for Sergi Roberto’s goal, Barcelona were able to advance to the next round 6-5 on aggregate. 4 successful take-on’s, 8 fouls drawn, 3 tackles and 109 touches help to highlight how much of an influence Neymar had on this match; they truly could not have done it without him. This was the greatest comeback of all time in the UEFA Champions League and Neymar was the man who should receive all of the headlines for it. Rating: 10/10.
Runners Up: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Ramos
Manager of the Week: Luis Enrique
Although Thomas Tuchel’s ability to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 aggregate scoreline is commendable, there really is no other option this week for best manager than Luis Enrique. To accomplish what Enrique has just accomplished is more psychological than anything else. No one even believed in him a week ago and now he’s just gone on to lead Barcelona to an emphatic result! Somehow the Spanish manager managed to rally his club to want to go out and perform to that highest level on Wednesday and against all odds, they pulled off the impossible. Barcelona were just full of energy, vibrancy and desire against PSG and it was something that Unai Emery’s side were completely unprepared for. Neymar did more than expected as a left-wing-back while Rafinha was good on the other side. Rakitic and Iniesta dominated the midfield while Messi and Suarez combined well as they always do up front. The balance of the team was just impeccable and everything Enrique did in the preparation for this match has to be praised as Barcelona came out with guns blazing, doing everything they can to advance to the next round. This truly was the greatest UEFA Champions League comeback of all time and the man who cannot get lost in the headlines for his role in it is Luis Enrique who deserves so much credit for the incredible result.
Honourable Mention: Thomas Tuchel
So there it is! Another amazing week of fixtures in the UEFA Champions League comes to a close with another Mastermind Team of the Week. For more articles on all of your favourite players, teams and leagues, click the follow button now! See you next time!