The first legs of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Finals were all absolutely fantastic and none of the four matches ended in a stalemate, providing so much intrigue for what could happen next week when the second legs take place. Dortmund bounced back from a horrific attack to put up a good fight against Monaco where they eventually lost 3-2, Real Madrid made waves with an impressive 2-1 win over their former manager Carlo Ancelotti, Atletico narrowly escaped past Leicester by a score of 1-0 and finally Juventus absolutely thrashed Barcelona by a score of 3-0. Through all four matches there were many standout stars and these are the best of the best. This is the UEFA Champions League Team of the Week for the Round of 16’s first leg fixtures. Enjoy!
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon may be the best player in the history of football to play into their late 30s. The Italian goalkeeper is 38 now and continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. On Tuesday night he proved that despite his age he still has lightning quick reflexes and was one of Juve’s key players in their 3-0 victory. Buffon denied Andres Iniesta with a stunning save from close range early on to keep the game at 1-0 and would later go on to make three more saves, maintaining his fantastic record of only conceding 2 goals in the entire UCL campaign so far. He commanded his penalty area, made some incredible saves and captained his side to an incredible win that surely will lead them into the next round. Will this man ever slow down? Rating: 10/10.
Right Back: Dani Alves
Securing Dani Alves on a free transfer from Barcelona in the summer was one of the smartest moves of the season. The Brazilian defender has been crucial all season long for the Italian giants and they simply aren’t the same without him in their side. Alves was magnificent against his old club, just completely dominating over his country-mate Neymar on his way to helping Juve secure a clean sheet. Defensively, Alves was absolutely supberb, making 4 tackles, 1 interception and 4 clearances but also had a role to play in attack. The Brazilian right-back created 1 chance, forced 4 fouls and completed 93% of his passes, helping Juve claim three great goals. He may be 33 years of age but Dani Alves is continuing to prove why he might still be the best right-back on the planet. Rating: 9.5/10.
Centre Back: Giorgio Chiellini
Giorgio Chiellini is an absolute defensive beast. He’s been with Juventus for 12 years now and other than Gianluigi Buffon has been their most important player in the past decade as the club continue to experience their zenith in the sport. The Italian defender was an absolute rock at the back for The Old Lady on Tuesday and did not put a single foot wrong as he led Juventus to a clean sheet and a comfortable 3-0 win. Even without his goal Chiellini would have made this Team of the Week with ease; he was just that good in defense. The 32-year old defender won 7 duels in the air, never let Messi, Suarez or Neymar have any room at all to even breathe, made 8 clearances and saw away danger with 3 tackles. Then remarkably in the second half he managed to pop up with a crucial goal as well, making this a completely dominant display by the Italian defender. Giorgio Chiellini may be coming into the twilight of his career but he still remains one of the best defenders in the world and at the moment is helping to lead Juventus comfortably into the UCL semi-finals. Rating: 10/10.
Left Back: Alex Sandro
Alex Sandro is just one of the many reasons why this Juventus team has one of the best defenses ever assembled. The Brazilian defender has slowly but surely established himself as one of the best left-backs in the world since his arrival at Juventus Football Club and every single time he steps onto the football pitch comes up with a massive performance for his side. Lionel Messi was completely anonymous for the entire 90 minutes on Tuesday and Alex Sandro was a major reason why as he was always there to stop the Argentinean who became so frustrated that he moved inside where he was thwarted all the more by Chiellini and Khedira. Sandro made 6 tackles against Barcelona, more than any other player on the pitch on his way to helping Juve to another clean sheet. The Brazilian defender also created 1 chance, completed 80% of his passes and had more touches on the ball than any other Juventus player. He’s been integral to Massimo Allegri’s side all season long and as Juve prepare for the semi-finals, Sandro can now consider himself one of the very best defenders in the world of football. Rating: 9.5/10.
Defensive Midfield: Miralem Pjanic
Miralem Pjanic has received far too much criticism in his first year at Juventus. In truth, he’s been one of their star players and has arguably never had a bad game all season long. The Boznian midfielder was absolutely superb against FC Barcelona, showing flashes of Andres Iniesta in his prime against the real Andres Iniesta that should have retired last year. Defensively, he was just as good as every one of Juventus’ stellar defenders in that back-line, making 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 clearance while completely dominating the midfield with his partner Sami Khedira. He was also great in possession and his passing was absolutely sublime, completing nearly 86% of his passes, whipping in 5 crosses, creating 3 chances and assisting Chiellini’s second half goal. Miralem Pjanic is easily one of the best midfielders in the world and anyone who claims that he hasn’t been good enough this season really needs to watch more football. Rating: 9.5/10.
Defensive Midfield: Nuri Sahin
In the first half against AS Monaco, Borussia Dortmund were absolutely woeful. But enter Nuri Sahin at half time into the frame and suddenly the Black and Yellows are a completely different side. When Sahin came on, Dortmund got on the ball so much more and the Turkish international just completed dictated the tempo of the match and settled down every single problem Tuchel’s men had in the first half. He was key going forward, he was key in possession and he was crucial in defense, ensuring that Dortmund would not be as vulnerable in defensive positions for the second 45 minutes. Sahin completed 87% of his passes on Tuesday night, contributed to Shinji Kagawa’s goal with a massive assist, made 2 tackles and 3 clearances, highlighting his all round game. Nuri Sahin’s role to Borussia Dortmund can just be absolutely massive when he’s given the chance and hopefully now this will be a wake up call for Thomas Tuchel to start including him in the starting 11 more often. Rating: 8.5/10.
Right Wing: Shinji Kagawa
Shinji Kagawa has been so unfortunate this season to not get enough regular playing time under Thomas Tuchel. He was absolutely brilliant last season in being named the best attacking midfielder in the league by fans but somehow just has fallen down the ranks even despite all the injuries that have occurred to Dortmund’s side. But the Japanese midfielder always takes his chance when it’s given to him and he was Dortmund’s best player in their 3-2 loss to AS Monaco this Wednesday. With some sikly skill, a brilliant goal and a crucial assist, Shinji Kagawa has almost single-handedly kept Borussia Dortmund in this tie. Kagawa was great against the French Ligue 1 leaders, creating 3 chances, dancing his way around their defenders with 5 take-on’s and completing nearly 87% of his passes. On top of those standout statistics, his goal and assist for Dembele’s goal can keep Dortmund in good spirits going into the next leg. Rating: 10/10.
Attacking Midfield: Paulo Dybala
It’s official, Paulo Dybala has become one of the world’s best footballing stars. Not only has he been Juventus’ most important player this season but he’s also been better than nearly any other footballer in 2016-17 and continues to lead The Old Lady to better times. Dybala was even compared to Messi this week and although he claimed the comparisons to be a burden; he put in the type of performance on Tuesday night that emphasized why he warrants such high praise. Paulo Dybala was brilliant against Barcelona, helping the Italian giants get the game off and running with two quick goals from two fantastic finishes of his own. The Argentinean forward is just so silky and skillful in possession and whenever he found the ball at his feet on Tuesday, Barcelona could never get it off of him. With 4 fouls drawn, 2 tackles and 2 goals from 3 shots, it was a complete performance from the Juventus star and one that will surely lead Massimo Allegri’s side into the next round. Whether he’s Messi’s rightful heir or not, Paulo Dybala is an excellent footballer and with his incredible performances game in and game out for Juventus this season is truly now beginning to establish himself as one of the world’s greatest players as he leads The Old Lady’s charge towards the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. Rating: 10/10.
Left Wing: Cristiano Ronaldo
Last year Real Madrid lifted the trophy and this year they are slowly becoming the favourites to become the first ever back to back winners of the tournament’s history. Led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid continue to impress and this week came up with a massively impressive result against Bayern Munich in a 2-1 win. But without Cristiano Ronaldo in this match, Real Madrid probably would not have been able to win this match, as the Portuguese forward was at the heart of everything good for Los Blancos and scored both of their goals. Ronaldo always takes twice as many shots as anyone else in any given match and this time the wing wizard had 4 of his 8 shots on target, still coming up with a massive attacking display for his side. He also created 2 chances, completed nearly 91% of his passes and forced 3 fouls in helping his side claim a 2-1 win. Cristiano Ronaldo is absolutely brilliant and this might finally be the year that he beats Messi to the number one spot when our Top 100 Footballers in the World list hits the ground in June. Rating: 10/10.
Striker: Ousmane Dembele
Like many Dortmund players, Ousmane Dembele did not have a good first half against AS Monaco. But when the second half arrived, Dembele was absolutely on top of his game and on top of the opposition, running circles around Monaco’s defense. The 19-year old French winger was magnificent with the ball at his feet, completing 7 take-on’s, delivering 10 crosses and also creating 2 chances, coming up unlucky to go the game without an assist. Dembele also had 4 shots in the match, one of which was converted to get the Black and Yellows back into the game from 2-0 down. At just 19-years of age, Ousmane Dembele is a truly magical footballer and if they are going to have any chance at advancing to the next round, he is going to need to be absolutely on top of his game once again in the second leg. His role to Borussia Dortmund is just absolutely imperative. Rating: 9.5/10.
Striker: Kylian Mbappe-Lottin
Players who burst onto the scene at such a young age often get overhyped, but Kylian Mbappe-Lottin deserves every single bit of praise he is getting at the moment. The French forward might be one of the best teenage phenoms football has ever seen and he continues to be one of Monaco’s key players as they look to progress to the semi-finals. His pace is absolutely electric and was far too much for the slow defense of Dortmund to handle on Wednesday night; while his finishing is just different class. The man is just 18-years old, born in 1998, yet he’s still managed to score more Champions League goals this season than world class strikers like Luis Suarez, Thomas Muller and Gonzalo Higuain. Mbappe was by far the best player on the pitch in Dortmund, drawing 4 fouls, completing 3 dribbles and scoring two fantastic goals. His role to the French giants is pivotal and without him I think it’s hard to say that AS Monaco would even have gotten to this stage in the competition, let alone be preparing for a semi-final. Rating: 10/10.
Formation: 3-5-2: Buffon, Alves, Chiellini, Sandro, Pjanic, Sahin, Kagawa, Dybala, Ronaldo, Dembele, Mbappe-Lottin
Substitutes: Manuel Neuer, Leonardo Bonucci, Arturo Vidal, Sami Khedira, Juan Cuadrado, Thomas Lemar, Antoine Griezmann
Player of the Week: Paulo Dybala
Two goals; one with his left, one with his right and an utterly dominating performance from Paulo Dybala against FC Barcelona is the main reason why the Juventus star is this week’s Player of the Week! He’s just become so integral to Allegri’s side over the past two seasons and has even surpassed the likes of Buffon, Chiellini and Bonucci as their most important player; just scoring or assisting in what seems like every single game now. Paulo Dybala was brilliant against FC Barcelona and absolutely essential to their 3-0 win!
Manager of the Week: Massimo Allegri
Leonardo Jardim was impressive in securing a massive away win over Dortmund while Zinedine Zidane made some great decisions in leading Real Madrid to a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, but this week no other manager was as impressive as Massimo Allegri. The Juventus manager is slowly developing an Antonio Conte-like reputation for his brilliant tactics and resilient defensive mindset and The Old Lady really are just like a big brick wall at the moment that absolutely nobody can break down. Allegri got all of his tactics right against FC Barcelona and completely stopped every single one of their key players from playing. Messi, Neymar, and Suarez were all anonymous thanks to the resilient work from the back four while Pjanic and Khedira completely dominated over Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic in midfield. Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado also played a crucial role in defense by stopping Sergi Roberto and Andre Gomes from getting into the match while deploying Paulo Dybala in a deeper position allowed him to get the optimal amount of opportunities to score goals. The Italian manager claimed this to be his greatest result of his Juve managerial reign and The Mastermind does not disagree. Massimo Allegri was marvelous against FC Barcelona and masterminded his way to a 3-0 win as Juve look set to have secured a spot in the semi-finals.
So there it is! The team of the week in what is becoming my favourite competition in club football. The UEFA Champions League has been absolutely on fire this season and I hope that you have enjoyed our latest Team of the Week. See you next week when another edition of the UCL Team of the Week drops on The Mastermind. Thanks for reading! 🙂