The second round of fixtures in the UEFA Champions League were highly entertaining as always. Both Atletico Madrid and Juventus almost amusingly just defended for their lives to preserve low-scoring draws to send themselves through to the final four, while Monaco ripped apart Dortmund and Madrid took their game against Bayern Munich in extra time. With so many standout performers in what is the biggest stage in club football, picking a Team of the Week was no easy task. But that is exactly what The Mastermind has attempted to do. This is the Team of the Week for the second round of fixtures in the UEFA Champions League’s Quarter Final match-ups. Enjoy!
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak
Jan Oblak didn’t have all that much to do against Leicester City but he could not have done any better in helping his side advance to the semi-finals. None of the saves he was forced to pull off were particularly outstanding, but he was still up the task and stopping five of the six shots on target that the Foxes had. The Slovenian goalkeeper also made 3 cross claims and thanks to only letting 1 goal in, maintained his stellar record of conceding just 0.33 goals per game in the UEFA Champions League so far this season. Jan Oblak is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and will be absolutely immense in the closing stages of this competition as Simeone’s side look to win the world’s biggest tournament in club football. Rating: 8.5/10.
Right Back: Benjamin Mendy
Although statistically not Monaco’s best defender on Wednesday against Borussia Dortmund, Benjamin Mendy was absolutely crucial to their 3-1 win and continues to establish himself as one of the world’s best left-backs. He comes into this Team of the Week as right back to the insanely good performance of this week’s star left-back, but for his incredible performance on Wednesday night certainly deserves his place. Without Mendy’s spectacular run and fierce shot that troubled Roman Burki, leading to Mbappe-Lottin’s early goal, this game could have been completely different. He really was just an engine for AS Monaco down that left hand side, constantly getting involved in their attack and helping aid Lemar’s performance. He also played his part in defense and although Ousmane Dembele was at times too much for him to handle, he still boasted 3 tackles and 1 interception. In attack was certainly where Mendy shone on Wednesday night and he was absolutely essential to their 3-1 win that has sent them through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Rating: 8.5/10.
Centre Back: Leonardo Bonucci
Leonardo Bonucci was the only Juventus defender not to make the Team of the Week last week and now bounces back from that to be the only Juve defender in this week’s best eleven. The Italian defender just made so many stellar tackles against the Spanish giants’ star players, snuffing out every chance Messi, Neymar and Suarez had to score. He was a rock, a beast and a leader for Massimo Allegri’s team, never putting a foot wrong and just defending like his life depended on it. Trying to handle Messi, Suarez and Neymar all at the same time would be a difficult task for any defender, but Bonucci was well and truly up to the task, making 5 tackles, 6 interceptions and 10 clearances! He never put a foot wrong, was so solid defensively and really does look like one of the best defenders on the planet. Rating: 10/10.
Centre Back: Diego Godin
Every single player was brilliant from an Atletico Madrid perspective on Tuesday and completely shut down nearly every single attack Leicester City had. But the captain, the organizer and the best of the back four in Diego Godin was absolutely essential to what was virtually a victory for Simeone’s side. Godin never put a foot wrong and was there to see out danger time after time after time, intercepting 4 passes and making an immaculate total of 17 clearances! Sure it was much easier when Okazaki was on the pitch, but once Craig Shakespeare introduced Leonardo Ulloa, Atletico Madrid had to deal with a different animal and Godin was fantastically up to the task. Normally so authoritative in the air, Ulloa was made to look like a 5’4 school boy, winning just half the amount of Godin’s 8 duels won in the air. Diego Godin may be on the wrong side of 30 now, but he is still one of the world’s greatest defenders and could now lead Diego Simeone’s side to a third UCL final in four years. Rating: 10/10.
Left Back: Marcelo
Whenever Real Madrid play well in the UEFA Champions League (which is most of the time to say the least), Marcelo is always involved. Few other fullbacks in world football can have the same kind of effect on football matches week after week for their team and I have long been an advocate that Marcelo is the best left-back in the world. The Brazilian defender was just phenomenal on Tuesday and was so crucial to Real’s big win against their old manager, Carlo Ancelotti. A constant threat in attack, Marcelo created a stuttering total of 8 chances against die Roten, more than any other defender has done in any game in Europe this season. He was just constantly getting forward to create for his side as evident by his tally of 7 crosses and an incredible amount of 9 successful take-on’s. He also had 105 touches to which only Thiago had more, took 2 shots, assisted 1 goal and even made a clearance off the line. Marcelo was essential for Real Madrid at both ends of the pitch, handled Arjen Robben wonderfully well and makes this week’s team of the week with ease. Rating: 10/10.
Defensive Midfield: Jose Gimenez
Jose Gimenez had just about the best game of his life on Tuesday and played a pivotal role in Diego Simeone’s side progressing to the next round of the Champions League. Saul may have been the man to grab the all important goal but it was Gimenez who was the best player on the pitch in Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City. He was dominant against Danny Drinkwater and Wilfred Ndidi, who were forced to have their worst outing as a Leicester City pair and was there to see out danger at every single twist and turn in the match. In terms of defensive resilience, you’ll do well to find a player who made more of an impact in a match this season as the Uruguayan made 6 tackles, 7 interceptions and blocked 2 shots to help see Atletico through to the next round. Perhaps even more impressively was his staggering tally of 16 clearances and 12 duels won in the air, highlighting how much Leicester struggled to get by him and the rest of what became an eight man defense at times for Simeone’s side. Jose Gimenez isn’t even a natural midfielder, but with a performance like that against Leicester City, he might just have found the perfect position. Rating: 10/10.
Defensive Midfield: Miralem Pjanic
Casemiro was the other one who almost claimed a spot in this week’s Team of the Week but Miralem Pjanic was so fluid and so defensively resilient in stopping Barcelona’s midfield from playing that he just could not be overlooked. Pjanic has had such a good season in the heart of that Juve midfield and he hasn’t gotten anywhere near the credit for his play that he has deserved. He’s worked his socks off in every game and in addition to showing his attacking prowess in the first leg, was a demon in defense on Wednesday night. Pjanic made 8 tackles against Barcelona, just stopping Messi, Suarez and Iniesta from ever really getting into the game. Iniesta and Rakitic in particular were just so poor yet again and because of the defensive competence that Khedira and Pjanic carried into this match, they made it look like two of the best midfielders on the planet weren’t even trying. Offensively, defensively, all across the board he was brilliant. In addition to that high number of 8 tackles, the Boznian midfielder also made 5 interceptions, 3 clearances and created 3 chances, just putting in such a dominant display against a side that will be wishing they cashed in on him instead of the lackluster Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes. Miralem Pjanic is one of the best midfielders in the world and is having one of his best seasons ever without receiving nearly as much recognition as he should be. Rating: 10/10.
Right Wing: Saul Niguez
Without Saul Niguez’s crucial headed goal, this game goes into extra time. Above all else, that was Saul’s standout contribution to this match but he did so much more beyond that goal to help get the Los Rojiblancos into the next round. Defensively, he was a beast just like everyone else in that stable Atletico team, making 3 tackles, 3 clearances and 1 interception but his contribution even extends to 3 blocked shots, more than any other player on the pitch. The 6’0 Saul Niguez also won 7 duels in the air, which was only surpassed by his other two teammates in this Team of the Week, Gimenez and Godin. Going the other way in offense, Niguez was always looking to get on the ball and proved to be the team’s most dangerous weapon, having double the amount of shots (3) as any other Atletico player. Saul Niguez is truly one of the best midfielders in the world. He’s done it for two seasons now at the highest level in the biggest competition in club football. Sooner or later, he needs to start being treated with the same kind of respect as some of the world’s best midfielders and start reigning in the caps for Spain. Rating: 10/10.
Left Wing: Thomas Lemar
Thomas Lemar has been absolutely outstanding this season. In the wake of all that Mbappe-Lottin has accomplished as an eighteen year old in 2016-17, the 21-year old wing wizard that is Lemar has often been overshadowed. The French winger was Monaco’s most dangerous weapon against Borussia Dortmund, assisting Falcao’s early goal before sending Germain free late on. His energy was just fantastic all game long and he never stopped running, getting up the line to whip in six accurate crosses and at the same time racing back down the wing to make five tackles! His only shot in the match was also on target while his 6 chances created constantly gave Dortmund a defensive nightmare. Thomas Lemar has the potential to be one of the best players in world football some day and right now is absolutely tearing up this UEFA Champions League. Rating: 10/10.
Striker: Kylian Mbappe-Lottin
Kylian Mbappe-Lottin has done it again, scoring his 17th goal in his last 16 matches and 23rd in his 50th appearance for AS Monaco. The eighteen year old seems to be better at this age than any other teenage phenom who has come before him and across two legs was Les Rouges et Blancs most important player as they have now progressed to the semi-finals. He was a constant threat all game long and Borussia Dortmund just could not handle his pace and power, similar to how no team has been able to deal with since September. Mbappe-Lottin had three shots in the match, two of which were on target and one that found the back of the net to give Monaco the early lead. The French forward also completed 88% of his passes, created 1 chance and completed three take-on’s, just running circles around Dortmund’s defense. Kylian Mbappe-Lottin is one of the best teenagers in the world of football and might just be better at his age than anyone else who came before him. Now he’s in with a real shout at winning the UEFA Champions League at just eighteen years of age. Rating: 10/10.
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo
Across two legs in a match-up fit enough for the final, Cristiano Ronaldo completely dominated over Bayern Munich and showed exactly why he just might be the best footballer on the planet. No Bayern player even came close to having the same impact that Ronaldo had for Real Madrid in this two-leg encounter and with the Portuguese down that left wing no one ever stood a chance. Last time out the wing wizard bagged a brace to become the first player to score 100 goals across all European competitions and this time out he did one better, grabbing a hat-trick to become the first player to score 100 goals in the UEFA Champions League alone. He truly is just a special footballer and it was absolutely special for him to come up so crucially again for his team. Throughout my life I’ve never been Ronaldo’s biggest fan, but you have to admire what he has managed to accomplish even in just the past few years for this team. Real Madrid have easily been the most dominant team in Europe in the past three years and that could be exemplified once again now that Ronaldo has led them to their seventh UCL semi-final in a row; with a shot at becoming the first ever back to back winners of the tournament. Rating: 10/10.
Substitutes: Dani Alves, Giorgio Chiellini, Filipe Luis, Casemiro, Tiemoue Bakayogo, Marco Reus, Neymar
Player of the Week: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo came up big when it mattered most, sending Real Madrid through to the next round with two extra time goals to add onto the one that he had already scored to ensure the game needed extra time in the first place. He was just completely and utterly dominant against Bayern Munich and with him ripping down that left wing, Carlo Ancelotti’s side never stood a chance. Oh, and he became the first player to score 100 goals in the UEFA Champions League. Ronaldo’s been rightfully in the discussion for greatest player of all time for many years now but with this kind of performance all who always claimed that Messi was better may have to start to rethink that thought.
Runners Up: Jose Gimenez, Marcelo
Manager of the Week: Diego Simeone
Every single manager to go through to the semi-finals this week deserves an immense amount of credit. But the man who has risen up above the rest to seal this week’s Manager of the Week award is Diego Simeone. Tactically, Simeone’s side were brilliant and their defensive organization and togetherness was nearly impossible for Leicester to break down. The second that they got the all-important goal that would take them into the next round from Saul Niguez, they just sat back and defended for their lives. Every single player had a part to play in defense and towards the end of the match, they just completely abandoned even making an attack, knowing all they had to do was cling on to the 1-1 score-line. In addition to Simeone’s tactical dominance and defensive organization, his team selection was absolutely sublime. Pushing Saul out to the wing was smart in allowing Jose Maria Gimenez to come into the midfield and be like an extra man in defense that Leicester could just never get past. The wing also got the most out of Saul in the process, where he was key in both penalty areas. Carrasco also had a good game despite playing out of position up top. He wouldn’t have been Simeone’s first choice if Kevin Gameiro had been fit, but he worked very hard and combined really well when given the opportunity with Antoine Griezmann. Diego Simeone’s three substitutes also did their part in preserving the draw and as Atletico always do, they punished Leicester’s only real mistake in the game. Although this is the closest aggregate scoreline of the Quarter Finals, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid were light-years ahead of Leicester City and go into the semi-finals with an excellent shot at making their third final in the last three years.
So there it is! The Team of the Week for the second round of fixtures in the UCL Quarter Finals. Thanks for reading and I cannot wait to cover all the action of the semi-finals for you right here on The Mastermind. See you then!