The Champions League returned with a bang over the past two weeks as the knockout stages got underway. Despite leading the Premier League by 22 points, Liverpool were unable to match Atletico Madrid, losing 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano, whilst Tottenham and Chelsea lost 1-0 to RB Leipzig and 3-0 to Bayern respectively. In the end, only Manchester City were able to prevail amongst English clubs, beating Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The impressive performances were plentiful and here we select our Champions League Team of the Week.
Neuer may have had a horror moment in Bayern’s 3-2 victory over Paderborn last weekend, but he was at his very best in his side’s 3-0 win against Chelsea. Whilst he had little to do from a shot-stopping perspective, he did make three important saves. It was his passing ability, though, that caught the eye – he completed 90% of his attempted passes, perfectly circumnavigating the Blues’ attempts to carry out an intense press.
This Champions League campaign has introduced several Atalanta players to a wider audience, and Hateboer has now added himself to that list. He scored twice in the Italian side’s 4-1 mauling of Valencia, which leaves them in a commanding position going in to the second leg at the Mestalla. Alongside his brace, the 26-year-old also made five clearances and landed 87% of his attempted passes.
Incredibly, the Wales international’s inclusion in Julian Nagelsmann’s starting XI for RB Leipzig’s away match against Tottenham was his first start of the season, with him coming in to replace Dayot Upamecano. The 19-year-old put in a brilliant performance, landing 94% of his passes and making four interceptions. He was a true nemesis for the opposition at the heart of a defensive unit who didn’t offer the hosts a sniff all evening. Based on displays like this, it is a wonder he has not featured more regularly on loan from Chelsea this campaign.
It is a testament to Lyon’s defensive display that they prevented a Juventus attack including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala from even landing a shot on target during Les Gones’ 1-0 triumph. Fernando Marcal was imperious in the back as part of a trio of central defenders, making seven clearances, three tackles and one interception. He also had an 87% pass accuracy, which is not to be sniffed at.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea were giving a footballing lesson by Bayern Munich, and the gulf in class between the two sides was there for all to see. At the centre of most good things to come from the Bavarians was Canada international Davies. He caused Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James all sorts of problems, completed six of his seven attempted dribbles and also provided the assist for Robert Lewandowski’s goal.
Great attacking sides need a metronome in the middle of the park, and that is exactly what the Bundesliga champions have in the Spain international. He completed 92% of his passes, showing a composure and confidence that the Blues just didn’t have on the night. He also made five interceptions and four tackles in a wonderful all-round display.
Jurgen Klopp can complain all he wants about Atletico Madrid’s tactics, but the fact of the matter is that Los Rojiblancos put in a stunning defensive performance last week. They were only able to do so after Saul had put them ahead in the fourth minute, and he then proved to be the Reds’ nemesis in the middle of the park, winning nine from 11 duels and completing all four attempted dribbles. The slender 1-0 victory gives Diego Simeone’s side the advantage going in to the second leg at Anfield, but Klopp and co will be confident they can turn things around.
For a while, it looked as though Manchester City would once again come out second best against Real Madrid, but fortunately they have De Bruyne in their side. The Belgium international assisted Gabriel Jesus’ equaliser with a moment of instinctive ingenuity and also scored the winner from the penalty spot. With a 2-1 lead going back to the Etihad, the Citizens are in pole position to progress.
Slovenia international Ilicic is like a fine wine – he is getting better with age. The 32-year-old’s goal against Valencia may have been his first in this competition this term, but it was his 16th of the season in 27 matches across all tournaments. It wasn’t just his goal that caught the eye here, though – he also completed five of six attempted dribbles, and also made three key passes. If Atalanta are to progress further, they will need the former Fiorentina man at his best.
In another hammer blow to Tony Pulis’ talent-spotting credentials, Gnabry tore Chelsea apart on Tuesday. The Germany international scored two goals and made six tackles as Bayern took three away goals back to the Allianz Arena. The 24-year-old clearly enjoys playing in London – all six of his strikes in this year’s tournament have come in the British capital.
Is there any stopping Haaland? The 19-year-old has already taken the Bundesliga by storm, scoring nine in his first six matches for Borussia Dortmund, and now he has continued his stunning Champions League form as well. In Die Schwarzgelben’s 2-1 victory over PSG, the Norway international showed both sides of his game – his first strike was a pure poacher’s finish, whilst his second was a thundering effort from outside the box that left Keylor Navas with no chance. Haaland now has 10 goals in seven matches in the competition, and 40 in 30 matches in all competitions this term – the mind boggles.