Picking A Champions League Team of the Season: Who Makes Your XI?
So, at the conclusion of another season, time to reflect on who the standout performers have been in this campaign.
After the first all German final in Champions League history, I decided to pick a best XI based on performances from this seasons competition.
Disagree? I’m sure you do! Feel free to post your own squads in the comments section below. But for the time being, here’s mine. Perhaps unsurprisingly it has a distinctly German feel to it:
(GK) Manuel Neuer – The German international has been touted as the top goalkeeper in the world for a couple of years now. This year in the Champions League, he has cemented that reputation.
Neuer has been one of the key men in preserving Bayern’s sterling defensive record. They conceded an all-time low number of goals in this seasons Bundesliga, and clean sheets in all four legs of the Quarter and Semifinals of the Champions League. In the final, Neuer made a string of top class saves to keep out a rampant Dortmund side in the early stages; Bayern can thank their stopper that they were still in a game at half time.
(RB) Philipp Lahm – Perhaps the easiest slot to pick on the team. The world’s best full-back finally picked up the silverware his talent warranted, as Lahm had a stellar season in this years competition.
While he may not be the most vocal of captains, he has lead by example this season. A positional master when it comes to defending and a menace with his attacking bursts, Lahm is one of the most complete players in the world game. He has created four goals for his teammates in this seasons European campaign, an excellent record for a full-back.
(RCB) Thiago Silva – The man at the heart of PSG’s run to the quarterfinals of the tournament was the Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva.
The Parisians could consider themselves unlucky to go out against Barcelona, but it was in no part down to the failings of Silva. The former Milan man represents a dominating presence at the heart of the PSG defense. He is physically commanding, an excellent reader of the game (averaging nearly 4 interceptions on average per game in the Champions League) and confident in his distribution. Expect to see much more of him as the French champions build towards a promising future.
(LCB) Dante – A relative unknown quantity for many heading into this season, but Dante has proven to be one of the transfers on the season.
He has slotted into the Bayern defense with consummate ease. But don’t be fooled by his languid, composed style. The Brazilian international is quick across the ground and an expert at sniffing out danger early. The composed manner in which he brings the ball out has also been an impressive facet of his game, an increasingly important quality for the modern centre-half. He has completed 88% of his passes from the centre-back position.
(LB) David Alaba – Having impressed last season, Alaba missed last years final through suspension. But the burgeoning left-back has more than made up for that heartbreak this year.
A bundle of energy up and down the left-hand side, it is scary to think how good he could be. For at just twenty years of ages, the Austrian international can still get better. His dynamic running style and strength in the tackle have really impressed, not to mention he possesses a mean strike from distance. For Bayern, a fullback pair of Lahm and Alaba is pretty much as good as it gets.
(CDM) Javi Martinez – There were some eyebrows raised this summer when Bayern parted with €40m for Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martinez. He was obviously a talented player, but many doubters enquired as to whether he was high-profile enough to command this kind of fee.
How wrong they were, for Martinez has been a revelation in the holding role for his new employers. His physicality and stamina have given Bayern a solid platform at the base of their midfield, something which they lacked during the 2011-12 season. His role in the team has provided insurance for other members of the team to go and influence proceedings.
(CDM) Bastian Schweinsteiger – Perhaps the man who has benefitted most from the defensive minded Martinez is Bastian Schweinsteiger.
So often the heartbeat of the Bayern Munich side, Schweinsteiger has never really had a player to compliment his abilities alongside him in central midfield. But with Martinez in there, Schweinsteiger has been given increased license to get about the pitch and do what he does best. He has provided quality, energy, steel, power and leadership in the middle of the park, staking his claim as arguably the premier box-to-box midfielder in Europe.
He is combative and competitive as they come, demonstrated by the fact he was the competitions most frequent tackler, averaging a remarkable 3.7 tackles per game.
(RAM) Arjen Robben – After enduring a difficult start to the campaign, Arjen Robben could not have imagined the glorious manner in which it which it has ended.
Initially he found himself ousted from the Bayern first XI, with Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos keeping him out of the side. But since Kroos was struck down with injury, Robben has really taken his chance. His willingness to get back and cover his full-back has become a key feature of his game under Jupp Heynckes, contributing to the hardworking, industrious defensive machine this Bayern side has become.
In an attacking sense, Robben has delivered the goods when it really matters. A goal in each semifinal and the winner in the final itself finally put pay to his “bottler” reputation and secured Bayern their fifth European title.
(CAM) Thomas Muller – Thomas Muller has always been an intriguing player. Having watched a lot of the emerging German international, I always thought he was good, but was never entirely sure why.
But the thing you have to admire about the young German is his knack for influencing the big games. He always seems to find a pass or drift into some space when his team need it most. He has netted a remarkable five times in the knockout stages, further emphasizing his ability to shine in the high pressure occasions.
The 4-0 win against Barcelona was perhaps the coup de grace, with Muller’s devastating movement causing the Catalan giants problems throughout; Muller resultantly helped himself to two goals and assist, as Bayern sent out a message on their way to the final.
(LAM) Marco Reus – Dortmund have very rarely parted with large sums under the stewardship of Jurgen Klopp. So when Marco Reus was signed for £16m last summer, the pressure was on for him to deliver the goods.
And he has. Operating primarily from the left-hand side, he has showcased an exhilarating dribbling style, happy to take opponents on time after time. Only Fernandinho (31) has attempted more dribbles in the Champions League this season than Reus (29).
His ability to change direction at speed and his uncanny eye for goal has made some of the more illustrious sides sit up and take notice, with rumours beginning to gather about a move away from the club. But, having already lost Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski, Dortmund will be desperate to keep hold of Reus and give him a much more significant role next season. Expect him to excel once again.
(CF) Lionel Messi – It may have not been Messi’s greatest ever season in the Champions League, but he still turned in some majestic performances. For me, he just edges out Robert Lewandowski in the sole centre-forward berth.
In the group stages Messi was typically excellent, netting five times in the six opening games. In the knockout stages too, he dragged his Barcelona side over the line on two separate occasions, although they were in remarkably different circumstances.
Against Milan, he turned in a blistering performance, netting twice early to cancel out the Italians two goal advantage from the first leg. Barca eventually went on to win 4-0. Then, in the quarterfinals, when all looked lost for a Barcelona side 1-0 down to PSG, a half-fit Messi hobbled onto to pitch from the substitutes bench. The lift in the Barcelona players around him, and in the crowd, was nothing short of remarkable. In the end, Messi played a key role in the goal that helped Barca get through to the semifinals.
Substitutes: Willy Caballero, Lukasz Piszczek, Ilkay Gundogan, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Burak Yilmaz
Stats from Whoscored.com
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball