UEFA Champions League: Picking a Combined XI Ahead of the Mini-Tournament

Sergio Ramos, Kevin De Bruyne
Sergio Ramos and Kevin De Bruyne – two of the Champions League’s top performers | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a long 16 weeks without it, but the Champions League is very nearly back.

Europe’s elite knockout competition will play out to its conclusion later this month with an impromptu mini-tournament, where the clubs lucky enough to have made the quarter-finals – or haven’t played their round of 16 second legs yet – will vie for the showpiece prize of the 2019/20 season.

We’ll see some of the best players on the planet go head to head, so to build the hype, we’ve analysed the 12 remaining squads, and come up with the best XI of all of them combined.

It hasn’t been easy, so please don’t shout.

Jan OblakJan Oblak
Oblak is the best keeper around | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Where would Atléti be without their Slovenian Superman between the sticks this season? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The title of best goalkeeper in the world has rarely been more tightly contested than it is now, but Oblak is a truly special talent who can probably now lay claim to it.

You don’t often come across a keeper with cat-like reflexes, sublime distribution, and the authority to command his box like a military sergeant preparing for battle, but here is is.

Honourable Mention: Marc-André ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois

UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"
Klostermann impressed against Tottenham | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Liverpool’s elimination means the default instinct to just select Trent Alexander-Arnold is void. As it turns out, outside of the England right-back, there isn’t really an outstanding choice for this position.

Lukas Klostermann has been a consistent, versatile and energetic presence for an impressive Leipzig team, however, and continues to grow under the radar as one of the most quietly impressive full-backs on the continent.

Honourable Mentions: Hans Hateboer, Kieran Trippier

Sergio RamosSergio Ramos
Ramos saw red against City but is still one of the tournament’s outstanding defenders | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Ok so he might have had a bit of a mare against Manchester City, but c’mon, this is Sergio Ramos we’re on about.

The best goalscoring centre half ever, Mr. Champions League, Captain Sh*thouse himself.

This Real team by no means look like the best in Europe, but purely through virtue of having Ramos there to kick ass and take names, you wouldn’t bet against them going at the way…if they can first manoeuvre their way past City without him.

Neymar, MarquinhosNeymar, Marquinhos
Marquinhos celebrates with Neymar after his goal against Borussia Dortmund | UEFA – Handout/Getty Images

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender in the world, you’re kidding yourself. That’s Virgil van Dijk.

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender left in the Champions League, however, you’re probably right.

Marquinhos’ ridiculous passing range and composure on the ball have been a massive part of why PSG are still in with a chance of advancing beyond the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. He’s not bad at the old defending either – Paris have conceded just three goals in eight UCL matches this term, a run through which he has been a virtual ever-present.

Honourable Mentions: Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano, Felipe, Matthijs de Ligt

Davies’ star is rising about as quickly as he can sprint – and that’s very, very, very fast.

He was famously monikered ‘Roadrunner’ by Thomas Muller earlier this season, and his pace and dynamism have already proved too much for Tottenham and Chelsea to handle.

A real creative bright spark down the left hand side, Davies adds another string to Hansi Flick’s fearsome attacking bow – as if he needs it.

Honourable Mentions: Roben Gosens

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne helped City to a key first leg win over Real Madrid | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

38 goal-involvements this season. And counting.

From central midfield.

Honestly, De Bruyne, just give it a rest.

Joshua KimmichJoshua Kimmich
Kimmich swings in a corner against Chelsea | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

It doesn’t seem to matter where you play Kimmich. Centre-midfield, right-back, centre-back, in goal, assistant manager; it really has no bearing, because he’ll still chip in with ten assists every year.

He’s the definition of reliable, and at times this season he’s held together a Bayern team that might have otherwise fallen apart.

Saul NiguezSaul Niguez
Saul pays his respects to Liverpool | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid’s midfield warrior rounds out our fantasy trio after yet another impressive season in Los Rojiblacos’ engine room.

He might have picked up more bookings (13) than goals or assists (7) in all competitions, but if anything that just further emphasises that he’s doing what he’s in the team for; to win battles, stifle creativity, and move the ball on.

He does like the odd important goal, however – just as Liverpool about that one.

Honourable Mentions: Houssem Aouar, Marcel Sabitzer, Casemiro

Lionel MessiLionel Messi
Messi on the prowl against Napoli | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Well…yeah.

Barcelona may be reaching the limits of how bad they can be while still relying on Messi to drag them over the line, but that hasn’t stopped the little magician from trying.

He single-handedly got them through the group stage, scoring or assisting five of their nine goals, and looks poised to try and repeat that feat when Napoli come to town to keep his team in with a chance of actually winning a trophy.

Honourable Mentions: Christian Pulisic, Serge Gnabry

Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso DaviesRobert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso Davies
Lewandowski celebrates scoring against Chelsea | Visionhaus/Getty Images

11 goals in six Champions League games. Eleven goals, in six Champions League games.

Lewandowski’s had a good season in the same way Michael Jordan was good at basketball. He looked a shoe-in for Ballon d’Or before it was unceremoniously cancelled, but you’d safely bet he’d happily trade that individual accolade to finally get his hands on the Champions League.

Honourable Mentions: Josip Ilicic, Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First LegOlympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Ronaldo advancing on goal against Lyon | RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images

We have to apologise for choosing the most predictable and obvious front three in Champions League history, but when you’ve got Messi, Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo all available, what are you going to do? Not pick them?

Ronnie has hit the ground running this season after using 2018/19 to settle in at Juve, and although his European form doesn’t quite match his Serie A exploits, his 35 goals in all competitions means he still warrants a place in this team.

That and the fact that he’s, y’know, the all-time Champions League top goalscorer.

Honourable Mentions: Raheem Sterling, Papu Gomez

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Serie A Roundup: Juventus’ Campaign Ends in Defeat While Milan, Roma & Napoli Win

Diego Perotti, Chris Smalling, Federico Fazio, Roger Ibanez, Riccardo Calafiori
AS Roma players celebrate during their 3-1 victory over Juventus | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Saturday night represented the first half of a gripping final weekend of Serie A action, as 10 teams all took to the field for the last time in this wonderful campaign.

With the title, Champions League places and Europa League spots already sewn up, there was little – other than pride – to play for at the top end of the table. But Italy’s giants were keen to sign off in style, and put on a fantastic show for its lucky viewers.

SSC Napoli v SS Lazio - Serie ASSC Napoli v SS Lazio - Serie A
Players get involved in a scrap during Lazio’s trip to Naples | Marco Rosi – SS Lazio/Getty Images

But how did Saturday night’s action go down? Don’t worry, 90min has got you covered.

We’ll start with the nine-time successive reigning champions, who welcomed AS Roma to Turin, a side which was yet to pick up a single point at Juventus’ new stadium. That all changed on Saturday evening, however.

Juve went ahead inside five minutes through Gonzalo Higuain, and nothing out of the ordinary appeared to be on the cards. But Roma turned the game on its head, first through a Nikola Kalinic equaliser, and then a quick-fire Diego Perotti brace, running out eventual 3-1 winners.

For I Giallorossi, this will give them plenty of confidence ahead of their Europa League contest with Sevilla. As for I Bianconeri, the less said, the better.

That result meant that Inter would end the season only a point behind Juventus, if they could overcome an impressive Atalanta side. And Antonio Conte’s men did just that. It was a very routine 2-0 victory for I Nerazzurri, who took the lead inside the first minute of the match through Danilo D’Ambrosio, before Ashley Young doubled the advantage soon after.

Atalanta rarely threatened to get back into the game, and it was job done for Conte and co.

With the top three all accounted for, that left Lazio. The Eagles, cemented in fourth spot, had little to play for, although star striker Ciro Immobile was gunning to become Serie A’s all-time highest goalscorer in a single season, needing a brace to secure his status in Italian football history.

Unfortunately, the 30-year-old could only manage to bury an equaliser, cancelling out Fabian Ruiz’s early strike, as Napoli went on to win 3-1 at Stadio San Paolo. A Lorenzo Insigne penalty gave the hosts the lead in the second half, and Matteo Politano provided the 90th minute cherry on the cake.

Elsewhere, Milan continued their fantastic run of form, beating Cagliari 3-0 at San Siro to end the season in sixth place. A Ragnar Klavan own goal gave I Rossoneri a head start, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic atoned for an earlier missed penalty by notching a second.

Samu Castillejo completed the rout to hand Stefano Pioli the perfect finale to an impressive debut campaign.

At the bottom of the table, Brescia bowed out of Serie A with a 1-1 draw against Sampdoria, confirming their spot in 19th position. Samp went a goal to the good just before half-time through Mehdi Leris, but an Ernesto Torregrossa penalty meant the hosts salvaged a point before departing the top flight.

Plenty of talking points then, and there’s still so much to come tomorrow!

Results:

Brescia 1-1 Sampdoria

AC Milan 3-0 Cagliari

Atalanta 0-2 Inter

Juventus 1-3 Roma

Napoli 3-1 Lazio

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Individuals Who Have Won the Same Trophy as a Player and Manager

Frank Lampard, Mikel Arteta
Arteta and Lampard have both won the FA Cup as players | Getty Images/Getty Images

Arsenal take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday afternoon – a competition in which both of the two competing clubs and managers have a proud history.

Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard both enjoyed considerable success in the FA Cup as players, with the former tasting victory at Wembley on two occasions, and the latter hoisting the famous trophy aloft four times.

With victory on Saturday, one of Arteta or Lampard will join a select group of individuals who have won the same trophy as both a player and a manager. Let’s take a look at the current members of this elite club.

Alf RamseyAlf Ramsey
Ramsey kickstarted his managerial career at Ipswich | Express/Getty Images

Sir Alf is probably better known for that thing he won with England back in 1966, but he enjoyed a stellar club managerial career before landing the top job in 1963.

Ramsey spent his playing days with Southampton and Tottenham, winning the First Division with the latter in 1950/51.

It’s no secret that the most successful England managers are bred at Ipswich Town, and that’s where Ramsey started his career in the dugout. He led the Tractor Boys from the third tier to a remarkable First Division title in 1961/62 before going on to win the World Cup with England. History looks sure to repeat itself at Portman Road with Paul Lambert in 2020/21.

Bob PaisleyBob Paisley
Paisley spearheaded Liverpool’s dominance in the 70s and 80s | Getty Images/Getty Images

As all-time greats go, they don’t come much bigger than Bob Paisley on Merseyside.

Paisley played over 250 times for Liverpool, and hung up his boots with one First Division title during the 1946/47 season to show for his playing career.

He went five better as a manager. Paisley guided the Reds to six league titles between 1976 and 1983, as Liverpool dominated English football.

As a manager, he also lifted the European Cup three times and bagged a UEFA Cup. Greedy.

Dalglish got his hands on a fair few trophies throughout his careerDalglish got his hands on a fair few trophies throughout his career
Dalglish got his hands on a fair few trophies throughout his career | Getty Images/Getty Images

There are 33 years between Kenny Dalglish’s first domestic triumph in England – the First Division title in 1978/79 – and his last – the League Cup in 2012.

King Kenny won the lot with Liverpool as a player: five First Division titles, four League Cups, three European Cups and the FA Cup.

Dalglish won the first Division a further three times as a manager with the Reds – and once with Blackburn after the top flight had transformed into the Premier League – and he guided Liverpool to FA Cup glory twice. The Anfield icon was parachuted in once more in 2011, beating Cardiff on penalties in the 2012 League Cup final for his final honour with the club.

He also enjoyed success back in his native Scotland as both a player and manager, despite only being in temporary charge of Celtic for four months. Dalgish won the Scottish League Cup in 1975, and then again as a manager in 2000.

Howard KendallHoward Kendall
Kendall led Everton to the most successful spell in the club’s history | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Those just across Stanley Park have also enjoyed their fair share of success, with Howard Kendall the mastermind behind the most fruitful period in Everton’s history.

The midfielder won the First Division with the Toffees in 1969/70. He took the Goodison Park hot seat in 1981 initially as a player-manager – but only mustered four games as a player before formally hanging up his boots.

Kendall would go on to enjoy greater success in the dugout than he had on the pitch, winning the First Division title twice in the space of three seasons between 1985 and 1987.

George GrahamGeorge Graham
Graham enjoyed huge success in the Arsenal dugout | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

George Graham remains the last person to have won the league title in England as a player and manager.

Graham’s first piece of silverware came as a player with Chelsea, as he lifted the League Cup in 1965, before winning the league and cup double with Arsenal in 1971.

He won every domestic trophy as manager of Arsenal in the 80s and 90s, including the famous league title triumph over Liverpool on the final day of the 1988/89 season.

Johan Cruyff of BarcelonaJohan Cruyff of Barcelona
Cruyff was just as good in the dugout as on the football pitch | Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Imagine being Johan Cruyff. Imagine being one of the most gifted, artistic, graceful footballers of your generation and winning the lot… and then doing it all over again as a manager.

The Dutch icon’s glittering career was bookended with spells in his native Holland – beginning with Ajax, before ending with Ajax again and finally Feyenoord. He was part of the glorious Ajax side that won three consecutive European Cups, and he lifted Holland’s domestic cup – the KNVB Cup – on five occasions with his boyhood club, and once with Feyernoord.

Sandwiched in between his success in his homeland was a five-year spell at Barcelona, where Cruyff won La Liga in 1973/74, and the Copa del Rey in 1978.

He returned to both Ajax and Barcelona as a manager, winning the KNVB Cup twice with the former. Although he never guided Ajax to league success as a manager, he made up for this in Spain, winning four La Liga titles, in addition to the Copa del Rey in 1990 and the European Cup in 1992. Not a bad career’s work.

Neil LennonNeil Lennon
Lennon has guided Celtic to domestic dominance | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

On any list, the natural successor to Johan Cruyff is of course Neil Lennon.

Lennon didn’t play in Scotland until he was 29, but he has gone on to win 20 domestic honours there as a player and manager.

The Northern Irishman won five Scottish Premier League titles, four Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups with Celtic between 2000 and 2007.

Lennon has had two separate spells in the Celtic Park dugout, adding a further five Scottish titles to his trophy cabinet, in addition to three Scottish Cups, and the League Cup in 2019/20.

Roberto Di MatteoRoberto Di Matteo
Di Matteo has a proud history in the FA Cup | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Lampard will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Roberto Di Matteo on Saturday – the last Chelsea man to win the FA Cup as both a player and manager.

Di Matteo scored after just 42 seconds with an absolute belter as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough in the 1997 FA Cup final, and won the same competition three years later with the Blues.

The Italian guided Chelsea to FA Cup glory during his ridiculously successful spell as caretaker manager at Stamford Bridge, with his 2012 FA Cup victory slightly overshadowed by the small matter of their Champions League win.

Antonio ConteAntonio Conte
Conte kickstarted Juventus’ dominance in Serie A | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Conte spent 13 glittering years as a player with Juventus, and after he began his managerial career it was always anticipated that he would return to lead the club.

Conte won five Serie A titles during his time as a player – four of which as a captain. He eventually returned in 2011, six years after departing Juventus.

The Italian guided Juventus to their first Serie A title in nine years during his first season in charge. He won three league titles on the bounce before leaving the club in 2014, and was the catalyst for the unprecedented decade of dominance that Juventus have since enjoyed.

Barcelona's Spanish coach Josep GuardiolBarcelona's Spanish coach Josep Guardiol
Guardiola won the Champions League twice with Barcelona | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

As playing and managerial careers go, Pep Guardiola’s done alright for himself.

During his 11 years at Barcelona he won La Liga on six occasions, before returning to his boyhood club as a manager to win it a further three times.

Guardiola also tasted victory in the European Cup with Barcelona in 1997 – a competition he would win twice in the space of three years when in the hot seat at Camp Nou.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zidane won his second La Liga title in 2019/20 | Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Another generational talent, Zidane has actually won more honours at Real Madrid as a manager than he ever did as a player.

The Frenchman spent five years in the Spanish capital as a player, winning the Champions League in 2002 and La Liga in 2002/03.

Zidane has been in the Real Madrid hot seat for a little over three and a half years – over two separate spells – and has already guided the Spanish giants to two La Liga titles and a hat-trick of successive Champions League crowns.

You wouldn’t bet against him eventually completing his double honours list by winning the World Cup as France boss one day either.

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The Juventus Lineup That Should Start Against Roma

Juventus v UC Sampdoria - Serie A
Juventus were crowned Serie A champions for the 2019/20 season | Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Juventus bring their 2019/20 league campaign to an end at home to Roma, where they will officially be crowned Serie A champions for a ninth consecutive time.

Despite it sounding like complete dominance on paper, this season’s Italian top flight has been closer than ever. Inter, Atalanta and Lazio have all given the champions a run for their money, but none could mount enough momentum to knock the Old Lady off their perch.

In an up and down season for Maurizio Sarri that’s seen his side succumb to several disappointing results in their march to the Scudetto, he will look towards the final game of the season as a tough warm up for their return to Champions League action in August.

Here’s how they should line up in order to get an important win this weekend…

Leonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de LigtLeonardo Bonucci, Matthijs de Ligt
De Ligt and Bonucci must start for Juventus | Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Wojciech Szczesny (GK) – Veteran stopper Gianluigi Buffon played last time out, but the new Juve number one must be restored to the lineup with one eye on the Champions League.

Danilo (RB) – With Mattia Di Sciglio still injured, Danilo gets the nod in this one. He’s also likely to play in Juve’s Champions League games.

Leonardo Bonucci (CB) – With Giorgio Chiellini out on the sidelines, Bonucci is the experienced head at the back. His wisdom will be needed against a Roma side capable of causing an upset.

Matthijs de Ligt (CB) – The young Dutchman missed out in Juve’s 2-0 loss to Cagliari, thus is likely to be restored in this one.

Alex Sandro (LB) – Sandro is likely one of the first names on the team sheet. He’s chipped in with a goal and three assists in Serie A this season and will be looking for more before the season finishes.

Miralem PjanicMiralem Pjanic
Pjanic will leave Juve for Barcelona at the end of the season | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Adrien Rabiot (CM) – Rabiot returns from suspension and heads straight back into the XI, in order to provide some cover and stability to Juve’s midfield trio.

Miralem Pjanic (CM) – Pjanic starts in what will be his final game at the Allianz Stadium for Juventus.

Aaron Ramsey (CM) – Ramsey hasn’t quite hit the heights at Juventus under Sarri, but he deserves another chance to impress in this one with the title wrapped up.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Soccer PlayerCristiano Ronaldo - Soccer Player
Ronaldo is the Serie A’s second-top goalscorer | Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Federico Bernardeschi (RW) – One goal and one assist from 28 Serie A appearances doesn’t read great for Bernardeschi. He gets one more chance to improve on that in Douglas Costa’s absence.

Gonzalo Higuain (ST) – Paulo Dybala is unavailable through injury, thus the Argentine gets the shout for this one. A good performance will do him wonders, as he’s likely to play against Lyon, too.

Cristiano Ronaldo (LW) – Despite being on 31 goals heading into this one, Ronaldo needs at least four goals against Roma if he wants a chance of snatching the Serie A golden boot from Ciro Immobile. If anyone can do it, though, it’s him.

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Wolves Close to Signing Braga Striker Paulinho – Man Utd & Juventus Interested in Raul Jimenez

Raul Jimenez
Raul Jimenez is on the radar of both Juventus and Manchester United | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

Wolves are close to agreeing a deal for Sporting Braga striker Paulinho, with top scorer Raul Jimenez on the radar of both Juventus and Manchester United.

27-year-old Paulinho netted 17 goals in 29 Liga NOS games for Braga this season, also scoring four times in the Europa League. This represents the best top flight scoring campaign of his career so far and his performances have garnered Premier League interest.

Sources have indicated to 90min that Wolves have agreed a £30m move for Paulinho, who has been included in several Portugal squads but is yet to win his first cap. The news has also travelled in Portugal on Thursday afternoon.

PaulinhoPaulinho
Paulinho was two goals shy of clinching the Liga Nos Golden Boot this season | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Once again super agent Jorge Mendes – who was also responsible for bringing fellow Portuguese stars Ruben Neves, João Moutinho and Rui Patrício to Molineux – is the architect of the deal. 90min understands that Mendes is offering Paulinho to offset the departure of Wolves’ star man, Jimenez.

The Mexican has been instrumental since joining the club in the summer of 2018 and his excellent scoring rate has attracted attention from big European clubs. Wolves had been looking for a fee of around £100m for the player, though somewhere closer to £70m could be enough to land the 29-year-old.

As reported by reputable Portuguese outlet RTP (via Sport Witness) and as corroborated by 90min’s sources, he is also on United’s radar, while Serie A champions Juventus have been chasing Jimenez all summer.

Raul JimenezRaul Jimenez
Raul Jimenez could be on his way out of Wolves | Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

United continue to monitor his situation closely. Per 90min sources he was on a list of potential striking targets for the summer, though United had initially planned to spend money on Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish, two midfielders, given how they were expecting matters to play out. Jadon Sancho has always sat at the top of their list.

Their stance on Sancho hasn’t changed and they are currently working on a deal for the player. The Independent report on Thursday that they may be able to land the player for an initial £60m fee, while the Red Devils remain confident of getting the deal over the line.

The remainder of their budget was initially set aside for Grealish and Bellingham, but circumstances have changed around the pair in recent weeks. 17-year-old Bellingham joined Borussia Dortmund over United, and the club had initially seen Grealish as a potential replacement for Paul Pogba.

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The club are now reassessing their plan to push on for the Aston Villa captain given Pogba now looks likely to stay at United for this summer at least, so they have money to spend in other areas.

United have been looking to sign a centre forward since Romelu Lukaku’s departure, and the loan spell for Odion Ighalo is set to end in January 2021. The deal is unlikely to be made permanent and United are looking at other options – Jimenez being one.

Milan Skriniar, Pau Torres and Kalidou Koulibaly are also being looked at as central defensive targets as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to rebuild his squad after securing Champions League football.

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