It was a pulsating week of Champions League action, as the second legs of the last 16 concluded a round where we lost a number of big-hitters.
From Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid, prayers were thrown up and candles were lit for a host of prestigious sides, but that left new teams to be praised, new heroes to be crowned.
And here they are, the best XI from the last 16 second legs, assorted in a 4-3-3 formation:
1. Goalkeepers & Defenders
Hugo Lloris (GK): The Frenchman has copped a lot of flak of late, but he made a number of spectacular saves in the first half of that clash against Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion, including one that exhibited all of his cat-like reflexes – which had looked to have dulled in recent games.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (RB): The bigger the ocassion, the bigger the performance from this lad. He continues to improbably grow in stature with each passing week. Rigid in defence and electric in attack, his crossing abilities feel second to none right now.
Matthijs De Ligt (CB): This kid is 19 years old. N I N E T E E N. And he’s already one of the best centre backs in the world. That’s not even an overstatement. The guy is exceptional. And he’s 19. Jesus.
Virgil van Dijk (CB): Is there nothing this Adonis can’t do? After carrying around Robert Lewandowski in his pocket for a while, he decided to amble up to the other end and finish the tie once and for all. All in a day’s work for this Dutchman.
Jan Vertonghen (LB): What’s that marauding down the left flank? Is is a centre back? Is it a left back? No, it’s Jan Vertonghen, playing left midfield apparently. And, though the Belgian returned to his nominal defensive role for the second leg, he was just as impressive. Nice to know.
Federico Bernardeschi (RM): While a certain Portuguese forward (who’ll go far, mark my words) grabbed the headlines for Juventus against Atletico, it was Bernardeschi who was pulling the strings. He was everywhere, and it was always effective. Will also go far.
Dusan Tadic (CM): The story of the round by far. The Southampton “reject” turned up at the Santiago Bernabeu and made it his own with an utterly mesmeric performance. Yes, I know he’s occupied a role much higher up the pitch, but sacrifices have to be made and, at this rate, I’d have Tadic pretty much anywhere if I needed to. GOAT.
Frenkie De Jong (CM): If the 21-year-old hadn’t already agreed a move to Barcelona, then his orchestration of proceedings in Ajax’s takeover of the Bernabeu would’ve been the audition of a lifetime. His sit-down of Luka Modric sticks in the memory as the most symbolic moment of the round.
Sadio Mane (LM): Sadio Mane has been Liverpool’s best attacking player this season, and he proved this on Wednesday night with a talismanic showing. That first goal. Bloody hell.
Cristiano Ronaldo (ST): Yes, here’s that going-to-go-far up and comer I was talking about earlier, heard of him? CR7 was, quite simply, jaw-dropping against Atletico, producing the most commanding performance I’ve ever seen from a 34-year-old. At his age, he is completely unprecedented… for the moment.
Lionel Messi (ST): I say for the moment, because at some point, Lionel Messi will be 34 himself. And at that point, maybe this GOAT thing will be settled once and for all. Until then, let’s just maybe enjoy both, eh? Also, I know what you’re thinking: BuT mESSi PlAYed On tHE RiGht!!!! Well, would you rather have Romelu Lukaku up front or this guy? Thanks.