Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo feature in Real Madrid and PSG combined XI but no room for Gareth Bale or Kylian Mbappe

Chris Bailey 14/02/2018
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In a true clash of titans, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain will do battle in the Champions League on Wednesday night in a meeting that would make for a mouth-watering final – let alone a round-of-16 tie.

Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Gareth Bale, Edinson Cavani, Luka Modric, Marco Verratti – the superstars just roll off the tongue.

But if push comes to shove, who would make the cut in a combined XI with the right balance? It’s not easy – and some controversial choices had to be made, but we’ve given it a crack …

GK – Alphonse Areola

An interesting selection to be made here as, if reports are to be believed, both clubs want bigger names between the sticks in the summer.

But Alphonse Areola deserves to get the nod over Keylor Navas simply for the fact that he conceded just four times during the group stage, and has the fifth-most clean sheets in all of Europe this season.

He has cost PSG occasionally with some questionable decision-making – but can also come up big.

RB – Dani Carvajal

Dani Carvajal is banned for the first leg at the Bernabeu and is a huge miss to the hosts, who may have to play Nacho on the flank given teenage right-back Achraf Hakimi’s loss of form.

Ultimately it is his ill-discipline that cost him – suspended for deliberately seeking a booking against APOEL – but at his very best the Spaniard has no peers in his position.

Dani Alves certainly gives him a run for his money, and, at 34 plays like he is five years younger while bombing down that right flank, but Carvajal has the edge defensively.

CB – Sergio Ramos

There is evidence that Sergio Ramos’ powers are waning as he tries to hold together a shaky Madrid defence that have conceded more times than mid-table outfits Getafe and Leganes in La Liga this season.

On the other hand, he has been tested far more times this term than PSG captain Thiago Silva, who has definitely seen better days and has not been a regular starter for Brazil for more than two years.

Nacho deserves an honourable mention as arguably Real’s best defender on form so far this year.

CB – Marquinhos

Marquinhos is the key factor in why Silva is on the outside looking in for the Selecao. He’s not just the heir apparent – he’s already taken the throne.

The 23-year-old has moved his game on again this year and is a captain-in-waiting for the Parisians, having looked authoritative when taking the armband in the recent past.

LB – Marcelo

Layvin Kurzawa hit the back of the net three times during the Champions League group stages but still the nod has to go to Marcelo here.

Kurzawa is not even guaranteed of his place at PSG due to the presence of summer signing Yuri Berchiche while Marcelo has had the left flank locked down in Madrid for years.

At his best, he is the most lethal left-back in the world and his defending came on leaps and bounds last season – it’s time to rediscover that magic for when his team needs it the most.

CM – Marco Verratti

Ask most managers who they’d plump for from PSG sans Neymar and they’d go for Marco Verratti.

His skillset is very rare in the modern game, someone who could dictate play from the base of midfield with crisp passing, an eye for a goal and a keen defensive mind.

He bagged two goals and two assists during the Champions League group stages – this was the easiest pick of the lot.

CM – Thiago Motta

Given Toni Kroos’ poor form and Casemiro’s similarly up-and-down season at Real, a trusted, no-frills veteran gets the nod here.

Thiago Motta has not returned from injury in time to take on Real and don’t underestimate how severe a blow that is.

The Brazilian, even at 35, has fended off glamour names time and time again to line up alongside the more heralded Verratti. Don’t forget – he played no part in PSG’s 6-1 hammering at the hands of Barcelona last year. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

CM – Luka Modric

Luka Modric has not succumbed to the ravages of 2017/18 like his midfield partners Kroos and Casemiro.

Yes, it’s not been a banner year for the Croatian so far, but his work in tight spaces and superglue dribbling is still a sight to behold.

FW – Cristiano Ronaldo

You thought Cristiano Ronaldo was past it? Forget that following his recent hat-trick against Real Sociedad.

The Champions League group stages only ended two months ago and lest it slip your mind, he scored an outrageous nine goals. For a ‘struggling’ team no less.

At 33 he may be getting old in football terms, but he’s still producing at a rate of knots.

ST – Edinson Cavani

Edinson Cavani belongs in an elite group with Harry Kane and Robert Lewadownski as the very best strikers in the world – how Real would love swapping out Karim Benzema’s services for the Uruguayan.

And the quality of competition rebuttal won’t wash, either. The man is averaging a goal a game over his last two Champions League campaigns, and he’s hitting the back of the net just as frequently even if Neymar keeps taking goals away from him …

FW – Neymar

Ronaldo, Cavani and Neymar – that’s some battle of egos making up the front three. However, though their rivalry would undoubtedly spill over onto the pitch, there would still be plenty of goals to share.

Neymar has plundered 19 and 11 assists from just 18 games in Ligue 1 this season and regardless of what you think of the French league, that’s astounding. Kylian Mbappe and Gareth Bale are great – but just not that great.

1302 real and psg XI

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Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane help Tottenham to 2-2 draw with Juventus in the Champions League

David Cooper 14/02/2018
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Christian Eriksen completed a remarkable Tottenham comeback as they rallied from two down to draw with Juventus in the Champions League last 16.

Spurs will take two precious away goals into the second leg at Wembley next month after Harry Kane’s clinical finish and a clever free-kick from the superb Eriksen ensured a fascinating contest finished 2-2 in Turin.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were on the brink after Gonzalo Higuain put Juventus two up within nine minutes, the second a penalty after Ben Davies fouled Federico Bernardeschi.

But Kane pulled one back, only Juve’s second goal conceded in 17 games, before Higuain missed a second penalty, in what could prove a decisive moment in this tie.

Juve surrendered all momentum after their blistering start and Spurs will now be targeting a first Champions League quarter-final since 2011.

But whether it was nerves or a lack of concentration, Spurs made a nightmare start. It began with Jan Vertonghen’s skewed clearance causing momentary panic and the otherwise excellent Mousa Dembele responded by crashing into Miralem Pjanic.

What followed was the combination of a brilliantly executed free-kick and sloppy marking as Pjanic lofted the ball down the blind side of the wall where Higuain peeled away, before volleying first time past Hugo Lloris.

There was worse to come as an innocuous-looking pass was delivered towards Bernardeschi in the box and instead of standing his man up, Davies tried to win the ball but succeeded only in kicking his opponent.

Referee Felix Brych pointed to the spot, Higuain converted and Tottenham were two down within nine minutes.

Perhaps Juventus felt their work was done because almost instantly they retreated, dropping deep like the away side and allowing Spurs to dictate the contest.

Kane optimistically claimed for a penalty after going down under pressure from Medhi Benatia and then should have scored, but headed straight at Gianluigi Buffon from five yards.

The tie could have been over had Juve made the most of one scintillating counter-attack but Higuain, having expertly worked the space with a dummy, fired just wide of Lloris’ post.

Moments earlier, however, Dele Alli had only been denied by a last-ditch Bernardeschi challenge and Tottenham’s dominance finally paid off when the midfielder slipped Kane in behind. Kane coolly rounded Buffon and slotted in for his seventh goal of the tournament.

With Eriksen now running the game, the visitors fancied a second but such was the topsy-turvy nature of the half they also could have been dead and buried at the interval.

Another moment of madness saw Serge Aurier scythe down Douglas Costa in the box but this time Higuain, on a hat-trick, slammed his penalty against the crossbar. It was the last action of a breathless 45 minutes.

After the break, the game was more evenly split as Juve abandoned their rearguard action and met Tottenham higher up the pitch.
Bernardeschi’s shot was tipped wide by Lloris but as the clock drifted past the hour, both teams seemed wary of pushing forward for fear of
being opened up at the back.

So it was almost inevitable that any goal would come from a set-piece. Alli won the free-kick centrally on the edge of the area after drawing the foul from Giorgio Chiellini and Eriksen drilled it low and into the bottom corner. Buffon might have been disappointed not to push it round the post.

That knocked the stuffing out of Juventus as January signing Lucas Moura came on to make his Tottenham debut off the bench. It was Pochettino smiling and the travelling fans singing at the final whistle.

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Juventus ratings as Gonzalo Higuain's brace earns an 8 in 2-2 draw with Tottenham

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Higuain scored a brace, but the chances he missed could haunt Juventus.

Juventus looked well on their way to another comprehensive Champions League victory against an upstart young side when Gonzalo Higuain‘s brace put the hosts 2-0 up against Tottenham inside nine minutes.

Unfortunately, some wasteful finishing after that, including a missed penalty from Higuain, allowed Spurs to claw their way back and emerge from Turin with a 2-2 draw.

Here’s a look at the performance of the Juventus players.

RATINGS

Gianluigi Buffon – A rare off day for the Italian great, as he fumbled a couple of long-range shots and was at fault for Tottenham’s second goal. 5

Mattia De Sciglio – It’s not often that Juventus’ best defender isn’t Giorgio Chiellini or Medhi Benatia, but De Sciglio had a brilliant game at the back for the hosts. 8

Medhi Benatia – Wasn’t able to replicate his imperious Serie A form on Tuesday night, looking hesitant against Harry Kane. 6

Giorgio Chiellini – Gave away the free-kick for Spurs’ second, which along with Higuain’s penalty miss could end up being the costliest moment of the tie. 6

Alex Sandro – Was his usual barnstorming self down the left-hand side, and stood up well against Tottenham’s attacks. 7 

Sami Khedira – Failed to offer the required control in midfield, as Tottenham overran Juventus after going 2-0 down. 5 

Miralem Pjanic – Played a clever free-kick for Juve’s opener, although he rarely played a telling ball after that. 

Federico Bernardeschi – Won the penalty for Higuain and had a rasping shot in the second half that Lloris saved. 7

Douglas Costa – A few clever runs, and was crumpled by Aurier for the penalty that Higuain missed.

Mario Mandzukic – Was a willing runner as always, tracking back as well as proving a crucial part of Juve’s attack. 7

Gonzalo Higuain – His two-goal blitz at the start of the game set the tone for the tie, but Juventus will rue his missed chances, especially the one from the penalty spot. 

SUBSTITUTES

Rodrigo Bentacur – Had little impact after coming on midway through the second half for Khedira. 5

Stefano Sturaro – Came on with just under 15 minutes left, but didn’t have the chance to do much. 5

Kwadwo Asamoah – Entered the fray with the match nearly over, allowing him no time to make an impact. 5

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