Champions League Team of the Week as Real Madrid and Juventus stars dominate XI

Alex Rea 8/03/2018
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Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo

Two ties this week added chapters to the volume of Champions League classics, two others were mere footnotes.

Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus all sealed their spots in the last eight but did so in contrasting style.

Below we pick out our top performers from this week’s action as a weakened City were defeated 2-1 by FC Basel, Liverpool were held to a bore draw with Porto while Real Madrid humbled Paris Saint-Germain and Juve did what Juve does to beat Tottenham.

GK – IKER CASILLAS (FC PORTO)

Jurgen Klopp and Iker Casillas

Jurgen Klopp and Iker Casillas

Fitting that in what is likely his last Champions League appearance before retirement, Casillas became the first goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet against Liverpool in the competition this season.

The Spaniard has 56 in 167 Champions League games, both records, and made five saves in the 0-0 draw at Anfield.

RB – STEPHEN LICHTSTEINER (JUVENTUS)

Stephan Lichtsteiner

Stephan Lichtsteiner

Massimiliano Allegri’s substitutions were critical in turning the tie in Juve’s favour and Lichtsteiner’s performance from the bench was superb.

He not only stretched Spurs by providing natural width, but defensively the Swiss helped out a drowning Andrea Barzagli on the right. Not bad for his first appearance in the competition this season.

CB – GIORGIO CHIELLINI (JUVENTUS)

Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon

Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon

Juve’s diamond attackers Paulo Dybala and Higuain stole the headlines but it was their rock at the back who warrants most praise.

Gigi Buffon and Chiellini celebrating crucial interventions as if they were goals will be the undying images of the Bianconeri’s win.

The 33-year-old defender was immense. No player made more tackles (4), more clearances (13) or blocked more shots (3) than the Italian. What a warrior.

CB – SERGIO RAMOS (REAL MADRID)

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos

If critics of Ramos still don’t think he can defend, then they should re-watch the tie in Paris because he produced an absolute masterclass.

Granted, his temperament can get the better of him at times – he did surpass Paul Scholes for most bookings in the competition with his 37th – but the Spaniard completely nullified PSG’s attack in the final phases.

He was a tower of strength, winning so many physical duels and emboldening his reputation as a big-game phenom.

LB – MARCELO (REAL MADRID)

Thiago Silva and Marcelo

Thiago Silva and Marcelo

The problem with Madrid is that practically every player has an attacking mindset. Take Marcelo for example. The Brazilian is a left-back but his positioning is so high up he’s really virtually a winger.

It can leave Los Blancos painfully open and Spurs ruthlessly exposed that susceptibility in the group stages but against PSG, Marcelo perfectly balanced both responsibilities.

He didn’t always bomb on which shut down the Parisians so effectively and picked his moments to attack, hitting six threatening cross into the box.

RM – SON HEUNG-MIN (TOTTENHAM)

Son Heung-Min

Son Heung-Min

There’s a point in which a player is so often labelled underrated that he actually just becomes rated and Son has entered that narrative.

Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to play the Korean over Eric Lamela was a good one as he absolutely assaulted Barzagli with poise and skill – the Italian responding by simply trying to physically assault him.

A tremendous performance and a 16th goal of the season. Another one of Spurs’ brilliant bargain buys.

CM – CASEMIRO (REAL MADRID)

Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro

Real Madrid’s Brazilian midfielder Casemiro

Casemiro is a strange player. In one sense, the fact he can do everything is to the detriment of Madrid when operates as a defensive midfielder and then that same talent is why he bossed PSG.

He had 80 touches, 56 (98 percent) passes completed, five tackles won, three clearances, two chances created, one take-on completed, one shot and one goal in Paris.

Adrien Rabiot vacated vasts amount of space in both phases of play and the Brazilian was able to control and dominate.

LM – KWADWO ASAMOAH (JUVENTUS)

Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus

Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus

Juve required two goals so when Allegri sent on Asamoah and Lichtsteiner you could sense a collective perplexion from the away end.

Not all moments of genius are as obvious as being hit by an apple but Asamoah’s introduction was vital.

The Ghanian stretched a compact Spurs defence and his injection of thrust freed up Higuain and Dybala to attack through the middle while allowing Alex Sandro to adopt a natural wider position.

FW – MOHAMED ELYOUNOUSSI (FC BASEL)

Basel's Norwegian midfielder Mohamed Elyounoussi

Basel’s Norwegian midfielder Mohamed Elyounoussi

The Norwegian flyer was the man of the match in Basel’s unlikely victory at the Etihad Stadium, scoring one and assisting the other.

City really struggled to cope with the 23-year-old and his trickery in one v one situations really caught the eye – the winner exemplifying his talent.

He slalomed his was through City’s defence before cutting a reverse ball for Michael Lang to fire home.

ST – CRISTIANO RONALDO (REAL MADRID)

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo rose highest to give PSG the Cris of death in the city of love. Sorry, had to, but the Portuguese star fortified his reputation as one of the best big-game players ever with the opener.

In the first 45 minutes he was far too involved in the early phases, dropping deep into pockets of space and looking to link-up with Karim Benzema.

After the break, he changed his tact to focus his attention on finishing up plays. A perfect centre-forward performance.

ST – GONZALO HIGUAIN (JUVENTUS)

Juventus forward Gonzalo Higuain

Juventus forward Gonzalo Higuain

Justifiably the Uruguayan is volleyed with criticism for his inability to make a big impact when it matters most – last season’s Champions League final a prime example.

However, despite coming into the clash at Wembley with an injury, he was the difference-maker.

He was the only player alive in the box to delicately finish from Sami Khedira’s header and then his swoop round the back of Jan Vertonghen before slipping through Dybala for the winner was clinical.

08 03 2018 UCL TEAM OF THE WEEK MATCH 6th AND 7th

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Mauricio Pochettino rejects suggestions that Tottenham were schooled by Juventus in Champions League exit

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The Spurs boss was proud of his side's display despite the exit.

Mauricio Pochettino dismissed as “rubbish” suggestions Tottenham had been taught a harsh lesson by Juventus following their elimination from the Champions League.

The savvy Italians largely resisted Spurs’ youth and energy before two goals in four second-half minutes secured a 2-1 victory at Wembley and the 4-3 aggregate advantage that took them into the competition’s quarter-finals.

Pochettino’s team led at half-time after Son Hueng-min‘s third goal in two games, but having been fortunate not to concede a penalty for Jan Vertonghen’s challenge on Douglas Costa, succumbed to finishes from Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala.

Harry Kane‘s 90th-minute header was cleared off the line by Andrea Barzagli after it bounced off the post as Juve otherwise absorbed late pressure, but asked if they had been given a tough lesson, the Spurs manager responded: “All that we are going to talk about now is rubbish. In the end it’s win or lose.

“(There was) no lack of experience. No lack of concentration. How many chances did we concede in the first leg and the second leg? We concede three chances and they scored twice. We created a lot of chances and only scored once.

“We created many, many chances. Sometimes you need some luck to win but I feel very proud. We competed very well against a very good team like Juventus. We dominated. Overall in the two games we were much better but in this type of level in three minutes I think the tie was for Juventus.

“I feel relaxed and happy. Disappointed of course, but the quality and the capacity and performance of the team was very good.”

Juventus scored two goals in three minutes to turn the match around.

Juventus scored two goals in three minutes to turn the match around.

Pochettino, 46, was then asked if having previously described himself as a “dreamer”, going so close to reaching the quarter-finals and missing out represented a nightmare, and he said: “A nightmare? Why?

“That is football, eh? I am still a dreamer. Of course I am disappointed. (But) when you compete in the Champions League and against this type of club, you can win or you can lose.

“We create a lot of chances but it wasn’t enough to win the game. That is all.”

Victory means Massimiliano Allegri’s Juve remain on course for their third Champions League final in four years.

The Italian’s change of shape inspired their second-half recovery, just days after they regained the initiative from Napoli in their pursuit of a seventh successive Serie A title, but even in such a positive week the Italian insisted they had “suffered”.

“We did suffer a lot, but that’s normal in football,”, said Allegri, 50. “We’re really happy.

“They put us under pressure, most of all when we lost the ball, but after all Tottenham are a quality side, so the team has done really well here.

“We did very well to bide our time and strike at the right moment. We were under the cosh at times in the first half, but only at certain moments.”

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Pep Guardiola slams his Manchester City side for 'forgetting to attack' in Basel defeat

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The City boss was not a happy man following the defeat.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola criticised his heavily rotated side for “forgetting to attack” despite reaching the Champions League quarter-finals 5-2 on aggregate over Basel on Wednesday.

City suffered a first home defeat in 15 months as the Swiss champions came from behind to win 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium and salvage some pride from their last-16 tie after being thrashed 4-0 on home turf in the first leg three weeks ago.

“From tomorrow we will be happy to be in the quarter-finals for the second time in this club’s history. We are new in that position, so we are so happy for that,” said Guardiola.

“Even the first half was quite good, in the second half we forgot to attack, we forgot to play.

“Just to pass to pass for itself is nothing, so the second half was really, really poor.”

Guardiola could afford the luxury of making six changes from Sunday’s dominant 1-0 win over Chelsea, but still saw his side extend their aggregate advantage early on when Gabriel Jesus tapped home after just eight minutes.

However, Mohamed Elyounoussi exposed some slack City defending to smash in an equaliser for the visitors nine minutes later before Michael Lang rocketed home a spectacular winner 19 minutes from time.

“It’s special for us to beat this team and we go out of the Champions League with a decent performance in a very difficult situation,” said Basel coach Raphael Wicky.

Michael Lang's goal 19 minutes from full time won it for Basel.

Michael Lang’s goal 19 minutes from full time won it for Basel.

City could have the Premier League mathematically wrapped up by the time they are next in Champions League action in early April.

And on this evidence they will need the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to be well-rested and in-form if they are to deliver the dream of their Abu Dhabi owners by winning the European Cup for a first time as a number of youngsters and fringe players failed to impress.

“I understand after we see the second half the people that say the team is not ready to fight for everything,” added Guardiola.

However, the Catalan coach hopes a three-week break following Monday’s trip to Stoke will leave his side refreshed for the last eight.

“We are in the quarter-finals, that is the good news, and after we will see how we will arrive in the quarter-finals.

“We have one more game on Monday and then we have three weeks off. (Due to the international break, City’s next game is not till March 31 against Everton.) In 180 minutes it is 5-2, so we are so happy to be in the next stage.”

Leroy Sane was one of few regular starters retained in Guardiola’s starting XI and continued his supreme form by creating the opener.

Jesus hadn’t started since suffering knee ligament damage on New Year’s Eve, but had the simplest of tasks to get back among the goals when Bernardo Silva latched onto Sane’s pass to produce a inch-perfect low cross for the Brazilian.

City should have gone even further in front as Silva’s shot from a dangerous Sane cut-back was blocked before Basel goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik made a fine block to deny Ilkay Gundogan his third goal of the tie.

However, a minute later Basel were level as Blas Riveros burst down the left and his deflected cross was dispatched powerfully past Claudio Bravo by Elyounoussi.

Guardiola grew visibly frustrated on the touchline as his side also started the second period slowly.

And they were punished when Elyounoussi’s low cross was blasted past Bravo at his near post from a narrow angle by Lang.

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