No room for Barcelona's Lionel Messi in UCL team of season but three Liverpool stars feature

Chris Bailey 27/05/2018
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Real Madrid were crowned European champions for the third successive year.

The dust may still be settling from Gareth Bale’s almighty bicycle kick in Kiev on Saturday, but it’s time to take stock of another spectacular season of Champions League football.

The Welsh wonder does not make our team of the season – though, much like with Real Madrid, he’s probably worth a spot on the bench – as there are 11 more consistent performers to celebrate.

Sadly for Barcelona fans, not even Lionel Messi could crack the side this year…

GK: Alisson – Roma

Rumours are that Liverpool are desperate to fill the hole that swallowed Loris Karius in Kiev on Saturday night with the Roma shot-stopper. They can’t expect a Mohamed Salah-style bargain this time.

Brazil’s No1 faced a tournament-high 62 shots and made a tournament-high 45 saves – 10 clear of the nearest man in Roma’s run to the semi-finals. The archetypal modern sweeper-keeper.

RB: Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich

Such is the conveyor belt at Bayern, and indeed in Germany, that Kimmich has stepped into Philipp Lahm’s role as the do-it-all full-back without missing so much as a beat.

Another stellar season has seen him add four assists and three goals to his burgeoning Champions League CV, including the strike that gave Bayern a glimmer of hope against Real. At 23 he’s got another decade or so left to give.

CB: Clement Lenglet – Sevilla

Sevilla today, gone tomorrow – Lenglet is seemingly on the verge of joining Barcelona. And with good reason.

Though Manchester United, under the auspices of Jose Mourinho, are hardly attacking titans, the 22-year-old came of age with his epic smothering of Romelu Lukaku and Co. He put Robert Lewandowski in a head lock, too, before Bayern squeaked through to the semis.

CB: Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid

Love him or loathe him – a whole country in Egypt does after Saturday night – Ramos’ marries dark arts and top-notch defending in an unholy union. No manager in the world would take the moral high ground over excluding him from his side.

Mohamed Salah may disagree, but in an era where there are so few strong characters, a little rough-and-tumble should be appreciated.

Sergio Ramos 1
LB: David Alaba – Bayern Munich

It’s hard, and perhaps harsh, to overlook Marcelo here but for all his explosive attacking output he has too many moments of sheer madness at the other end of the pitch.

Enter Alaba, who would be considered the left-back par excellence if he was not sequestered in the hinterlands of Bundesliga – and Austria – for much of the year.

Just look at how Bayern suffered when Alaba was ruled out – Rafinha’s horrendous mistake giving Real a first-leg advantage in the semis.

RM: Mohamed Salah – Liverpool

The name that should be chiselled into the line-up. Salah’s sorry end does nothing to mar an incredible season as the Egyptian King surpassed expectation and then the realms of belief.

His heady campaign brought him 10 goals in Europe, including two in the slaying of Manchester City, and it’s fair to say the palpable nervousness in Real’s defence dissipated as soon as Ramos hauled Salah to the ground and he trudged off in tears.

CM: Ever Banega – Sevilla

Sevilla’s unlikely march to the quarter-finals, where they gave Bayern a scare, was orchestrated by the subtle talents of Banega.

For all their consistency in la Liga, Banega applied enough glue in midfield to take them far in Europe and was the main reason why their possession share through all games combined – 55.6 per cent – surpassed Man United and Paris Saint-Germain. He made a jaw-dropping 10 chances in the first leg against United, too.

CM: Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City

The only player in the Premier League who even ran the peerless Salah close for Player of the Season took his abundance of talent onto the European stage.

The Belgian’s raking passes, and through balls delivered on the ground so sweetly as if the surface is made of felt, were one of football’s greatest sights this season – and he supplied four assists in the Champions League.

LM: Sadio Mane – Liverpool

Mane’s strike in Kiev created one piece of history, at least – Liverpool became the first team in UCL history to see three players reach double figures, alongside Salah and Firmino, in a season.

The Senegal forward’s campaign had been hindered early on by injury, but you can’t knock him for crucial strikes against Man City, Roma – despite his profligacy in front of goal – and Real Madrid.

ST: Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid

How dare Bale take away all the attention from the main man on Saturday night – and truth be told, Ronaldo’s record in UCL finals leaves a lot to be desired considering he’s managed to win a record-setting five.

There’s no man in history who can get a side into the main event more efficiently, however, as his 15 strikes in the competition – the ‘Bale-esque’ effort against Juventus a highlight – was another phenomenal achievement.

cristiano-ronaldo-zinedine-zidane

ST: Roberto Firmino – Liverpool

No10s are still in fashion in European football but Firmino covers so much ground that Liverpool don’t need to play with that type of luxury.

He should be mediating peace talks in war zones such are his link-up powers – and now he’s added a surfeit of goals to his game, while supplying Salah with a boatload more, there is simply no striker quite like the Brazilian.
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Champions League comment: Sergio Ramos' greatest sin was a lack of faith in Real Madrid's beautiful game

Alex Broun 27/05/2018
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Sergio Ramos' tackle on Mohamed Salah was cynical and deliberate.

Two things were glaringly obvious after Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the Champions League final on Saturday night – and they were not Loris Karius’ horrendous goal-keeping errors.

I am referring to the “professionalism” of Real Madrid and the naivety of Liverpool.

In my opinion, without doubt, the Sergio Ramos foul on Mohamed Salah was deliberate and designed to cause harm. It was as bad as a two footed, studs up challenge – but a lot more subtle.

Ramos’ foul was cynical and brutish however it was more opportunistic than pre-meditated.

The Spaniard, one of the most experienced and hard nose defenders in the business (as 24 red cards in 13 years will attest), simply used his physical superiority to nullify Salah’s substantial threat.

Ramos kept close to Salah and when the opportunity arose of the Liverpool goal scorer putting his arm across Ramos’ chest, which was very likely to happen at some point in the game, the Real captain was able to simply hook onto Salah’s arm and using his body-weight drag the Egyptian down to the ground.

In Australian Rugby League its known as a chicken wing tackle and the perpetrator is usually met with a two to four week suspension. Ramos was met with his fourth Champion’s League medal.

What was most upsetting about the incident, and millions around the globe and Egypt particularly lit up Twitter with their rage afterwards, was not so much that Ramos carried it out – but that he felt it was necessary.

The game was beautifully poised. Real Madrid, almost in denial of Liverpool’s famous gegen-press, were determined to play out from the back.

It was like Los Blancos were throwing down the gauntlet saying to Jurgen Klopp and his team ‘We know what you’re going to do – but we are good enough footballers to play through it.’

In reply Liverpool were going back to forward very fast, with Virgil van Dijk and the back four lobbing the ball over the midfield looking for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to run in to the tantalizing space left by the high Madrid back four.

All that changed when Salah went off.

Liverpool’s confidence took a massive hit, while Madrid’s received a massive boost and immediately Los Blancos were straight on the attack – confident to commit more resources forward without the worry of Salah raiding in behind.

From then on there was always going to be one winner.

I’m not saying that Ramos’ actions changed the result. Indeed if the match had played out with Salah on the field I think Real Madrid still would have won but it would have been a far more engaging, entertaining and complex contest than the one-sided grind that ensued when the Egyptian departed.

It’s sad that the captain of such a great club did not have enough faith in his cavalcade of superstars to let the match play out with a fit Salah on the field.

He should have trusted that either Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale (as he did) or Isco or Karim Benzema or Marcello – or anyone else would have come up that moment of magic – of beauty – to win the game. As Bale did.

But Ramos didn’t and now Salah is in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup. What a tragedy it would be if that tournament was also robbed of the Egyptian’s magic.

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Watch: Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp analyses Champions League final loss against Real Madrid

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While Saturday night was all joy for Real Madrid, it turned out to be a massive heart break for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.

The Reds were not just beaten 3-1 by Los Blancos, but to add to that they lost their key player – Mohamed Salah to injury, their goalkeeper Loris Karius was involved in two awful errors and plus they had to return back home empty-handed after a terrific run in the Champions League.

Speaking in the post-game press conference though Jurgen Klopp revealed how bad the loss really felt and how the team will have to get over it.

Watch below what the German manager had to say.

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