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.
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.
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.