UEFA Champions League: Picking a Combined XI Ahead of the Mini-Tournament

Sergio Ramos, Kevin De Bruyne
Sergio Ramos and Kevin De Bruyne – two of the Champions League’s top performers | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a long 16 weeks without it, but the Champions League is very nearly back.

Europe’s elite knockout competition will play out to its conclusion later this month with an impromptu mini-tournament, where the clubs lucky enough to have made the quarter-finals – or haven’t played their round of 16 second legs yet – will vie for the showpiece prize of the 2019/20 season.

We’ll see some of the best players on the planet go head to head, so to build the hype, we’ve analysed the 12 remaining squads, and come up with the best XI of all of them combined.

It hasn’t been easy, so please don’t shout.

Jan OblakJan Oblak
Oblak is the best keeper around | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Where would Atléti be without their Slovenian Superman between the sticks this season? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The title of best goalkeeper in the world has rarely been more tightly contested than it is now, but Oblak is a truly special talent who can probably now lay claim to it.

You don’t often come across a keeper with cat-like reflexes, sublime distribution, and the authority to command his box like a military sergeant preparing for battle, but here is is.

Honourable Mention: Marc-André ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois

UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"
Klostermann impressed against Tottenham | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Liverpool’s elimination means the default instinct to just select Trent Alexander-Arnold is void. As it turns out, outside of the England right-back, there isn’t really an outstanding choice for this position.

Lukas Klostermann has been a consistent, versatile and energetic presence for an impressive Leipzig team, however, and continues to grow under the radar as one of the most quietly impressive full-backs on the continent.

Honourable Mentions: Hans Hateboer, Kieran Trippier

Sergio RamosSergio Ramos
Ramos saw red against City but is still one of the tournament’s outstanding defenders | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Ok so he might have had a bit of a mare against Manchester City, but c’mon, this is Sergio Ramos we’re on about.

The best goalscoring centre half ever, Mr. Champions League, Captain Sh*thouse himself.

This Real team by no means look like the best in Europe, but purely through virtue of having Ramos there to kick ass and take names, you wouldn’t bet against them going at the way…if they can first manoeuvre their way past City without him.

Neymar, MarquinhosNeymar, Marquinhos
Marquinhos celebrates with Neymar after his goal against Borussia Dortmund | UEFA – Handout/Getty Images

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender in the world, you’re kidding yourself. That’s Virgil van Dijk.

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender left in the Champions League, however, you’re probably right.

Marquinhos’ ridiculous passing range and composure on the ball have been a massive part of why PSG are still in with a chance of advancing beyond the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. He’s not bad at the old defending either – Paris have conceded just three goals in eight UCL matches this term, a run through which he has been a virtual ever-present.

Honourable Mentions: Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano, Felipe, Matthijs de Ligt

Davies’ star is rising about as quickly as he can sprint – and that’s very, very, very fast.

He was famously monikered ‘Roadrunner’ by Thomas Muller earlier this season, and his pace and dynamism have already proved too much for Tottenham and Chelsea to handle.

A real creative bright spark down the left hand side, Davies adds another string to Hansi Flick’s fearsome attacking bow – as if he needs it.

Honourable Mentions: Roben Gosens

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne helped City to a key first leg win over Real Madrid | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

38 goal-involvements this season. And counting.

From central midfield.

Honestly, De Bruyne, just give it a rest.

Joshua KimmichJoshua Kimmich
Kimmich swings in a corner against Chelsea | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

It doesn’t seem to matter where you play Kimmich. Centre-midfield, right-back, centre-back, in goal, assistant manager; it really has no bearing, because he’ll still chip in with ten assists every year.

He’s the definition of reliable, and at times this season he’s held together a Bayern team that might have otherwise fallen apart.

Saul NiguezSaul Niguez
Saul pays his respects to Liverpool | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid’s midfield warrior rounds out our fantasy trio after yet another impressive season in Los Rojiblacos’ engine room.

He might have picked up more bookings (13) than goals or assists (7) in all competitions, but if anything that just further emphasises that he’s doing what he’s in the team for; to win battles, stifle creativity, and move the ball on.

He does like the odd important goal, however – just as Liverpool about that one.

Honourable Mentions: Houssem Aouar, Marcel Sabitzer, Casemiro

Lionel MessiLionel Messi
Messi on the prowl against Napoli | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Well…yeah.

Barcelona may be reaching the limits of how bad they can be while still relying on Messi to drag them over the line, but that hasn’t stopped the little magician from trying.

He single-handedly got them through the group stage, scoring or assisting five of their nine goals, and looks poised to try and repeat that feat when Napoli come to town to keep his team in with a chance of actually winning a trophy.

Honourable Mentions: Christian Pulisic, Serge Gnabry

Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso DaviesRobert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso Davies
Lewandowski celebrates scoring against Chelsea | Visionhaus/Getty Images

11 goals in six Champions League games. Eleven goals, in six Champions League games.

Lewandowski’s had a good season in the same way Michael Jordan was good at basketball. He looked a shoe-in for Ballon d’Or before it was unceremoniously cancelled, but you’d safely bet he’d happily trade that individual accolade to finally get his hands on the Champions League.

Honourable Mentions: Josip Ilicic, Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First LegOlympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Ronaldo advancing on goal against Lyon | RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images

We have to apologise for choosing the most predictable and obvious front three in Champions League history, but when you’ve got Messi, Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo all available, what are you going to do? Not pick them?

Ronnie has hit the ground running this season after using 2018/19 to settle in at Juve, and although his European form doesn’t quite match his Serie A exploits, his 35 goals in all competitions means he still warrants a place in this team.

That and the fact that he’s, y’know, the all-time Champions League top goalscorer.

Honourable Mentions: Raheem Sterling, Papu Gomez

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Michael Owen on Real Madrid, Gareth Bale & Harry Kane’s Tottenham Future

Michael Owen
Michael Owen sat down exclusively with 90min | Claire Greenway/Getty Images

Exclusive – As a former Real Madrid player, Michael Owen still has a soft spot for Los Blancos.

He may have only spent one year at the Santiago Bernabéu, but it was long enough for Owen to take in the culture and appreciate what life is like for an outsider at one of the world’s biggest clubs.

Owen found himself under the microscope for a large part of the season, with both fans and the media obsessed with his each and every move. When things were going well, that wasn’t a problem, but when the goals dried up, it was tough to manage.

Real Madrid's UK Michael Owen (R) celebrReal Madrid's UK Michael Owen (R) celebr
Owen spent the 2004/05 season in Madrid | RAFA RIVAS/Getty Images

Watching Real this year, Owen has seen Welsh winger Gareth Bale endure something similar. A tricky relationship with manager Zinedine Zidane left Bale glued to the bench for the end of the season, but he still managed to steal the headlines through his off-pitch antics – pretending to sleep and goofing around with a ‘telescope’ were just two incidents which attracted the fury of the Madrid press.

“Gareth Bale, when you look at his record, is quite sensational,” Owen tells 90min. “Not just what he’s won, but the moments he’ll have when he looks back on his career – Champions League-winning goal, the trophies he’s won – it’s staggering what moments he’s had, yet he’s not a darling of the fans.

“Whether Cristiano Ronaldo had something to do with that – he was just so clearly the best player and maybe people expected Bale to come in and almost replicate that. I’m not sure whether, off the pitch – I know he likes playing golf – things can get misconstrued. In my career, I did one or two things that I thought were so innocent, yet they got turned into big things. I wish I hadn’t done them, just for the perception.

“It’s a shame really. It’s great to see British players going abroad and doing well, but he can hold his head up high when he comes back. What an unbelievable set of medals he’s got, and more importantly, memories he’s got of great games.”

Gareth BaleGareth Bale
Bale’s Champions League-winning goal won’t be forgotten anytime soon. | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

There has long been an idea that English players cannot cope with life in another country. It’s a judgement which has been regularly cast on Bale, whose love of playing golf and willingness to spend time alone have seen fans turn against him.

“There were two papers basically dedicated to Real Madrid,” Owen recalls. “We think we’re in a goldfish bowl over here, there was paparazzi following you everywhere, you’re really under the microscope!

“Fans are different. Fans go there, to the stadiums, and it’s almost more of a theatre atmosphere, very quiet. If they don’t like what they’re seeing, the white hankies come out and they get excited when the ball goes around the box, but it general play it’s very quiet. There are subtle differences.”

Gareth BaleGareth Bale
Bale has been enjoying his time on the bench | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Bale finds himself at somewhat of a crossroads in his career, but he’s not alone in that respect. Plenty of players will need to decide on their futures this summer, and one player thought to be in that bracket is Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane.

Widely regarded as one of the best pure strikers around, Kane does not boast the kind of CV that many 27-year-olds of his calibre do. He is yet to win a trophy and was powerless to prevent Spurs from slipping to sixth in the Premier League table, prompting rumours it might be time for him to move elsewhere.

“Utopia for Harry Kane is probably to stay and win the league with Tottenham, but at some point in your career you’ve got to look at it and think ‘what matters most to me now?’,” Owen says, having been through a similar situation during his days with Liverpool.

“He can be a Tottenham legend forever, he can stay there and be an absolute legend forever, and that’s great and something you’ve got to be mindful of, because he could go and chase medals and have a better chance of winning them at a few other clubs. But will he be held in the same esteem?

Harry KaneHarry Kane
Kane is still waiting for his first trophy | Pool/Getty Images

“I had that same decision in my career. Steven Gerrard had that decision, virtually everyone you want to mention has those decisions. It doesn’t necessarily come down to loyalty, some people are just very ambitious. He’ll always love Tottenham, I’m sure.

“Put it this way, if they come ninth or tenth in the league and they’re not going to win the cup, and it happens again next season, then he’s got a big decision to make.

“It’s nothing to do with money. It’s whether he wants to have a few medals in his trophy cabinet at the end of his career, or whether he wants to be a Matt Le Tissier that’s seen as ‘fair play, he just stuck to his own club through thick and thin, had a bit of success but didn’t win many trophies, but he’s an absolute legend’.”

Michael Owen is part of KIA’s #TheDreamPass campaign – an online football class hosted by legendary former professionals encouraging young players in their respective cities to donate their boots and take part in a skills challenge.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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Thibaut Courtois: The Unflappable Giant and Serial Winner

As the ball rolled towards Club Brugge’s Emmanuel Dennis, all alone in Real Madrid’s penalty area, Thibaut Courtois was furiously back-pedalling.

In a desperate attempt to protect his clean sheet, Courtois tumbled to his left-hand side just as Dennis’ mis-control tamely rolled the other way, opening the scoring in the Champions League group stage clash earlier this season.

It was a less than graceful way to concede but Courtois is no stranger to looking clumsy.

The 6’6 Belgian can appear a little out of place among other footballers and even fellow goalkeepers, but that’s because he was born to play another sport: volleyball. Both Courtois’ parent were semi-professional players and his sister Valérie represented the national team.

Courtois ultimately turned his attention to football but the experience of throwing himself around in the sand helped his game on the grass, as he explained to The Telegraph: “I played a lot of beach volleyball with my family and that’s where I started really diving really early. Good reflexes is something that volleyball players have, because they are tall but they have to go down fast.”

After suffering the fate of all left-footed players and turning out at left-back for Racing Genk’s youth team, Courtois was swiftly thrust between the sticks at an under-9s tournament.

A stumbling Dennis dinked the ball over Courtois for his second of the night to emphatically put Club Brugge 2-0 up at half time in the Santiago Bernabéu. Zinedine Zidane was concise in his summary of each, bizarre effort as he said: “Both goals were a bit of a joke.”

The sight of Dennis quite literally tripping over his own feet as he bundled in another goal felt like it belonged on a YouTube compilation of some sort – preferably played to the Benny Hill Show theme music.

In his younger days Courtois himself dabbled in the saturated world of football clips. Together with his childhood friend Jens Brulmans, the teenagers had their own YouTube channel – YardBrooz – documenting the best saves and shots (and balls to the groin) the pair could muster in the back garden.

A picture taken on August 1, 2010 showsA picture taken on August 1, 2010 shows
Thibaut Courtois made the first of 45 appearances for Genk as a 16-year-old | STR/Getty Images

Not long after he posted his last video, Courtois made his first team debut for Genk in April 2009 after the club’s first-, second- and third-choice keepers suffered injury or suspension. The 16-year-old was characteristically laid back ahead of this seismic event and spent the evening before jumping on his neighbour’s trampoline.

That game ended 2-2 as did Real Madrid’s European clash with Club Brugge, although Courtois never made it to the second half.

When the referee blew up after 45 minutes, Courtois made a beeline for the dressing room and toilet. With the piercing whistles of the Madrid faithful echoing through the stadium, Courtois threw up. He sat out the next match (citing gastroenitis rather than an anxiety attack). But his first game back was a shocking 1-0 loss to minnows Mallorca.

Oddly, that was Courtois’ fifth game without a win against the island side. The previous four came in the three hugely successful years he spent with Atlético Madrid.

Thibaut CourtoisThibaut Courtois
Before joining Real, Courtois spent three years on loan at neighbours and rivals Atlético | Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

After winning the Belgian top flight with Genk as an 18-year-old, Chelsea bought Courtois for £9m but loaned him immediately to Atlético. In his debut season at the Vicente Calderón, Courtois was a virtual ever-present as Atléti won the Europa League.

Chelsea were keen on moving him to an English club that summer but Courtois fought to stay in Spain and was rewarded with a third-place finish and victory in the Copa del Rey.

Courtois made a decisive stop during the final against neighbours Real Madrid and his full-back Filipe Luis came into the mixed zone after the game shouting: “What a save, madre mia, what a save! The best goalkeeper in the world!”

Diego Godin, Thibaut CourtoisDiego Godin, Thibaut Courtois
Courtois celebrates with Diego Godin as Atléti with the 2014 title after the pair helped keep 20 clean sheets that season | David Ramos/Getty Images

The following season he would reinforce those credentials as Atléti won a historic league title in 2014 and reached the Champions League final – his last game for the club.

Three years after signing for Chelsea, Courtois finally made his debut on a muggy Monday evening. José Mourinho’s decision to replace club legend Petr Cech with the then-22-year-old was considered controversial at the time. Yet, Mourinho was swiftly vindicated as Chelsea stormed to the Premier League title.

The big Belgian adapted rapidly to the English top flight, citing his experience as a teenager for Genk as way of an explanation, telling Sky Sports: “I decided to come out for the ball immediately. I think that was because of my time in Belgium. It’s not the same level there as the Premier League but they play really physical as well. So when I was there I was used to getting the knocks.”

Courtois would later dismiss his injury-hit 2015/16 campaign as a ‘rubbish year’ before Antonio Conte steered Chelsea to a second league title in three seasons.

Thibaut CourtoisThibaut Courtois
In four seasons at Stamford Bridge, Courtois won two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the League Cup | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

After lifting the FA Cup in what would prove to be his final Chelsea game, Courtois left the west London side for Real Madrid in acrimonious circumstances as he reportedly failed to turn up for preseason training after Belgium’s World Cup exploits.

In his second season at Real, going into a Champions League clash with Galatasaray – just three days after defeat to Mallorca – Courtois’ career at Los Blancos was threatening to become an outright failure.

Having forced through a move back to Spain where his children lived, Courtois and Real enjoyed a a trophy-less campaign to forget. The Belgian debutant didn’t escape the particularly unforgiving judgement of Madrid’s onlookers, although his unflappable self-assurance remained intact.

He told the Spanish publication Marca: ” I still consider myself one of the best, even though the Spanish press wants to kill me. I feel very strong, I am calm because I train and play well.”

CourtoisCourtois
Courtois vied with Keylor Navas for the first choice goalkeeper position in his first season at Real Madrid | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

In a turning point of Madrid’s 2019/20 season, Real defeated the Turkish giants in that Champions League meeting as their own giant kept just his third clean sheet of the campaign. Real kicked on from that tie and – with a one or two more hiccups along the way – ultimately claimed the La Liga crown with a game to spare.

Zidane built his title winning side on the solid foundation of a resolute defence, with Courtois between the sticks pivotal to the team’s core. Madrid finished the season with the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues.

Courtois came back from the brink against Club Brugge, with his head in the toilet bowl at half time to win the Zamora trophy for La Liga’s best goalkeeper.

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The World’s Most Valuable Sports Teams in 2020 – Ranked

Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid
Real Madrid are one of the most valuable teams worldwide | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a bit of a weird year for sports teams of all kinds around the world, but there’s still a crazy amont of money in sport.

As they do every year, the people over at Forbes have put together a list of the most valuable sports teams across the globe, and a solid number of football teams managed to make their way into the rankings.

Let’s take a look at the top 50 teams – we’ll dive deeper into the ones that we care about over here.

Maintaining the same value as last year is Arsenal, who have fallen five spots down to 47th.

While it hasn’t been the best year on the pitch for Arsenal, inconsistent performances and sacking manager Unai Emery haven’t had too much of an impact financially.

Thanks to their FA Cup final triumph, the Gunners will have the chance to build on that in next year’s Europa League.

Just like Arsenal, Chelsea have also dropped five places while still retaining their same value from 2019.

The Blues had planned to have a busy year, with a brand new stadium complex on the cards, only for Chelsea to allow their planning permission to expire while they evaluate the current financial landscape.

Frank Lampard managed to guide Chelsea back to the Champions League, ensuring their income won’t take much of a hit over the coming year.

Yet again, City retained their value from 2019, but growth from teams from other sports has seen them drop nine spots down to 34th.

City’s financial power is no secret, and they flexed their muscle last summer by striking huge deals for Rodri and João Cancelo, and there’ll probably be a fair bit of money spent this year too.

Pep Guardiola’s side managed to get their Champions League ban overturned, ensuring they can remain competitive for years to come, although they did have to swallow a hefty fine.

Despite no drop in value, Bayern Munich find themselves falling from 17th in 2019 to 24th in 2020.

Being so far down in any rankings is an alien concept for Bayern, who have been overwhelmingly dominant in the Bundesliga in recent years.

Perennial favourites to win the Champions League, their value would enjoy a tidy rise if they can get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2013.

Despite dropping from sixth to tenth, Manchester United remain the third most valuable football team in the world.

It’s that kind of financial power which has given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some big plans for the summer transfer window, and qualifying for the Champions League will only help United strengthen, both on and off the pitch.

The Red Devils hope to be back on track after a few years of turmoil, so don’t be surprised to see them climb higher up this list in 2021.

Dropping down four spots are Barcelona, who still sit second on football’s rich list.

There was no drop in value for Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and co. this year, but the impact of the coronavirus outbreak might have a pretty rough impact on Barcelona’s finances for the 2021 rankings.

It’s been a frustrating year for the Catalan club, who need to win the Champions League to finish the campaign with any silverware. No pressure.

Sitting atop football’s financial Mount Olympus for the second straight year are Real Madrid.

Los Blancos spent big money last summer, recruiting Eden Hazard, Luka Jovi?, Éder Militão, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo Goes, and their reward was yet another La Liga title.

The spending might be a little calmer this time around, with Zinedine Zidane instead focusing on selling some of the club’s fringe players.

For more from ?Tom Gott, follow him on ?Twitter!

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Everton ‘Make Bid’ for Real Madrid Left Back Sergio Reguilon

Sergio Reguilon Rodriguez
Everton have reportedly bid £18m for Reguilon | Fran Santiago/Getty Images

Everton are targeting Real Madrid’s Sergio Reguilon to bolster their options at left back, and reportedly lead the chase for the defender after putting in an £18m bid.

The Toffees are in the market for a new left back following the retirement of stalwart Leighton Baines at the end of the 2019/20 campaign.

Sergio ReguilonSergio Reguilon
Reguilon is being targeted as a replacement for Baines | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Lucas Digne is currently the only recognisable senior left back remaining at Goodison Park, and Everton have set their sights on Reguilon as the man to fill the void left by Baines.

According to Sky Sports, the club have submitted an £18m bid for the 23-year-old, which is expected to be the catalyst for a potential bidding war between a selection of sides.

Reguilon has attracted attention from a host of clubs across Europe following his impressive loan spell with Sevilla during the 2019/20 season.

The full-back helped Sevilla finish fourth and secure Champions League football, and he was voted the best left back in La Liga in the process.

Sergio Reguilon RodriguezSergio Reguilon Rodriguez
Reguilon enjoyed a successful season on loan at Sevilla | Fran Santiago/Getty Images

However, the Liverpool Echo report that Everton have in fact not tabled a bid. Although the club have lost Baines, they have promoted 19-year-old Niels Nkounkou to the Under-23 side in the hope that he will offer competition for Digne within a year.

Reguilon is a product of the Real Madrid academy, and is held in high regard at the Bernabeu. However, he currently finds himself behind Marcelo and Ferland Mendy in the left back pecking order, and Real need to sell assets in order to help balance the books.

He is expected to be sold, alongside fellow academy graduates Mariano, Borja Mayoral and Oscar Rodriguez to help balance the books at the Bernabeu.

Sevilla are keen to take Reguilon back on loan for another season, but are aware that they face competition from a number of sides across Europe looking to secure his signature on a permanent basis.

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