UEFA Champions League 18/19 Team of the Group Stage

With this year’s exciting group stages over, let’s look at the players who have stood out massively this year. The only rule is 1 player per team, to add some variety to this team and to not go on about the same players. There are some great players in this side, so let’s get straight into it.

Allison

While Szczesny and De Gea are also great shouts in between the sticks, Allison just has to win it for me. While many have been critical of his occasional errors, he has changed that defense, along with Van Dijk. He has added that reassurance to his teammates, that there is nothing to worry about. The way he commands his goal is incredible and his presence is why Liverpool have improved so much this season. His game against Napoli at Anfield was great, making an incredible close ranged save right at the end of the game to deny Milik a change to send his side through. He is the reason why Liverpool were able to get out such a tough group.

João Cancelo

He has been absolutely sensational this season. While I have covered him previously, with his great performances against Manchester United and Inter Milan all highlighted, he has been a key member to a Juventus side that easily qualified, thanks to underperforming opposition. He was such a great outlet for a side that has found it difficult to find a consistent player in that right back position since Dani Alves departed. His pace, dribbling and defensive work make him a perfect modern full back. While it is questionable to put a player who only played 3 games in here, he was just that good. He put in 4 tackles and interceptions, completed 2.7 dribbles and even was taking 1.3 shots per game. A real stand out performer for a side who are looking to finally win the trophy after waiting so long.

Aymeric Laporte

Man City were very good in the group. While they had massive struggles when playing Lyon, failing to win in both games against the French side. They were still able to get top of the group, and that was mostly thanks to their own french defender, Aymeric Laporte. He was at his best in the Champions League. He was great on the ball as usual, completing 5 long balls per game, and having a 93% pass accuracy while doing so. His defense work is quite difficult to judge, considering Man City are such a possession heavy side. He did put in more interceptions than any other defense for his side, and also won 2.2 aerial duels per 90, only Fernandinho and Otamendi winning more. However he will be remembered for the 2 goals he scored. The first was to help his side secure a 3-0 win against Shaktar, and the other was to draw his side level with Lyon in their final encounter. He is has truly turned himself into a key player for Pep, and has been their best defender throughout. Alongside Ederson, he has played every minute of the Champions League. To do that under a manager who usually rotates all of his outfield players, it tells a lot about how well Laporte has done.

Mattias De Ligt

Ajax have been a huge surprise this season. Their two great performances against Bayern Munich showed this team has the potential to remind Europe why they were once a European Giant. Their blend of youth and now experience, with players like Blind, Tadic and Huntelaar all helping talents like Van Der Beek and De Jong perform at a higher level. But the player I’m choosing here is De Ligt. The Golden Boy winner has truly shown why he currently holds that award. When I first watched him back in 2017, I thought he was a player who had a massive ceiling, but didn’t have the stature and size to be able to perform against the top sides. Two years later and he has turned into the most wanted defender in Europe. The Dutch International showed his quality in the group, showing maturity and intelligence for a player so young. It does help being paired with Daily Blind, one of the smartest players in the competition when it comes to reading the game. While he is a good defender, he lacks the size and physicality that De Ligt has. It gives their back line a lot of balance, and great ability on the ball. De Ligt averaged a 93% pass accuracy, and won 3.1 aerial duels per 90. His stand out performance was against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. It was a game that showed Ajax are finally back to being taken seriously. While Zieych and Tadic were all great, De Ligt was also very good. He completed the most passes out of the Ajax back line, won 5 tackles and even had 2 shots. It showed that he is a potential super star at the back, performing at a ground where many have struggled. What a season the Dutchman is having.

Alex Grimaldo

While Benfica have yet again disappointed in the Champions League, it was a tough group to get through. Both Bayern and Ajax are good sides, they still seemingly haven’t recovered since losing Lindelof, Ederson and Semedo back in 2017. They are good domestically, but those players were truly a step above what they currently have. One player however who has stayed forever consistent is Alex Grimaldo. The Spaniard has been one of the top left backs in Europe since his time playing for Benfica. Coming from La Masia, it has helped give Benfica a great dribbler and creator from the flanks. While his stats are great, with his chance creation looking exceptional, it has been swayed thanks to the Spaniard taking his side’s free kicks. But they are still great. He put in 5.2 tackles and interceptions and 2.2 clearances. He was able to attack just as well as he can defend. He was taking 2 shots, creating a chance and completing 1.5 dribbles. He has continued to show why many top clubs are still very much interested in him.

Axel Witsel

This whole midfield is going to very different, considering none of them play for super clubs, like PSG and Bayern (sticking to my one player per club rule), so let’s begin with Witsel. A player I used to hate for so long, but he has been absolutely sensational this season, and has actually changed my opinion of him. I used to think he was a clumsy player who loved to put in a late challenge, but now he has turned into a really good passer, and is so important to what Favre is doing. Only Diallo has played more minutes than Witzel. He has also completed the most passes with the highest pass accuracy of any midfielder at the club. He helps massively in build play retaining the ball. He has improved Dortmund massively and is one of the key reasons why they have been this good so far this season.

Lorenzo Pellegrini

Another player who you might not expect to be here, but deserves to be. Pellegrini is currently in his second season in the capital, and after a season where he wasn’t given as many chances as the likes of Nainggolan and Strootman. But as soon as they departed, The Italian has truly stepped up to the plate in this competition. While he has been good in Serie A, it’s in the champions League where his stats have rocketed. He’s got 3 assists in 3 starts, creating 3.5 chances per 90. It’s the highest in the Roma side and only Depay and Kroos (a player who maybe should be here) have created more chances per 90. He’s stepped and is finally showing why United seem so interested in him.

Nikola Vlasic

The final surprise pick if this XI. As previously mentioned, Kroos and Pjanic all would have been good options, but I’ll stick with arguably one of the surprise packages of the Champions League. The midfielder is currently on loan from Everton, after a season of a lack game time. He did show moments of real quality, but he just wasn’t able to show it. He was the best player in the group stages, when not including a certain Argentine. Vlasic was massively influence in their two leg shock over Real Madrid. He was the man of the match in both, scoring in the first and assisting the second. His numbers are just outrageous. Playing as an inside left forward, he played every minute for Moscow, and there’s a reason why. Per 90, he was taking 2.5 shots, creating 3 chances, completing 3 dribbles and even put in 2.3 tackles. It’s crazy to see that from a 21 year old. While Moscow are out of the competition, Vlasic has definitely put his name on some club’s radars.

Lionel Messi

Of course he has to be here. The best player of all time, even when he barely starts in the competition, still managed to score 6 in only 4 starts. His highlight so far was easily his performance against Tottenham at Wembley. The GOAT played Tottenham like they were Leganes. He had 6 shots and 4 on target, the highest in the match. Messi is arguably the only player in Europe where he is truly unstoppable when he is at his A game. His performances throughout the champions league have highlight just how irrelevant the Balon d’Or is, if Messi finishes fifth. The best player to ever play the game, the golden boot winner and has already got double figures in goals and assists, and is the top scorer in La Liga, even with missing a month through injury. He is the best player of all time and will always deserve a place in this side.

Robert Lewandowski

While Dzeko, Dybala, Tadic and Marega all deserve mentions here, Lewandowski scored the most goals in the group stages, giving him the spot for the best number 9. While Lewandowski is starting to show his age, with his mobility being the biggest problem as these years go on, he is still a very good striker. He was taking a very good 4 shots a game, with 2.7 of them coming from inside of the penalty area. Like in the Bundesliga, Bayern were not vintage in the champions league. Their massive struggles against Ajax highlighted that this team is definitely beatable. They couldn’t handle Tadic’s movement in the first leg, and played an entertaining second leg. They finished the group unbeaten. This is what you expect from them however. Their group was a gift. A poor Benfica side and Athens made it so easy for them. Lewandowski did definitely show his best though. Bayern will have to keep him fresh.

Neymar

I have made this very clear in the past, but I can’t stand Neymar as a professional. I think he takes the dark arts of the game too far sometimes and seems to have zero professionalism on the pitch, refusing to shake player’s hands because of disagreements on the pitch. While I can’t stand him a majority of the time, he is still just so incredible to watch. His hat trick against Red Star, including 2 delightful free kicks, was Neymar at his best. Even against Napoli, a game where he didn’t score or assist, he still managed to complete 13 dribbles and create 4 chances. He is arguably the most talented player in Europe. It is a shame he has a horrible way of showing it.

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UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group C

While I’d argue that Group B is the group of death, Group C is seriously not far from it. With last year’s finalists, Ligue 1 champions, Europe’s hipster team, and the team with the craziest fans, it’s going to be every interesting.

Red Star Belgrade

Talking about the way Red Star play or their threatening players is difficult because I do not know much about them at all. All I can take is how they performed against Arsenal last season in the Europa League, where they defended well and caused Arsenal the occasional problem. They only just about reached the competition, by beating Red Bull Salzburg on away goals. They have won every game so far this season, with their most recent win being a Vojvodina 4-1. They go into the competition in good form. However what they are most known for is their crazy supporters, to a point where they have been banned from the away games. They will create an atmosphere that will trouble all the teams that will go there, and could even cause an upset with their crazy supporters behind them. But the quality of the other teams is too high, so a bottom finish for them, but they will surely be entertaining.

Napoli

Napoli were absolutely sensational last season. They played some of the best football in Europe, with a team so balanced and full of players that have turned into real world beaters. However unfortunately for them they were against Allegri’s winning machine, and couldn’t beat them over the line, but they did come so close, and kept Serie A entertaining. However the summer wasn’t great. While Ancelotti is a solid appointment, Sarri built that team in his image, and it’ll be difficult to change it. Losing Jorginho was predicted, but still difficult. He is one of the best controllers of the game in Europe. He is one of the reasons Sarri ball worked so effectively. Fabian Ruiz is a fine addition to the side, and Diawara and Zielinski are both talented enough to fill that void effectively. Napoli have been slightly inconsistent to start the season, however they have had a difficult start to say the least. Playing Milan, Lazio, and Sampdoria to start the season is a tough way to introduce a new manager. Their 3-0 defeat to Sampdoria was difficult to watch, with Napoli just being so poor on the day, especially in attack. I do think they are going to struggle in this group. They play 2 sides that are so good at counter attacking and can hit so hard on the pace that it’ll be difficult for Napoli to compete. While they are a very good side, they just had the wrong end of the draw. Europa League again for the Italian side.

Liverpool

Liverpool go into this group as my favourites. Their team is now at a stage where it can win a major trophy, whether it’s a league title or this competition. They fixed some of their bigger areas, being their midfield and goalkeeper. Allison already looks like twice the player that Karius was, being so composed and confident in goal. The additions of Naby Keita and Fabinho give some great depth in an area I have criticised Liverpool for not addressing for a while now. Keita is one of the most complete midfielders around and Fabinho is excellent in the air and gives good defensive support to the centre halves. Speaking of centre halves, the difference Virgil Van Dijk has made to that side is just outstanding. Having a defender that confident, strong and intelligent, just makes the rest of the team so much more confident. He is by far Liverpool’s most important player, and has transformed himself into one of the best defenders in the world. However it’s their attack that always catches the headlines. Salah, Mane and Firmino is easily the best front three in Europe. While it can be argued that Barcelona and PSG have better individual players in those as areas, they just work so well as a unit. Mane is incredibly flexible, and can create and score. Firmino gives so much for team, with his tackling and movement, and Salah is just a goal machine. They have the ability to beat anyone, and I think they will top this group.

Paris Saint-Germain

The Ligue 1 champions look extremely deadly going into this tournament. They finally have a coach that can match their ambition of winning a champions league. Tuchel’s coaching ability cannot be underestimated. He kept Dortmund competitive and will now make Paris better than they’ve ever been. They have improved on areas in their squad I have had issues with. Mainly their goalkeeper and left back. I never liked Kurzawa. His off the field antics kept him from being a top level defender. Bringing in Juan Bernat, a player with a great dribbling ability and contributes well in the final third, is a great move. Gianluigi Buffon is a great signing. He is the best goalkeeper of all time in my opinion, no matter how old he is, he will add something to any team. Their attack is still incredibly deadly. Mbappe is coming off a historic world cup, Cavani is an elite forward, and Neymar is an excellent player, and continues to fight for that Balon d’Or. However he is part of the problem with this team. He seems to be a problem for the team. His clear ambition to move to Madrid will hold Paris back in the long term. Rabiot is another who as emerged as a real problem. The Frenchman acted incredibly immaturely when not selected for the France squad before Russia. Marco Veratti is another who seems to not be on good terms with Tuchel, with the manager making the midfielder lose weight because he doesn’t deem him fit enough to play. Tuchel has a lot of work settling this squad. But they are still so talented and will get out of this group based on manager and player quality.

Final Table

1. Liverpool

2. PSG

3. Napoli

4. Red Star Belgrade