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 E

Now past the halfway point, let’s look at a group that might have one clear winner, but still has much to talk about.

AEK Athens

Beginning with the unknown, AEK Athens reach the competition through a long play off campaign, with the Greek side famously beating a very over confident Celtic side to knock them out on their way to qualifiation. They have started the season extremely well, with Athens not conceding a goal yet this season, while winning every game. They will need to bring in this great form against the historic teams in this group. Two stand out players so far for Athens have been Ezequiel Ponce. The Argentine has already scored 2 in his first 3 games. His partner in crime, Viktor Klonaridis, who came off the bench in their last game to score a brace. Both are in red hot form and could seriously threaten the bigger teams, however I don’t think there. Not much is known about them outside of their home country. I can only go on what their competition is, and they do not possess better quality than the other teams here. It’ll be a bottom place finish for the current leaders in the Greek Super League.

Ajax

Moving onto a team I have a bit more knowledge about. Ajax have really improved over the past couple of years. After their Europa League final, they seem to have got even better. Players like De Jong, Tagliafico and Neres have been huge upgrades on Traore, Klassen and Sinkgraven. These team just has a bit of everything. It has some real experience in Huntelaar (who has been on fire since his return to Holland), a great reader of the game and passer in Daily Blind. He is a very positive signing because he adds an experienced champions league player into a young side. Dusan Tadic is a fine enough signing, while his consistency can be question, and I do, he is still talented. For a few players to watch, the first is easily Hakim Ziyech. The Moroccan has been a great creator since his arrival from Twente. In his first six games he already has 2 goals and 3 assists. His numbers have been astounding. Making 3.4 key passes, 2.8 tackles and putting in 5.2 shots on target. He is by far one of the most in from players going into this tournament. Another stand out player has been Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar. The ex Madrid forward has already scored 6 in only 4 starts. Both of these players are going into their first game against Athens in red hot form. Because of the great way they’ve started and the good balance in their squad, I really do think they will come out of this group, and will finish second.

Bayern Munich

I’ve spoken so much already about Bayern at the start of the season, but let’s go over what is already known and what is expected of them in this group. Bayern have not looked any less super human under Nico Kovac. They are unbeaten in the Bundesliga, as expected, with Hoffenheim being their closest scare on the opening day. but thanks to goals from Thomas Muller, the threat was avoided. They have then went on to beat Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen, scoring 9 goals in all three games, and only conceding 2. The advantage that Bayern have over every team in Europe (maybe excluding Juventus) is their winning nature. They have won so many titles and have so much experience, that winning is in their blood. Players like Ribery, Robben, Hummels and Neuer are winners through and through and even as they grow old, can still add something to their side. They still have some players that are there for the future in Gnabry and Coman. While they aren’t as good as Robben and Ribery, they can still do a good job. Bayern are easily the favourites in this group, and because of their superior quality, they will definitely top the group.

Benfica

The historic Portuguese side go into the his tournament at debatably their weakest. While they are the top of the table at the moment, alongside Sporting, their business practise of buying young players and selling them at high prices has started to hurt them. While they have kept hold of key players like Pizzi, Jonas and Luisao, the constant sales of very talented players, like Ederson and Semedo, does hurt them when they are unable to replace them properly. They still have a good side however. Some of the current players in the team like Grimaldo and Zivkovic look like really talents. When talking about their stand out players, one has to look at Pizzi. The Portuguese international has started the season so well for the Eagles. He has already contributed to 6 goals in 4 games. While his goal scoring has been impressive, he has always been a good creator. He has been incredible so far in that aspect. He has been averaging 3 key passes, 8.8 long balls and 2.5 crosses (even though crosses are a hard thing to measure). He will be key to supplying Benfica with any hope. Their biggest issue is the injury to goal scorer Jonas. The Brazilian has been a machine for them since his arrival from Valencia. While I like Benfica as a club, they just do not have enough to get out of this group. Bayern are obviously better, and I just think Ajax have a solid side this year. While they could get through, I just think they’ll finish third. But it will definitely be close.

Final Table

1. Bayern Munich

2. Ajax

3. Benfica

4. AEK Athens