Football Features

Champions League Teams of the Decade: First, second and third combined XIs for the 2010s

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:00, 16 September 2019

It’s been one hell of a decade for the Champions League.

The years 2010 to 2020 (well, almost – one group stage shouldn’t be too transformative but we 100% reserve the right to make a change or two if they do) have seen some phenomenal football: two trebles, perhaps the greatest team of all time, one of the most successful teams of all time and an against-all-odds win to top it all off.

But what about the players? This decade has, more than any other in the competition’s history, been dominated by players. Two in particular, of course, but there have been other great individual talents throughout the last 10 years of Champions League football. So many, in fact, that one combined XI wouldn’t do the decade justice.

Which is why the article you’re about to read contains a first, second and third XI, each determined by factors including quality of performance, style of play, influence and success over the 2010s.

As always with subjective lists, opinion reigns in one form or another. So if you disagree with any of our picks, let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

First XI

Manuel Neuer

Winner: 2012/13 (treble)
Runner-up: 2011/12

He began the decade getting lobbed from 50 yards by Dejan Stankovic and having Darron Gibson score against him, but Manuel Neuer recovered, joined Bayern Munich and became a supernatural force of goalkeeping for the vast majority of the last 10 years. He’s made more saves (261) than anyone else in that timeframe.

Dani Alves

Winner: 2010/11 (double), 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: 2016/17

A sublime playmaker, a relentless ball of energy and a master of the dark arts. Dani Alves could do it all and pretty much did do it all for Barcelona. His later tour for a third win was unsuccessful, but no one can deny that the Brazilian is Més Que un Right-Back.

Gerard Piqué

Winner: 2010/11 (double), 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

Came into this decade a treble winner and maintained that absurd level for the ensuing 10 years with more clearances (410) than any other player in that timeframe. His bad games are so memorable precisely because they are the rare exceptions in the career of the most consistent defender in the last decade of Champions League football. A colossus.

Sergio Ramos

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

How do you describe Sergio Ramos? In terms of pure defending, you’d take both men from the second XI over him. But Ramos has an X-factor that simply cannot be denied. Almost single-handedly (headedly?) won Real Madrid their first two Champions League titles this decade, Ramos is a glorious leader and a gargantuan figure in the history of the competition.

Marcelo

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Quite possibly the most underrated player in the last decade of Champions League football. Marcelo is unparalleled on the ball and so often the man who set the table for Real Madrid, controlling the tempo of games and kickstarting Madrid’s attacks from deep. A wizard.

Sergio Busquets

Winner: 2010/11 (double), 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

Sergio Busquets changed the game for defensive midfielders. An exemplar of Pep Guardiola’s passing philosophy, he’s been running the show in the Blaugrana midfield this whole time. And considering people only ever look at his passing, it’s worth mentioning that Busquets has more tackles (268) and interceptions (196) than anyone else in the last decade of Champions League football.

Xavi

Winner: 2010/11 (double), 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

Xavi bowed out of the competition halfway through the decade and his peak straddles its beginning, but even three years of peak Xavi is enough to make this team. The Catalan controlled space and time like he was wielding god-damn Infinity Stones, running quite possibly the greatest midfield in competition history with a serene sense of inevitability. It’s not about how many you win but how you win them and no one won them better than Xavi. The whole of the modern game is built in his image.

Andrés Iniesta

Winner: 2010/11 (double), 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

Where Zinedine Zidane embodied a certain role in the 90s and 00s, Andrés Iniesta did so in the 00s and 10s. A magical, almost ethereal, midfielder who seemed to glide over the pitch and was always able to pick the right pass and. The bigger the stage, the better Iniesta played. A gift to watch.

Gareth Bale

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Gareth Bale began this decade blowing the European Champions off the park with an unreal hat-trick for Spurs against Inter, and he only got better from there. Real Madrid may never love him, but he scored the winning goal in two of their four Champions League finals and powered them to a third. Put some respect on his name, please!

Cristiano Ronaldo

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

No one player had scored more than 70 goals in the 55-year history of the Champions League prior to this decade beginning. Cristiano Ronaldo has, in the last 10 years, scored 105 times. One hundred and five times. He’s also won the competition four times while scoring in three finals (a record). Goals change games and nobody does goals like Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi

Winner: 2010/11 (double), 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

An inconceivable hybrid of world-class goalscoring (93), goal-making (23 assists, 58 big chances created) and dribbling (427). To emphasise his brilliance he has completed 168 more dribbles than the next best man – a margin of victory no one else can come close to in any major statistical category. He is breathtaking to witness in full flight, like a bolt of lightning come to life. The best player on planet earth, bar none.

Manager: Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane has never not won the Champions League as a manager. Is he any good tactically? Not really. But, again: he has tried three times to win the UEFA Champions League and every single time he took home the trophy. You can’t ask for more than that.

Second XI

Keylor Navas

Winner: 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Keylor Navas has never not won the Champions League in his three years as a starter. The elastic Costa Rican is the master of reaction saves and his quiet but skilled demeanour was a big part of how Real Madrid won three-in-a-row.

Philipp Lahm

Winner: 2012/13 (treble)
Runner-up: 2011/12

In the last decade, he was an alright left-back; in this one he was a truly great right-back. Lahm is a solid defender, a brilliant creator and such a smart player that Guardiola was able to play him in defensive midfield. An incredible talent.

Raphael Varane

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

One of the most solid defenders in Champions League history. Always in the shadow of his more flamboyant partner, but Varane has been the solid and reliable heartbeat that powered Real Madrid’s defence to three-in-a-row.

Diego Godín

Winner: n/a
Runner-up: 2013/14, 2015/16

A two-time loser is heartbreaking thing to call Diego Godín, but he is certainly the best player to not win the Champions League in the last decade. A defensive monster who dominated almost every striker who tried him and powered Atleti’s phenomenal defence.

Jordi Alba

Winner: 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

Jordi Alba runs like he’s been shot out of a cannon and his temperament is fittingly that of a hyped-up Saturday Morning cartoon character. A surprisingly good defender and a devilishly good attacker, Alba is Barcelona’s left-flank.

Casemiro

Winner: 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

The tackle-machine made his bow this decade with Porto, but he exploded with Real Madrid. A limited player whose simply staggering tackling ability made him the ideal defensive counterweight for an attack-focused Los Blancos – although he even managed to score a stormer in the 2017 final victory. So y’know, there’s that.

Luka Modric

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

One of football’s most elegant playmakers has been there throughout Real Madrid’s good runs. After Marcelo, it’s Modric who should take most of the credit for Los Blancos’ ability to raise themselves on the big occasions and pick up… All. Those. Wins.

Toni Kroos

Winner: 2012/13 (treble), 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Toni Kroos is a stat-monster. He was a wee stat-lad at Bayern Munich, where his injury proved to the catalyst the Bavarians needed for their treble win, but since meeting Pep Guardiola and then moving to Real Madrid, he’s just hulked out. Four straight years with more passes than anyone and he’s created the most chances (223) over the course of the decade.

Arjen Robben

Winner: 2012/13 (treble)
Runner-up: 2011/12

Robben began the decade by costing Bayern Munich a Champions League final with a penalty miss, but almost everything he’s done since then has been ridiculous in a good way. Delivered the treble with a last-minute goal in 2013 and then has been relentlessly brilliant at his one major skill move that no one can seem to stop.

Neymar

Winner: 2014/15 (treble)
Runner-up: n/a

Neymar hit the decade right in the middle like a young Evander Holyfield. A devastating combination of dribbling and creativity, he formed part of the most devastating front three the competition has seen and orchestrated the unreal 6-1 comeback in 2017. Neymar seemed destined for the very top but an ill-advised move to PSG took him out, like Buster Douglas did to Mike Tyson.

Robert Lewandowski

Winner: n/a
Runner-up: 2012/13

You know how some strikers just score goals? Or how some strikers just create chances? And how some are just tall? And some are just skilful? Robert Lewandowski is all those things. He’s also ridiculously consistent and has more goals this decade (53) than anyone not named Lionel or Cristiano.

Manager: Pep Guardiola

He doesn’t have the trophy cabinet Zidane does but no manager has had a greater influence on this decade of Champions League football than Guardiola. It began with the birth of his brilliant Barcelona and everyone has spent the decade trying to catch up while Guardiola has moved on to develop new dynasties at Bayern Munich and now Manchester City.

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Third XI

Jan Oblak

Winner: n/a
Runner-up: 2015/16

Jan Oblak is a superb goalkeeper. He’s old-school in that he’s poor with his feet, but he’s still been an elite goalkeeper for all of this decade, despite this fact, because he’s so good with his hands. He has a save percentage of 79.4%, which is more than anyone else in that time.

Dani Carvajal

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Dani Carvajal is nasty, brutal and not afraid of anyone. And that’s made him brilliant. He’s also quite adept at the full-back overload, but mostly he is some much-needed grit in very fancy Real Madrid side. It’s no coincidence they started winning right after he joined.

Pepe

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double)
Runner-up: n/a

Pepe was that ridiculous combination of spectacular athlete and very intelligent defender. No one ever had as much success marking Messi in the open field as he did. A superb defender whose only true weakness was age and injuries.

Giorgio Chiellini

Winner: n/a
Runner-up: 2014/15, 2016/17

Giorgio Chiellini is not what you’d call lucky in Europe, but goodness gracious is he ever a superb defender. He reads the game like a children’s book and simply bullies opposing strikers who try him. An imposing force for Juventus.

David Alaba

Winner: 2012/13 (treble)
Runner-up: 2011/12

For the first two-thirds of this decade, David Alaba looked like he was on an upward curve to the stars. The youngster was a dashing left-back as Bayern won the treble and then turned into a sort of ‘Austrian Beckenbauer’ under Guardiola. He has stalled in recent years but he was so good for a time that he still makes the third team.

Xabi Alonso

Winner: 2013/14
Runner-up: n/a

This handsome devil has actually played zero Champions League finals this decade but still makes this list because he was phenomenal for both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich (also he only missed 2014 through suspension). A solid defender and absolute long-range laser with the ball at his feet.

Isco

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Isco was the hero for plucky Malaga as they made the quarter-finals in 2013. That earned him a move to Real Madrid and whilst he’s never been as consistent as Madrid would have wanted he’s also been massively underused. He still makes this list, however, because he was a huge force off the bench in both the 2014 and 2016 final wins, and his star turn in all of 2016/17 was something to behold.

Angel Di Maria

Winner: 2013/14
Runner-up: n/a

The unsung hero of Real Madrid’s fabled La Decima, Angel Di Maria was the man whose defensive effort made that system happen and in the 2014 final, it was he who kept on pushing Atleti back and created Madrid’s go-ahead goal from nothing. A supreme and relentless player.

Thomas Muller

Winner: 2012/13 (treble)
Runner-up: 2011/12

Only Ronaldo and Messi have scored more goals in the knockout rounds this decade than Thomas Muller (21). When games are at their tightest, their most tense, that’s when the man so good Football Manager created a whole position in his honour shows up and strikes.

Franck Ribery

Winner: 2012/13 (treble)
Runner-up: 2011/12

Franck Ribery has been a consistent force for the entire decade, a dazzling winger who can bamboozle the best of them. Injury has clipped his wings many a time but no one can take the glory of Bayern Munich’s 2013 treble away from him.

Karim Benzema

Winner: 2013/14, 2015/16, 2016/17 (double), 2017/18
Runner-up: n/a

Karim Benzema is a problem child with the French national team but when it comes to Real Madrid, he’s a problem-solver. The unheralded glue that allowed a lopsided Madrid attack to function so well and Ronaldo to score all those goals. Benzema has 47 himself this decade (fourth-highest) but more important than that is the influence he has on his team. A selfless genius who makes Real Madrid better.

The Breakdown

To no one’s surprise, Real Madrid had the most players overall across all three combined XIs. Just like in the actual Champions League, their total here (15) is nearly double their nearest rival. Although nine of Madrid’s men also played for other clubs in the competition this decade, most notably, of course, Bale and Kroos.

Not included on the graphic are Atlético Madrid who, until the 2019/20 group stage begins and Godín plays for Inter, have shared neither of their two entrants into these teams. Spurs and Porto also have two apiece but Bale, Modric, Pepe and Casemiro all did the majority of their work in the competition for Real Madrid. With one entrant each (all shared with one of the big boys, of course) we have: Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, Besiktas, Valencia and little Malaga.

Honourable Mentions

And finally, in no particular order, here are some great players that were close but just didn’t make the cut: Samuel Eto’o (Inter, and Chelsea), Diego Milito (Inter), Wesley Sneijder (Inter and Galatasaray), Sadio Mané (Liverpool), Virgil van Dijk (Celtic and Liverpool), Mohamed Salah (Basel, Chelsea, Roma and Liverpool), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Sergio Aguero (Atlético Madrid and Manchester City), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Porto), Petr Cech (Chelsea and Arsenal), Marc-André Ter Stegen (Barcelona), Pedro (Barcelona and Chelsea), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Luis Suárez (Ajax and Barcelona), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Barcelona, Milan and PSG), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea), Arturo Vidal (Juventus, Bayern Munich and Barcelona), Mesut Özil (Real Madrid and Arsenal), Kylian Mbappé (Monaco and PSG), Thiago Silva (Milan and PSG) and last but by no means least, the one and only Andrea Pirlo (Milan and Juventus).

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