For the first time in 11 years, the Champions League final is going to be an all-English affair.
Back in 2008 it was Manchester United and Chelsea who squared off in Moscow, with the match ending 1-1 and the Red Devils prevailing after a penalty shootout late into the rainy Russian night. A decade hence, we will see Liverpool and Spurs go head-to-head in Madrid for the right to be called European Champions.
The scarcity of an all-English final does invite comparison between the four sides, in particular the individuals on display. Who is the best right-back among all four sides? Which striker makes the cut? So we decided to try and answer all of these questions with a combined XI from all four finalists, with the criteria being their performances in that one season and specifically that Champions League run.
Who’s in the team? Read on and find out!
Only twice in Champions League history has there been an all-English final:
2008: Manchester United vs. Chelsea
2019: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
This week, you will be picking the ultimate combined XI from the four.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 27, 2019
Edwin van der Sar
Goalkeeper – Manchester United, 2008
There’s a lot of competition for goalkeepers among the four finalists, the weakest of the bunch is probably Hugo Lloris and a year ago he won the World Cup so that should give you an idea of the standard we’re dealing with here, but Edwin van der Sar clearly stands above the others. The gallant Dutchman was in supreme form that season, especially in the Champions League knockout rounds where he conceded just two goals, keeping a remarkable 5 consecutive clean sheets in the process. He held opponents scoreless for 451 minutes! And then in the final only an unfortunate slip allowed Frank Lampard to score, but Van der Sar redeemed himself in the shootout with his match-and-title-winning save from Nicolas Anelka.
Trent Alexander Arnold
Right-back – Liverpool, 2019
At right-back Trent-Alexander Arnold doesn’t have the physical power of Branislav Ivanovic nor the redemption narrative of Wes Brown, but he does have the sheer attacking quality. For a 20-year-old to be playing in his second consecutive European final is a huge achievement, especially because it’s Alexander-Arnold’s quick thinking and technical skill that got them here. He was essential in overcoming Barcelona, ending the night with two assists including the match-winning one.
Centre-back – Manchester United, 2008
Rio Ferdinand was an absolute colossus for Manchester United for most of his time at the club but never more so than in 2007/08. There are lots of great centre-back options here (John Terry and Jan Vertonghen spring to mind) but Rio outdoes them all. The Englishman was near-flawless for United as they battled their way to glory in Moscow, keeping a lid on Didier Drogba in the Russian capital. He wore the captain’s armband on the night and lifted the trophy proud as the finest Premier League centre-back the 21st century had seen.
Virgil van Dijk
Centre-back – Liverpool, 2019
But all greatness will eventually be challenged and Rio’s partner in this side is arguably the only Premier League defender who has come close to his level since. Virgil van Dijk has been enormous for Liverpool this season in all competitions. The Dutchman brings a sense of calm and organised excellence to the Liverpool defence and the regularity with which he clears away low crosses is almost alarming. Is he telepathic? It seems that way! Both he and Rio are athletic, technical and magnificent at reading the game – possessing that bit of extra quality that puts them beyond hard lads Nemanja Vidic and John Terry (also neither of them slipped over and cost their team victory in a penalty shootout after changing the established order so they could have the glory shot). Good luck getting by them.
Left-back – Chelsea, 2008
Few things in life are as underrated as a player everyone dislikes, and Ashley Cole was one such player. The Englishman had drawn the ire of many following his switch from Arsenal but there is no question that he is the best left-back out of the four starters. Cole was an impossibly good defender and whilst he lacked the affable demeanour of Patrice Evra or the roguish spirit of Andrew Robertson and Danny Rose, you knew you’d get 100% pure excellence every time he stepped on the field. No fuss, no muss. He even scored in the shootout!
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Defensive midfield – Chelsea, 2008
When they name a position after you, then you know you’re doing something right. Claude Makélélé was winding down his career in 2007/08 but still had enough quality and skill to play a crucial role as the Blues made the final. The Frenchman featured in every game, playing the full 90 (or 120) minutes on all but one occasion. In the final he had to keep a lid on Paul Scholes and the United attack. At first he struggled, but after Scholes broke his nose in a 50-50 with Makélélé, the Frenchman dominated much of the game and really suffocated United’s midfield – in the second half especially. Michael Carrick, Fabinho and Moussa Sissoko each bring their own qualities to the table but let’s be honest, no one was messin’ with Makélélé.
Central midfield – Manchester United, 2008
Back in 2008 Manchester United appeared to have signed their new Roy Keane, but it wasn’t meant to be. Injury meant that Owen Hargreaves only really lasted one season at Old Trafford, but what a season it was! The England international was a phenomenal defensive presence playing anywhere and everywhere. He was flawless at right-back in the semis against Barcelona and played a hybrid right-midfield-centre-midfield role in the final where his relentlessness and diligent defensive discipline prevented Chelsea’s midfield from overrunning United, despite the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was tasked to not track back. He even slammed home a crucial penalty in the shootout. A masterpiece of a season from Hargreaves that outshines the likes of Michael Ballack, Jordan Henderson and Moussa Sissoko.
Attacking midfield – Chelsea, 2008
Frank Lampard once scored 20 or more goals for five straight seasons. From midfield. The Englishman was tremendously impressive for Chelsea in their run to the final in 2008, scoring a goal in every single round of the competition past the group stages – including a crucial equaliser in the final where he also scored in the shootout. Lampard’s resilience to perform in the face of personal tragedy was commendable, and he provided Chelsea with the kind of genuine goal threat that no other midfielder from these four sides can offer. Paul Scholes and Gini Wijnaldum both produced miracles against Barcelona, but Lampard was offering threat over the entire season. Super Frank, super goals.
Forward – Liverpool, 2019
Let’s be clear, Mohamed Salah has not been as impressive in this Champions League run as he was in last year’s (where injury cruelly robbed him of his chances), but he’s still played a key role as the leader of the attack and main goal threat, drawing all of the best defensive coverage and opening up spaces for others. Moreover his 26 goals are a huge reason why the Reds were able to juggle two colossal competitions this season. Heung-min Son runs him close, but in the end four goals across three games in the Champions League (albeit four very big goals) can’t compare to Salah’s supreme consistency over the entire season under immense pressure to follow on from last year.
Forward – Manchester United, 2008
The 2007/08 season was the year where Cristiano Ronaldo morphed from a glorious wing-wonder into a goal machine. The Portuguese hammered home 42 goals that campaign, including a towering header in the Champions League final. Sure, he missed his penalty in the shootout but that cannot put a big enough blot on his copybook to exclude him, especially given that his eight goals in Europe saw him finish as the competition’s top scorer for the first (but not last) time. He was a relentless and terrifying presence in attack and no one could compare with him that season.
Forward – Liverpool, 2019
Given all the extra attention Salah has been receiving this season, someone else was going to have to stand up and score the goals whilst the Egyptian drew defenders away. And that man has been Sadio Mané. The Senegalese almost single-handedly kept Liverpool in the title race over January 2019 (finishing with 22 goals in the league) and in the Champions League it was his brace, including an amazing goal that had Manuel Neuer looking foolish, that saw the Reds past Bayern Munich in a very tricky away tie back in the round of 16. Without that, who knows where they could have ended up? Didier Drogba was a lock for this spot but his foolish red card in the final cost Chelsea big and Mané has nearly always delivered, even equalling the great Ivorian for goals scored by an African in the Champions League knockout rounds.
Petr Cech (Chelsea, 2008), John Terry (Chelsea, 2008), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool, 2019), Michael Carrick (Manchester United, 2008), Paul Scholes (Manchester United, 2008), Heung-min Son (Spurs, 2019), Harry Kane (Spurs, 2019)