Football Features

Liverpool and Madrid dominate: the best & worst combined XIs from the 2018/19 Champions League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:09, 1 June 2019

The 2018/19 Champions League is in the history books.

In the end, Liverpool took home the crown to become six-time Champions of Europe. They dispatched Spurs in the final after a historic comeback against Barcelona in the semis; and that was one of many comebacks this season. It was an intense season of football.

So who were the best players from this season? And the worst? With a maximum of three players per team (otherwise the best XI would be 75% Ajax) here are the best and worst combined XI’s from this season’s Champions League!

BEST

Goalkeeper: Alisson (Liverpool)

Alisson was only the second-best goalkeeper for the majority of this Champions League run as Marc-André ter Stegen had been near-flawless. But then the semi-final second-leg rolled around and while Ter Stegen got absolutely annihilated at Anfield, Alisson kept a clean sheet and made a couple of really big saves to ensure Liverpool made it back to the final where he was again flawless.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

No defender has created more big chances than Trent Alexander-Arnold this season (seven) and it was his bold attacking play that turned the semi-final second-leg in Liverpool’s favour with two assists (well, the open play one was deflected so doesn’t officially count) in their immense comeback; his quick-thinking for that corner will go down in history.

Centre-back: Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)

What more can you say about Matthijs de Ligt? The youngest man to play in a European final when he featured in the Europa League showpiece in 2017, he was a minute away from another final this season as his titanic defensive displays led a brave young Ajax side to topple giants Real Madrid and Juventus. A true captain.

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

The man Liverpool have most built around this season has been Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch defender is simply a marvellous footballer and dominates every opponent he comes across, including every Spurs player in the final. He went the entire season without being dribbled past, which is an utterly ludicrous statistic when you think about it. Not one player has dribbled him, including Lionel Messi!

Left-back: Jordi Alba (Barcelona)

Jordi Alba didn’t have his best game as Barcelona were eliminated in the semi-finals (besides Messi, who did?) but he was instrumental in them getting there in the first place. Comfortably the best left-back in the world, Alba’s five assists – including one in the semi-final first-leg – cannot be beaten by anyone in this season’s competition.

Central midfielder: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

Barring one disastrous display away to Manchester United, Sergio Busquets was back to his best for Barcelona in Europe this season. Aided by the presence of Arthur on the big European stage, Busquets put in phenomenal displays racking up more successful passes than any player (903 at 93.19% accuracy) in the competition, including 101 into the final third (third among all players) and he also won the third-highest number of tackles.

Central midfielder: Frenkie de Jong (Ajax)

Frenkie de Jong was so good for Ajax in the group stages that Barcelona forked out €75m in January to secure his transfer in the summer, and it’s just as well that they did because in the knockout rounds De Jong went supernova.

The Dutch midfielder played like someone merged Busquets and Iniesta into one person. He made Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Miralem Pjanic and Christian Eriksen look like absolute amateurs. In the end Spurs only beat Ajax because they started hoofing the ball to a big target man, taking De Jong out of the game by simply bypassing him. He’s going to transform Barcelona (and maybe the footballing world) next season.

Central midfielder: Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham)

Despite Lucas Moura’s heroics against Barcelona and Ajax, and Son Heung-min almost single-handedly taking out the best team in the world (unlucky Pep) there’s only one Spurs player who gets into this team and that’s the one who has been consistently driving them forward all season: Moussa Sissoko. With him in the XI, they lost just twice. Once was the 4-3 to City where they qualified anyway, and the other was the final itself where he was the best player on the pitch until Mauricio Pochettino bizarrely took him off. Sissoko has arrived.

Right forward: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Most goals (12). Most big chances created (seven, though only three assists which tells you everything). Most dribbles completed (35). Hell, he even managed a perfect 100% tackle completion (10/10). Then there was the football; magnificent, mesmeric, glorious, godly. Lionel Messi, the greatest player on planet earth who, if his team-mates could finish or if his manager had any sort of courage or trust in pace as an offensive weapon, would have qualified for his first final since 2015. Alas, he was supreme as his team was humiliated. Again.

Centre forward: Dusan Tadic (Ajax)

It’s hard to imagine anyone rivalling Virgil van Dijk as “best ex-Southampton player in this season’s Champions League” but here we are. Dusan Tadic was absolutely liquid as a false nine for Ajax. He scored six, created four, and was a constant threat at the sharp end of the pitch as Ajax shook up the world on their way to the semi-finals.

Left forward: Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Finally ageing out of his teen years, Kylian Mbappé is taking on more responsibility and handling everyone with an absurd degree of calm and confidence. Mbappé was grease lightning in the Champions League, picking up four goals and a competition-high five assists. If he had just one of his attacking partners, maybe Manchester United wouldn’t have been able to upset things in Paris. Who knows?

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WORST

Goalkeeper: Ralf Fahrmann (Schalke)

Ralf Fahrmann conceded a ridiculous 14 goals in the competition this season, making just 16 saves at a low 53.33% (for reference: Ter Stegen, Alisson, Onana, De Gea and Handanovic were all 71% and up) not to mention his catastrophic blunder to gift Manchester City their opening goal in Gelsenkirchen. Performances to forget.

Right-back: Sergi Roberto (Barcelona)

A superb midfielder but a terrible right-back, Sergi Roberto is inexplicably Ernesto Valverde’s favoured choice even though he clearly has all the defensive instinct of a man running the bulls in Pamplona wearing naught but a Speedo and flippers. His “defending” for Liverpool’s opening goal of their historic comeback was so non-existent the Snyder Cut is tweeting for it to be released. He’s not the only reason Barcelona wilted like an unwatered houseplant under the hot Anfield lights, but he is a major one.

Centre-back: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

Sergio Ramos, like every Real Madrid player not named Karim or Vinicius, has had a season to forget. He wasn’t playing well but everyone figured he and Madrid would do their usual thing of rescuing their awful league season in the Champions League. Madrid’s arrogance was encapsulated by Ramos deliberately picking up a booking against Ajax in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie, thinking a 2-1 away win was enough security.

Well, he got to watch on from his personal box (filming a documentary) as the Dutch side came to Madrid and spanked the European Champions like they were an errant child in the 1950s. A dynasty ended so he could get some slice-of-life shots for a DVD. You hate to see it.

Centre-back: Aymeric Laporte (Man City)

Let’s get it straight: Aymeric Laporte had a brilliant season and was mostly excellent in the Champions League. Why he is on the worst XI then? Well, because of his absolutely bizarre first-half against Spurs in the quarter-final second-leg where he lost all control of his limbs and handed Spurs two easy away goals – two away goals that eventually knocked City out despite their massive superiority.

Left-back: Ashley Young (Man Utd)

Ashley Young was on the pitch when Manchester United were eliminated from the Champions League group stage in 2011. He was a winger then, he’s a full-back now. He wasn’t good enough then and he isn’t good enough now. His continued presence (especially the fact that he’s probably one of the better options available) is a damning indictment of Ed Woodward’s reign.

Defensive midfielder: Nemanja Matic (Man Utd)

Nemanja Matic has two virtues: he’s tall and strong. That’s literally it. Scott McTominay is both but plays with more ambition and is also eight years younger with loads more room to grow. Matic missed United’s last three games in Europe, which is the only reason United were able to comeback in Paris and hold Barcelona at Old Trafford. He’s awful.

Central midfielder: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Everyone loved the feel-good story of Luka Modric winning The Best award and the Ballon d’Or too, but by any objective measure both were ridiculous decisions as this season proved. Modric left his soul in Russia during the World Cup, it seems, and looked a shell of himself ghosting around the pitch this season. Frenkie de Jong devoured what was left of him in the round-of-16.

Central midfielder: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Toni Kroos is a luxurious player in every sense of the word. This didn’t matter so much when Madrid had all the Zinedine Zidane mojo on their side and could beat teams on sheer willpower, but now they had to actually play in an organised and cohesive manner, Kroos was a problem. As ceaselessly creative as ever, Madrid needed him to help them control games, and he simply wasn’t up to the task. The German got Frenkie’d twice in a row as Madrid bowed out, still, he’s got a documentary coming out too!

Right winger: Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan)

Another World Cup hero who left it all on that pitch in Moscow. Ivan Perisic played all six games for Inter in the group stages and didn’t score or assist a single goal as the Italian side bottled their comfortable qualification position. After winning their opening two games they failed to win again and got gazumped on matchday six by Spurs, who are now in the final.

Centre forward: Luis Suárez (Barcelona)

Luis Suárez’s last goal away from home in the Champions League came 1,354 days ago. For reference that’s over one year before Donald Trump got elected president; and speaking of despots: at the time all Thanos had done in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was sit in a chair grinning like an idiot. Suárez scored just once in this season’s competition, and to his credit it was in the semi-final first-leg.

Except his away day blues came back to haunt the Blaugrana again as he travelled to former club Liverpool in the semi-finals and put in a display so impotent that Pelé was summoned to Anfield as corporations sensed a marketing opportunity like no other. There’s still magic in his boots, it’s just now his boots are covered in giant blocks of concrete.

An embarrassing striker who’s painful to watch (he has a shot conversion of 3.23%, no honestly!) And sure, he’s always been a bit awkward due to his dark arts antics, but whereas before he was Ricky Gervais in The Office (awkward but brilliant), now he’s Ricky Gervais on Twitter picking fights with random people and acting like your edgy uncle who doesn’t get invited family gatherings anymore. No one’s laughing, Luis. Time to go home.

Left winger: Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)

There are no embarrassing stats for Philippe “Babylungs” Coutinho because he has been such a non-event this season. A damp squib would consider the Brazilian’s displays beneath him. How did he get selected ahead of Malcom against Liverpool? The biggest flop of all-time.

✕︎

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