This season’s Champions League is the gift that keeps on giving.
After an incredible last 16, which involved some of the most amazing comebacks in tournament history, spectators were treated to another round of beautiful attacking football.
And now we are left with just four teams, each including extremely talented individuals looking to write their own unique chapters in football history.
So as the semi-finals draw near it’s worth asking who the standout players have been.
To feature in our XI there are two criteria to abide by. Firstly, as harsh as it may sound, the player needs to be still active. And secondly, we set a maximum of three players per team to deny a single club dominating and keep things interesting.
Here’s what we came up with…
The team was decided upon with reference to stats but is, essentially, opinion-based – so let us know if you’d make any changes in the comments below or on Twitter through @Squawka.
GK: Marc-André ter Stegen
Ter Stegen is now firmly embedded in the conversation regarding who the world’s best goalkeeper is.
He’s shining this season between Barça’s sticks. Back-to-back clean sheets against Manchester United – his fourth and fifth in this season’s Champions League, the most of any goalkeeper in the competition – stands the German shot-stopper in good stead ahead of what is coming.
Key stat: Ter Stegen has the best save percentage (80%) of any goalkeeper to have made the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League.
Honourable mention: Alisson (Liverpool)
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Liverpool’s exciting young right-back continues to go from strength to strength. Heading into the Champions League quarter-final meeting with FC Porto, he had no assists to his name, despite being a prolific provider in the Premier League. But, like London busses, two came along at once.
In this case, one in each leg to put Porto out.
Key stat: Alexander-Arnold has created more chances from open play (16) and made more recoveries (57) than any other right-back in the Champions League this season.
Honourable mention: Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax)
CB: Matthijs de Ligt
There’s no doubt De Ligt has a bright and wonderful future. The much-talked-about teenage Dutch centre-back is justifying the hype. Despite his young years, De Ligt’s maturity earned him the captain’s armband at Ajax and he’s played a pivotal role in leading them to a first Champions League semi-final appearance for 22 years.
Key stat: The youngest starting captain in a Champions League knockout match ever.
Honourable mention: Jan Vertonghen (Spurs)
CB: Virgil van Dijk
De Ligt’s international teammate is arguably the preeminent central defender in European football today. Van Dijk, who has barely put a foot wrong in Liverpool’s campaign, must be relishing the upcoming duel with Lionel Messi.
Key stat: Virgil van Dijk has not been successfully dribbled past in the Premier League or Champions League this season.
Honourable mention: Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
LB: Jordi Alba
A while ago there were question marks hanging over Jordi Alba’s head. But he’s answered them and this season Barça’s dynamic left-back has returned to his very best.
Key stat: No player left in this season’s Champions League has created more goals (4) than Alba.
Honourable mention: Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
CM: Frenkie de Jong
The 2018/19 campaign has been a coming-of-age season for Frenkie de Jong, who this summer will join Barcelona bound.
He’s not allowed intense scrutiny to infiltrate his game as his metronomic passing has been central to Ajax’s incredible semi-final run.
Key stat: Frenkie de Jong has played more passes than any other Ajax player in each of their four Champions League knock-out matches.
117 – Frenkie de Jong (21 years, 333 days) is the youngest player with at least 117 touches in a Champions League game from the quarter-finals onwards since Sergio Busquets in 2010 v Inter. DNA. pic.twitter.com/GhSjCzwkUI
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) April 10, 2019
Honourable mention: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
CM: Christian Eriksen
One of De Jong’s predecessor at the Amsterdam club is also enjoying a prolific campaign to date. Eriksen has been Spurs’ heartbeat and no one was more relieved when Manchester City were denied a late goal (courtesy of VAR) which they needed to progress at Mauricio Pochettino’s sides expense.
Key stat: Has the joint most assists (4) by a midfield player in the Champions League this season, and has created more chances (23) of any player left in the competition.
Honourable mention: Mousa Sissoko (Spurs)
AM: Dusan Tadic
A genuine contender for this season’s best Champions League player.
Tadic, who has predominantly been used as a false nine, is Ajax’s lynchpin and though he was relatively quiet against Juventus the masterclass he put on away to Real Madrid will echo through time.
He has predominantly played false nine this season, but when you see the front three you’ll know why he’s been played slightly out of position in our combined XI.
Key stat: Tadic is the second ever player to score at least six goals for Ajax in one Champions League season, after Jari Litmanen (in 1994-95 and 1995-96).
Honourable mention: Donny van de Beek (Ajax)
RW: Lionel Messi
Nothing he does amazes lovers of the beautiful game anymore. Messi is beyond reproach, beyond anyone’s opinion. He’s on course to add another Champions League golden boot to his collection.
Key stat: Messi is currently this season’s Champions League top-scorer with 10 goals.
Honourable mention: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
CF: Heung-min Son
Spurs called out for a hero and Son, as he’s done so many times before, answered their prayers through sensational performances against Manchester City in both quarter-final games.
He’ll miss the semi-final first leg at home against Ajax, but Erik ten Hag’s men will know what to expect in Amsterdam.
Key stat: Son is now the leading goalscoring Asian in Champions League history with 12 goals, surpassing Maksim Shatskikh (Uzbekistan).
Honourable mention: Harry Kane (Spurs)
LW: Sadio Mane
Liverpool have plenty of match-winners in their ranks but no one has been more on point than Mane this season. Every facet of his game has improved tenfold in the last 12 months.
Key stat: Has the best minutes per goal ratio (95) of every player to have scored 10+ goals in Champions League knockout stage matches.
95 – Of all players to have scored 10+ goals in @ChampionsLeague knockout stage matches, Sadio Mané currently has the best minutes per goal ratio in the history of the competition. Pivotal. pic.twitter.com/OuMTgyJVtZ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 18, 2019
Honourable mention: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
Overall honourable mention: Raheem Sterling
Club: Manchester City
So good he nearly made us rethink the entry requirements for this XI.
Raheem Sterling was a VAR decision away from the hat-trick that could have catapulted him into early Ballon d’Or contention as Messi’s closest rivals for the next crown.
Though disallowed, his stoppage-time strike still proves Sterling has become a clutch player and a clinical finisher. This, along with his seriously impressive stats for the 2018/19 Champions League campaign, warrants an extra-special mention.
Only Tadic and Toni Kroos have created more chances across the whole competition than Sterling (26), who has also scored five times and assisted another two. Elsewhere, only Neymar completed more dribbles than the City winger (31).