UEFA Champions League: Picking a Combined XI Ahead of the Mini-Tournament

Sergio Ramos, Kevin De Bruyne
Sergio Ramos and Kevin De Bruyne – two of the Champions League’s top performers | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a long 16 weeks without it, but the Champions League is very nearly back.

Europe’s elite knockout competition will play out to its conclusion later this month with an impromptu mini-tournament, where the clubs lucky enough to have made the quarter-finals – or haven’t played their round of 16 second legs yet – will vie for the showpiece prize of the 2019/20 season.

We’ll see some of the best players on the planet go head to head, so to build the hype, we’ve analysed the 12 remaining squads, and come up with the best XI of all of them combined.

It hasn’t been easy, so please don’t shout.

Jan OblakJan Oblak
Oblak is the best keeper around | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Where would Atléti be without their Slovenian Superman between the sticks this season? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The title of best goalkeeper in the world has rarely been more tightly contested than it is now, but Oblak is a truly special talent who can probably now lay claim to it.

You don’t often come across a keeper with cat-like reflexes, sublime distribution, and the authority to command his box like a military sergeant preparing for battle, but here is is.

Honourable Mention: Marc-André ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois

UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"UEFA Champions League"Red Bull Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur FC"
Klostermann impressed against Tottenham | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Liverpool’s elimination means the default instinct to just select Trent Alexander-Arnold is void. As it turns out, outside of the England right-back, there isn’t really an outstanding choice for this position.

Lukas Klostermann has been a consistent, versatile and energetic presence for an impressive Leipzig team, however, and continues to grow under the radar as one of the most quietly impressive full-backs on the continent.

Honourable Mentions: Hans Hateboer, Kieran Trippier

Sergio RamosSergio Ramos
Ramos saw red against City but is still one of the tournament’s outstanding defenders | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Ok so he might have had a bit of a mare against Manchester City, but c’mon, this is Sergio Ramos we’re on about.

The best goalscoring centre half ever, Mr. Champions League, Captain Sh*thouse himself.

This Real team by no means look like the best in Europe, but purely through virtue of having Ramos there to kick ass and take names, you wouldn’t bet against them going at the way…if they can first manoeuvre their way past City without him.

Neymar, MarquinhosNeymar, Marquinhos
Marquinhos celebrates with Neymar after his goal against Borussia Dortmund | UEFA – Handout/Getty Images

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender in the world, you’re kidding yourself. That’s Virgil van Dijk.

If you think Marquinhos is the best ball-playing central defender left in the Champions League, however, you’re probably right.

Marquinhos’ ridiculous passing range and composure on the ball have been a massive part of why PSG are still in with a chance of advancing beyond the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. He’s not bad at the old defending either – Paris have conceded just three goals in eight UCL matches this term, a run through which he has been a virtual ever-present.

Honourable Mentions: Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano, Felipe, Matthijs de Ligt

Davies’ star is rising about as quickly as he can sprint – and that’s very, very, very fast.

He was famously monikered ‘Roadrunner’ by Thomas Muller earlier this season, and his pace and dynamism have already proved too much for Tottenham and Chelsea to handle.

A real creative bright spark down the left hand side, Davies adds another string to Hansi Flick’s fearsome attacking bow – as if he needs it.

Honourable Mentions: Roben Gosens

Kevin De BruyneKevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne helped City to a key first leg win over Real Madrid | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

38 goal-involvements this season. And counting.

From central midfield.

Honestly, De Bruyne, just give it a rest.

Joshua KimmichJoshua Kimmich
Kimmich swings in a corner against Chelsea | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

It doesn’t seem to matter where you play Kimmich. Centre-midfield, right-back, centre-back, in goal, assistant manager; it really has no bearing, because he’ll still chip in with ten assists every year.

He’s the definition of reliable, and at times this season he’s held together a Bayern team that might have otherwise fallen apart.

Saul NiguezSaul Niguez
Saul pays his respects to Liverpool | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid’s midfield warrior rounds out our fantasy trio after yet another impressive season in Los Rojiblacos’ engine room.

He might have picked up more bookings (13) than goals or assists (7) in all competitions, but if anything that just further emphasises that he’s doing what he’s in the team for; to win battles, stifle creativity, and move the ball on.

He does like the odd important goal, however – just as Liverpool about that one.

Honourable Mentions: Houssem Aouar, Marcel Sabitzer, Casemiro

Lionel MessiLionel Messi
Messi on the prowl against Napoli | DeFodi Images/Getty Images


Barcelona may be reaching the limits of how bad they can be while still relying on Messi to drag them over the line, but that hasn’t stopped the little magician from trying.

He single-handedly got them through the group stage, scoring or assisting five of their nine goals, and looks poised to try and repeat that feat when Napoli come to town to keep his team in with a chance of actually winning a trophy.

Honourable Mentions: Christian Pulisic, Serge Gnabry

Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso DaviesRobert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Alphonso Davies
Lewandowski celebrates scoring against Chelsea | Visionhaus/Getty Images

11 goals in six Champions League games. Eleven goals, in six Champions League games.

Lewandowski’s had a good season in the same way Michael Jordan was good at basketball. He looked a shoe-in for Ballon d’Or before it was unceremoniously cancelled, but you’d safely bet he’d happily trade that individual accolade to finally get his hands on the Champions League.

Honourable Mentions: Josip Ilicic, Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe

Olympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First LegOlympique Lyon v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Ronaldo advancing on goal against Lyon | RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images

We have to apologise for choosing the most predictable and obvious front three in Champions League history, but when you’ve got Messi, Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo all available, what are you going to do? Not pick them?

Ronnie has hit the ground running this season after using 2018/19 to settle in at Juve, and although his European form doesn’t quite match his Serie A exploits, his 35 goals in all competitions means he still warrants a place in this team.

That and the fact that he’s, y’know, the all-time Champions League top goalscorer.

Honourable Mentions: Raheem Sterling, Papu Gomez


Liverpool ‘Very Likely’ to Sign Thiago After Midfielder Meets With Bayern Munich Hierarchy

Liverpool are favourites to sign Thiago
Liverpool are favourites to sign Thiago | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Liverpool are strong favourites to land Thiago Alcantara this summer, after the midfielder held crunch talks with the Bayern Munich hierarchy and reinforced his desire to leave.

Thiago has been reluctant to commit to a new, long term contract with the German champions, and his current deal is set to expire in 2021.

German DFB Pokal"FC Schalke 04 v Bayern Munchen"German DFB Pokal"FC Schalke 04 v Bayern Munchen"
Thiago’s Bayern deal expires in 2021 | ANP Sport/Getty Images

He has been consistently linked with a move to Liverpool, despite the Reds’ apparent reluctance to spend big in this summer’s transfer window due to the financial constraints triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Spanish news outlet Mundo Deportivo, Liverpool are ‘very likely’ to sign Thiago following his talks with the Bayern top brass.

The 29-year-old sat down with the bosses at Bayern to discuss his future, with the Bundesliga champions hopeful that he would reconsider his position and commit to the club.

Thiago Alcantara, Philippe CoutinhoThiago Alcantara, Philippe Coutinho
Thiago has enjoyed a glittering seven years with Bayern | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

However, the very opposite happened, and Thiago informed Bayern that he was insistent on departing.

Having won the Champions League and two La Liga titles with Barcelona, Thiago joined Bayern for €25m in 2013. He has won the league title in each of his seven seasons in Germany, in addition to the DFB-Pokal on four occasions.

With his 30th birthday just nine months away, the Spaniard sees this as his final opportunity to earn a big move, play for another sizeable club and potentially win another league.

Thiago AlcantaraThiago Alcantara
Thiago is seeking a new challenge having won it all with Barcelona and Bayern | David Ramos/Getty Images

Bayern are keen to not lose Thiago on a free transfer, and will demand £27m for him – having previously been holding out for £31m.

Jurgen Klopp has informed the Liverpool board that he is ‘happy’ for the Reds to pursue the Spanish international, but any deal will be determined by the long term future of Georginio Wijnaldum.

The midfielder has one year remaining on his contract at Anfield. Talks regarding a new deal between the club and player have been rumbling on, and although moving in the right direction, a fresh contract is yet to be confirmed.


Things to Know About Highly-Rated Defender Aaron Hickey

Aaron Hickey
Hickey has the world at his feet after an impressive season | Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Remember Aaron Hickey? The Scottish kid who was linked with Manchester City late last year, but was then swiftly buried under the weight of Hearts being rubbish?

Yeah, he’s back in the news again, with the BBC claiming Bayern Munich, Aston Villa and Bologna have entered the frame to sign him.

So, who is he? And why are so many major clubs falling over themselves to tempt him away from Edinburgh?

90min has everything you need to know about the 18-year-old who seems to be making waves all over the continent.

Under normal circumstances, a player as talented as Hickey would demand a pretty huge fee, but Hickey’s circumstances are not what you’d call normal.

Hearts owner Ann Budge was open back in March about just how dire the club’s financial situation was, and that was before they were disastrously (if contentiously) relegated from the Scottish Premiership.

On top of that, Hickey’s contract is up next summer, so a bid in the region of £1.5m is expected to be enough to secure his services.

You can see, then, why there’s a queue round the block for the teenage prodigy.

The list of clubs in the running reads like a deleted verse from Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Before Bayern, Villa and Bologna, we’ve had Celtic – who 90min reported back in May were favourites – Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Milan and Lazio all linked, and we’ve still got at least two months of the window left.

His agent has the easiest job in the world.

Aaron Hickey, Karamoko DembeleAaron Hickey, Karamoko Dembele
Hickey has been compared to former Celtic academy player Andy Robertson | Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

That’s what a YouTube compilation from October 2019 says, anyway.

That’s a bit of a stretch, given all Robertson has accomplished since leaving Scottish football behind, but the superficial parallels are there.

Hickey has been praised for his tenacity, while his robust attacking style of play suggests he’s learned a lot from watching the Scotland captain on TV.

He has a remarkable engine too – if he can start racking up the assists, then we might be able to talk.

Is he a left back or a right back? Who knows?

His right foot may be the marginally stronger of the two, but he is as ambidextrous as they come, making him such an unpredictable attacking option when he explodes forward down one of the flanks.

Most of his Hearts appearances have come on the left hand side, owing to their lack of quality in the position, but he is just as capable of hitting the byline and floating one over as he is of coming in on his right and scoring the winner in a derby.

Aaron Hickey, Greg StewartAaron Hickey, Greg Stewart
Hickey’s Hearts team-mates agree he is destined for the top | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

At just 18, you could forgive Hickey for letting the speculation and fanfare get to his head. According to team-mate Lewis Moore, however, his affable, easy-going personality means that just won’t happen.

“Aaron has already played so many games and been linked with some of the biggest teams in the world – it’s been incredible to see,” Moore told Deadline News.

“But it’s definitely not affecting Aaron. He’s the most laid-back guy you could ever meet – he probably doesn’t even realise that he is being linked with all these teams!

“His head is in the clouds sometimes. He just goes out and plays his football – and what a player he is.”

As alluded to by Moore, Hickey can boast an astonishing amount of experience for such a young player.

In 2019, aged just 16, he became the youngest player ever to start a Scottish Cup final, and he followed that up with 34 senior appearances over the 2019/20 campaign.

Because Hearts are a shambles, he’s already working under his third manager and preparing for life in the Championship, but it will be a serious turn-up for the books if he’s still there when their season starts in October.


The World’s Most Valuable Sports Teams in 2020 – Ranked

Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid
Real Madrid are one of the most valuable teams worldwide | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It’s been a bit of a weird year for sports teams of all kinds around the world, but there’s still a crazy amont of money in sport.

As they do every year, the people over at Forbes have put together a list of the most valuable sports teams across the globe, and a solid number of football teams managed to make their way into the rankings.

Let’s take a look at the top 50 teams – we’ll dive deeper into the ones that we care about over here.

Maintaining the same value as last year is Arsenal, who have fallen five spots down to 47th.

While it hasn’t been the best year on the pitch for Arsenal, inconsistent performances and sacking manager Unai Emery haven’t had too much of an impact financially.

Thanks to their FA Cup final triumph, the Gunners will have the chance to build on that in next year’s Europa League.

Just like Arsenal, Chelsea have also dropped five places while still retaining their same value from 2019.

The Blues had planned to have a busy year, with a brand new stadium complex on the cards, only for Chelsea to allow their planning permission to expire while they evaluate the current financial landscape.

Frank Lampard managed to guide Chelsea back to the Champions League, ensuring their income won’t take much of a hit over the coming year.

Yet again, City retained their value from 2019, but growth from teams from other sports has seen them drop nine spots down to 34th.

City’s financial power is no secret, and they flexed their muscle last summer by striking huge deals for Rodri and João Cancelo, and there’ll probably be a fair bit of money spent this year too.

Pep Guardiola’s side managed to get their Champions League ban overturned, ensuring they can remain competitive for years to come, although they did have to swallow a hefty fine.

Despite no drop in value, Bayern Munich find themselves falling from 17th in 2019 to 24th in 2020.

Being so far down in any rankings is an alien concept for Bayern, who have been overwhelmingly dominant in the Bundesliga in recent years.

Perennial favourites to win the Champions League, their value would enjoy a tidy rise if they can get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2013.

Despite dropping from sixth to tenth, Manchester United remain the third most valuable football team in the world.

It’s that kind of financial power which has given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer some big plans for the summer transfer window, and qualifying for the Champions League will only help United strengthen, both on and off the pitch.

The Red Devils hope to be back on track after a few years of turmoil, so don’t be surprised to see them climb higher up this list in 2021.

Dropping down four spots are Barcelona, who still sit second on football’s rich list.

There was no drop in value for Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and co. this year, but the impact of the coronavirus outbreak might have a pretty rough impact on Barcelona’s finances for the 2021 rankings.

It’s been a frustrating year for the Catalan club, who need to win the Champions League to finish the campaign with any silverware. No pressure.

Sitting atop football’s financial Mount Olympus for the second straight year are Real Madrid.

Los Blancos spent big money last summer, recruiting Eden Hazard, Luka Jovi?, Éder Militão, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo Goes, and their reward was yet another La Liga title.

The spending might be a little calmer this time around, with Zinedine Zidane instead focusing on selling some of the club’s fringe players.

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Paris Saint-Germain Join Liverpool in Race for Thiago Alcantara

German DFB Pokal"FC Schalke 04 v Bayern Munchen"
Paris Saint-Germain have registered their interest in Thiago Alcantara | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain have joined Liverpool in the race to sign want-away Bayern star Thiago Alcantara this summer.

The Spanish midfielder was close to putting pen to paper on a new contract with the Bavarian giants in June, but opted against extending his stay in Munich – alerting the attention of several European heavyweights.

German DFB Pokal"FC Schalke 04 v Bayern Munchen"German DFB Pokal"FC Schalke 04 v Bayern Munchen"
Thiago has been a star performer for Bayern over a number of seasons | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Liverpool’s interest in the 29-year-old has been well-documented, but they are not alone in their pursuit. According to Le10Sport, Ligue 1 champions PSG are set to do battle with the Reds in trying to land Thiago, and sporting director Leonardo has even lodged a bid for the playmaker.

Der FCB are prepared to accept any bid in the region of around €30m for their unhappy superstar, whose contract expires at the end of June 2021. It is believed that les Parisiens have already tabled an offer which would match that expected target, potentially putting Liverpool on the back foot.

Jurgen Klopp’s side seemed destined to land their man this summer, as the Premier League champions aim to build on last season’s success. And when Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge confirmed that Thiago was ready to begin a new adventure away from his current home, that deal looked ever more certain to reach its conclusion.

Thiago AlcantaraThiago Alcantara
Thiago is ready to start a new chapter in his career | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

But that move to Anfield now hangs in the balance, with the French giants entering the fray.

PSG are also contemplating moves for a number of top midfielders to bolster their squad for the summer, with the likes of Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Milan star Ismael Bennacer being linked with a switch to the French capital.

For Liverpool, missing out on another transfer target would come as a significant blow, having already stepped aside in the chase for RB Leipzig star Timo Werner, who subsequently opted for a move to Chelsea. Thiago would be an excellent addition to the Merseysiders’ squad, offering a different type of playing style to their current crop of stars.