Barcelona, Blog Post, Clubs, Manchester United, Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League


The ESPN FC crew were full of praise for Barcelona’s offense, led by captain Leonel Messi, in their win over Tottenham Hotspur.
ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol explains why Napoli were deserving of their late victory, despite Liverpool’s best efforts to hold on for a draw.
Stevie Nicol says while PSG eased past Red Star, he’s looking for Neymar and company to show up in the knockout rounds.

The Champions League saw goals, goals and more goals this week, but who were the stars? Here’s the best XI from Matchday 2.

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
Neuer cannot have expected to be the busier goalkeeper when Ajax visited the Allianz Arena, but had he not been at his sharpest then the Dutch side could have come away with a famous win. He made a number of important stops, none more so than at the very end when he tipped a rasping Lasse Schone free kick onto the crossbar to ensure a below-par Bayern came away with a 1-1 draw.

Right-back – Noussair Mazraoui (Ajax)
Ajax turned back the clock with some of their play against Bayern, and their equaliser was certainly reminiscent of the “total football” seen in the 1970s. It came when Mazraoui, having begun a surge upfield, kept going and took a return pass from Dusan Tadic before finishing brilliantly past Neuer inside the box. Perhaps a return to the glory days is not a million miles away, on this evidence.

Centre-back – Nikita Chernov (CSKA Moscow)
In a sense this is an award for the entire CSKA Moscow team, who nosed ahead early on against Real Madrid through Nikola Vlasic and then held onto their lead heroically. But Chernov, a 22-year-old who spent last season on loan at Ural Ekaterinburg, stepped up particularly well and steered their back three home against Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio. CSKA’s victory over the holders was well earned and gives them genuine hope of progressing.

Centre-back – Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Napoli barely gave Liverpool a sniff, even if they left it late to land a killer blow of their own. Koulibaly is one of the best centre-backs in Europe and was a colossus on Wednesday night, forming an insurmountable barrier that Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane could simply not breach — failing to produce a single shot on target between them over the 90 minutes.

Left-back – Jose Luis Gaya (Valencia)
Gaya said after Valencia’s goalless draw at Manchester United that that he had “not seen such a physical team in a long time.” They had to be on their mettle defensively, even against a team with such evident problems going forward, and the 23-year-old made light of any concerns about pace and power with a composed and intelligent display, rendering Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Valencia ineffectual on United’s right flank.

Central midfield – Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
He was outshone by Lionel Messi’s brilliance but Rakitic still managed to provide perhaps the stand-out moment of Matchday 2. His 25-yard volley against Tottenham, putting Barcelona 2-0 up, was simply majestic — running onto an awkward, bouncing ball and adjusting himself to crack a vicious, remarkably pure strike in off the inside of Hugo Lloris’ post. It gave Barca some breathing space at the time and will be hard to outdo in the rest of this season’s competition.

Central midfield – David Silva (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola called Silva “one of the best players I’ve trained” after his match-winning contribution at Hoffenheim and, by now, that is hardly even news. Silva, 32, was sharper than anyone else as the game neared a frayed conclusion, ruthlessly punishing a piece of sloppy defending from Stefan Posch and firing crisply home — thus keeping the dream of his first Champions League title very much alive.

Attacking midfield – Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
The first of this matchday’s hat-trick scorers was Dybala, who has had a stuttering start to the Serie A campaign but put Young Boys to the sword ruthlessly on Tuesday. His second two goals were relatively straightforward poacher’s efforts but his first was one of the highlights of the week — a beautifully cushioned left-footed volley into the far corner from Leonardo Bonucci’s searching 60-yard pass. Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence made no difference at all to Juve’s star quality.

Right forward – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Did Messi put in his best-ever Champions League performance at Wembley? It would be some claim but that is how good he was, operating on a completely different level to anyone around him. His first-half showing was enough to purr about, with his superb passing integral to Barca’s first two goals; after the break he simply turned things up another notch, scoring twice and hitting the upright on two occasions, too. On nights like this you hope Messi can go on forever; you would not quite put it past him either.

Centre-forward – Edin Dzeko (Roma)
Dzeko had not scored in six games prior to Roma’s meeting with Viktoria Plzen but soon put that right. He notched inside three minutes with a slide-rule finish after a clever run from the inside-left position, doubling that tally with an explosive finish before half-time and then guaranteeing himself the matchball with a towering header near the end. The Bosnian is now 32 but this was a sharp reminder that Roma have a centre-forward who remains up there with the best.

Left forward – Neymar (PSG)
Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain will face less obliging opposition than Red Star Belgrade, but some contributions are unstoppable regardless of who you are up against. His two magnificent free kicks, including the goal that broke the deadlock, would have been fit for any occasion and his third goal, a sharp close-range volley on the run, was well executed too. It reminded us that Neymar, at his bewitching best, is a joy.



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