The UEFA Champions League’s first knockout round continued this week, with holders Chelsea returning to action with a win against Lille.
Anthony Elanga came off the bench to score a late equaliser as Manchester United rescued a result at Atletico Madrid, whilst there was also stalemates as Benfica met Ajax and Villarreal took on Juventus.
Following the second round of fixtures in the last 16, we’ve compiled the star performers into our Champions League Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Edouard Mendy – Chelsea
Rarely troubled in a comfortable evening for Chelsea, but it’s another clean sheet to add to his growing collection in this competition.
Mendy made two saves inside the first half before a quieter second period, as the west Londoners eased to a 2-0 win over Lille to take a strong advantage into the return.
𝗗𝗜𝗗 𝗬𝗢𝗨 𝗞𝗡𝗢𝗪?
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 22, 2022
The Senegal international’s shut-out was his fifth in the Champions League this season and remarkably his 14th in 18 appearances in the competition, the kind of defensive solidity on which challenges for the trophy are built.
Right-back: Noussair Mazraoui – Ajax
Noussair Mazraoui was named man of the match as Ajax and Benfica played out an enthralling 2-2 draw at The Estádio da Luz, with the right-back’s list of admirers growing ever longer following another impressive performance.
The Moroccan registered an assist after picking out Dusan Tadic at the back post for the game’s opening goal, though will be disappointed as an unfortunate slip contributed to Benfica’s first equaliser.
However, the 24-year-old proved an influential presence at both ends of the pitch and reported suitors in Barcelona, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund will have watched his performance closely as Mazraoui prepares to become a free agent this summer.
Centre-back: Thiago Silva – Chelsea
Just effortlessly good.
Even at 37, Thiago Silva remains one of Europe’s best central defenders and he led Chelsea to a comfortable first leg win over Lille at Stamford Bridge.
Jonathan David had been viewed as Lille’s leading threat with the Canadian having scored 15 goals in all competitions so far this season, but the 22-year-old got little change from a centre-back who continues to defy time at the highest level.
Centre-back: Matthijs de Ligt – Juventus
De Ligt was a crucial component of a Juventus side that secured a 1-1 draw at Villarreal, the only recognised centre-back in the club’s line-up producing a strong defensive display.
The Netherlands international led the contest for interceptions and won each of his duels both on the ground and in the air, an important performance given the presence of auxiliary centre-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro alongside him.
Matthijs de Ligt's game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
100% take-ons won
100% duels won
100% aerial duels won
89% pass accuracy
6 passes in the final third
4 interceptions (=most)
4 possessions won
A super defensive display. pic.twitter.com/jXfVwSwuIQ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 22, 2022
In the absence of Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini from the starting side, his leadership ensured Juventus hold a slight advantage ahead of the return fixture.
Left-back: Renan Lodi – Atletico Madrid
Renan Lodi has been an undervalued member of the Atletico Madrid squad this season, but the wing-back provided a reminder of his quality after deputising for Yannick Carrasco against Manchester United.
The Brazilian was brilliant during the first half as he dominated the left flank, creating three chances and providing the assist for Joao Felix’s opener with a wonderful cross.
Lodi gave Victor Lindelof a torrid time as the Sweden international struggled in an unfamiliar right-back role, his substitution contributing to the change of the game as the Red Devils struck a late equaliser.
Midfield: Geoffrey Kondogbia – Atletico Madrid
Midfield has often been cited as Manchester United’s weakness and their deficiencies were exposed against Atletico Madrid, the Red Devils unable to make an impact despite boasting the majority of the possession.
Geoffrey Kondogbia produced a dominant performance in the Atletico engine room, winning four tackles, making ten ball recoveries, and completing both of his attempted take-ons.
Geoffrey Kondogbia’s game by numbers vs Man Utd:
100% tackles won (4/4)
100% take-ons completed (2/2)
90% ground duels won (9/10)
79% pass accuracy
10 ball recoveries
6 attempted long balls
4 successful long balls
0 times dribbled past
Balled out tonight. 😳👏 pic.twitter.com/d5wCbs1cXu
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 23, 2022
The 29-year-old was brilliant on and off the ball in a powerhouse performance, winning more tackles in the first half alone than Manchester United’s midfield of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Fred combined.
Midfield: N’Golo Kante – Chelsea
There’s something about the Champions League knockout stages that brings the best from N’Golo Kante, the midfielder finding his finest form as Chelsea beat Lille in west London.
Kante was an unmissable all-action presence as Thomas Tuchel’s side were crowned champions of Europe last season, being named as man of the match in both legs of the last four and in the final win over Manchester City.
N'Golo Kante has won Player of the Match in his last FOUR Champions League knockout games 😤 pic.twitter.com/mw5u7yfcUe
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 23, 2022
The France international made it four consecutive man of the match accolades in the Champions League’s knockout rounds this week, driving his side forward and setting up the second goal for Christian Pulisic with a signature lung-busting run.
Midfield: Etienne Capoue – Villarreal
Etienne Capoue continues to be an underrated component of the Villarreal side with the midfielder having enjoyed an excellent Champions League season so far.
The 33-year-old worked tirelessly as Unai Emery’s side drew 1-1 with Juventus this week, whilst he continued his productivity in this season’s competition with a brilliant pass to assist Dani Parejo’s equaliser.
It’s now two goals and two assists for Capoue in the Champions League this season, with only Arnaut Danjuma having been directly involved in more goals (5) among his Villarreal teammates.
Forward: Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
Christian Pulisic was given a rare start in his preferred position on the left for Chelsea, rewarding the faith of Thomas Tuchel with an encouraging performance.
The USA international grew into the clash with Lille and posed problems for the French champions throughout, scoring Chelsea’s crucial second after collecting N’Golo Kante’s pass to fire home.
It’s been a frustrating season so far for a footballer bursting with natural talent and the Blues will be hoping this can be the start of Pulisic returning to the blistering form he showed towards the end of his debut season at Stamford Bridge.
Forward: Joao Felix – Atletico Madrid
Joao Felix provided a reminder of his class with an outstanding showing in Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United, the forward causing issues for the Red Devils all evening with his intelligent movement between the lines.
The Portugal international opened the scoring with a magnificent header, meeting Renan Lodi’s teasing cross to hand Atletico an early lead.
Not the start Man Utd wanted in Madrid…
Joao Felix with an absolutely BRILLIANT header to give Atletico the lead 🔥
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 23, 2022
Felix looked Atletico’s greatest danger as he dropped deep and created space for those around him, before fading somewhat in the second half before his substitution.
Forward: Dusan Vlahovic – Juventus
Dusan Vlahovic’s desire to compete in the Champions League was behind his move to Juventus last month, with the €70m signing wasting little time in making an impression in Europe.
Vlahovic scored the fastest ever goal by a Champions League debutant after opening the scoring after just 31 seconds against Villarreal, the Serbian latching onto Danilo’s long pass before firing an instinctive finish into the bottom corner.
Welcome to the Champions League, Dušan Vlahović 🙌🤩
The Serbian striker scores just THIRTY-ONE SECONDS into his #UCL debut 😳👏
What a start he's made to life at Juventus! ⚫️⚪️ pic.twitter.com/lSqlQYS2l4
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 22, 2022
It was a dream start for the 22-year-old who looks ready to make an impact at this level, the forward set to play a major role in Juventus’ Champions League campaign with their tie with Villarreal in the balance ahead of the return in Turin.