We’ve reached the conclusion of the Champions League group stages with the line-up for the last 16 now complete, Real Madrid booking their place in the knockout round as group winners courtesy of a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.
Manchester United crashed out of the competition following defeat to RB Leipzig in Germany, whilst last season’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain emphatically assured their place in the next round with a 5-1 thrashing of Istanbul Basaksehir.
Following the sixth round of group stage fixtures we’ve picked out some of the stars to impress, here is the Football Faithful’s Champions League Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus
Gianluigi Buffon may not be an automatic selection at Juventus in the twilight of his career, but the veteran goalkeeper proved that class remains permanent by rolling back the years against Barcelona this week.
Juventus headed to Barcelona needing to win by a three-goal margin to overhaul the Spanish side and progress as group winners, a feat they achieved courtesy of an impressive 3-0 win at the Camp Nou.
Buffon’s performance was crucial to the preserving of a clean sheet as the 42-year-old made a staggering seven saves, thwarting Lionel Messi on several occasions in a fine display from one of the all-time great goalkeepers.
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) December 10, 2020
Buffon became the first goalkeeper to keep a Champions League clean sheet in four separate decades, an incredible achievement for the Italian who will be hoping to finally end his long wait for a Champions League trophy this season.
Right-back: Lucas Vasquez – Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s campaign thus far has been far from straightforward, though the record 13-time winners secured progress as group winners courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach this week.
Amongst their star performers was Lucas Vasquez, who has adapted to a new role at right-back impressively this season and produced another assured display in the unfamiliar defensive position.
Vasquez dealt with the threat of Marcus Thuram admirably and provided a constant outlet in attack, providing an assist with a perfect delivery for Karim Benzema to head home the opener.
Benzema spurned the opportunity for a hat-trick following another fine cross from Vasquez, who also hit the post in an effective display at both ends of the pitch.
Centre-back: Willie Orban – RB Leipzig
RB Leipzig reached the knockout stages of the Champions League for the second successive season, beating Manchester United 3-2 in a winner-takes-all clash at the Red Bull Arena.
The home side were dominant during the opening exchanges and stunned the visitors with two early goals to take control of the tie, before withstanding a late fightback to hold on and progress.
Willi Orban produced a commanding display at the heart of the defence, thriving in the absence of the suspended Dayot Upamecano and winning two aerial duels and making three tackles.
It may not have been the prettiest performance from the Hungarian, but it was an effective one.
Centre-back: Mario Hermoso – Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid’s Champions League fate hung in the balance ahead of a visit to a dangerous Red Bull Salzburg side, the home side having the opportunity to leapfrog the Spaniards and secure qualification with victory.
Salzburg – as they have done for much of the campaign – attacked with fearless intent and perhaps should have done more to open the scoring in the first half, though Atletico are masters of defending doggedly and held on before securing victory.
Mario Hermoso was solid defensively alongside Stefan Savic and Felipe and proved the difference-maker at the opposite end, heading home from Yannick Carrasco’s free-kick to put Atletico on their way to a 2-0 victory and place in the last 16.
Left-back: Angelino – RB Leipzig
Angelino has emerged as an unlikely talisman for RB Leipzig this season with the wing-back the club’s leading scorer in all competitions, his opening goal against Manchester United his seventh of the season already.
It was a sweet strike from the Spaniard and a sweet moment for the on-loan Manchester City man, who contributed superbly to the exit of his parent club’s greatest rivals by scoring once and providing an assist in Leipzig’s 3-2 victory.
The 23-year-old is technically excellent and was industrious throughout on the left flank, his record now standing at a hugely impressive 12 goal involvements in 17 starts for Leipzig this season.
Wow… RB Leipzig took the lead inside two minutes against Man Utd 😮
Angelino, a left-back on loan from Man City, bags his seventh goal of the season! pic.twitter.com/LFFyfk4x3E
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 8, 2020
Angelino may have struggled to make an impact in the Premier League, but it is difficult to envisage a player of his class would not be a valuable option at the Etihad at present.
Midfield: Weston McKennie – Juventus
Weston McKennie continues to grow in stature and confidence at Juventus following his summer signing from Schalke, with the US international starring in the engine room of the Bianconeri during their 3-0 win at Barcelona.
The 22-year-old was typically energetic and brought drive to the Juventus side, whilst his athleticism was mixed with an assuredness in possession, completing 88.5% of his passes.
A stand-out display was capped with a wonderful first ever Champions League goal as he acrobatically volleyed home Juan Cuadrado’s cross, scoring for the second successive fixture for Juventus and continuing his impressive start in Turin.
Midfield: Axel Witsel – Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund secured the victory they needed at Zenit St Petersburg to claim top spot in Group F, completing a second half comeback to seal three points in Russia.
Axel Witsel was at the heart of Dortmund’s victory on his return to his former side, the Belgium international strong defensively and proving the match-winner with a strike from just outside the penalty area.
The 31-year-old refused to celebrate and was well received by the Zenit support, having formed part of the side which won the Russian Premier League in 2015.
Witsel is amongst the experienced figures in a Dortmund side packed with youthful potential and stepped up the occasion to ensure Lucien Favre’s side head into the last 16 draw as group winners.
Midfield: Marcel Sabitzer – RB Leipzig
Simply ran the show for much of RB Leipzig’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United, carving the visitors open with a number of superb passes including a wonderful delivery for Angelino’s opener after just two minutes.
The Austrian is a brilliant midfield talent who combines technical ability with a huge work-ethic, covering the ground superbly and taking responsibility for making things happen.
The 26-year-old has been linked with a move to Tottenham in recent months and would represent a fine addition to Jose Mourinho’s new-look side, though the Leipzig captain will no doubt be focused on another successful Champions League campaign with last season’s semi-finalists.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus
The greatest goalscorer in the history of the Champions League continues to deliver when it matters most, scoring twice as Juventus beat Barcelona 3-0 to secure their progress as group winners.
Ronaldo’s brace at the Camp Nou may have come from the penalty spot, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s ability to decide the sport’s biggest occasions is second to none.
Much of the pre-match talk centred around Ronaldo vs eternal rival Lionel Messi, though it was the former who came out on top in fine style to take his career tally to 134 Champions League goals.
Juventus may be regarded only as outsiders to end their long wait for a Champions League crown this season, but any side possessing the inevitable talents of Ronaldo has a chance to be crowned champions.
Forward: Karim Benzema – Real Madrid
Real Madrid progressed to the last 16 after beating a Borussia Monchengladbach side that has impressed in this season’s competition, securing a 2-0 victory that ensured qualification as group winners.
Once again it was Karim Benzema who shouldered the goalscoring responsibility for the Spanish giants, heading home twice in the first half to set Los Blancos on their way to a vital victory.
Benzema’s double ensured Real Madrid’s record of having never exited in the group stage remains intact and saw the Frenchman become just the third player – after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – to score 50+ group stage goals.
Karim Benzema attempted more shots (7), created the joint-most chances (5), had more shots on target (4) and scored more goals (2) than any other Real Madrid player against Gladbach.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 9, 2020
His brace of headers also means that only Ronaldo has scored more headed efforts than Benzema since his debut in the competition in 2005, the 32-year-old continuing to reach new milestones as the talismanic figure in the Real attack.
Forward: Neymar – Paris Saint-Germain
Manchester United’s defeat in Leipzig meant that Paris Saint-Germain were already assured of their place in the knockout stages, though they secured progress as group winners courtesy of a wonderful attacking display against Istanbul Basaksehir.
The fixture was suspended until Wednesday after both teams commendably walked off the pitch on Tuesday night in a defiant act against racism from the fourth official – a much-needed display of unity following another unacceptable act of discrimination.
Once the football returned it was Neymar who took the headlines and for all of the right reasons, scoring a scintillating hat-trick in a reminder of the Brazilian’s world-class quality when at his brilliant best.
Neymar in the #UCL for Barcelona:
⬡ 40 games
⬢ 21 goals
⬡ 15 assists
Neymar in the #UCL for PSG:
⬡ 25 games
⬢ 20 goals
⬡ 9 assists
The first player to score 20+ for two different clubs. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/Y6SPL5DWIj
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 9, 2020
His first and third goals were sensational, opening the scoring after an impudent nutmeg and curlng finish, before claiming the match ball with a thunderous effort as PSG ran riot.
Neymar became just the seventh player to score three or more Champions League hat-tricks, whilst he also became the first player in history to score 20+ goals in the competition for two different clubs.