Champions League football returned this week with the resumption of the knockout stages, the opening round of last 16 fixtures seeing two of the game’s young superstars produce performances of the highest quality.
Liverpool bounced back from their disappointing domestic form to take charge of their tie against last season’s semi-finalists RB Leipzig, though Juventus have their work cut out to qualify after slipping to defeat at Porto.
Following the midweek action we’ve picked out some of the tournament’s leading performers, here is the Football Faithful’s Champions League Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Agustin Marchesin – Porto
Porto pulled off the shock of the midweek fixtures by securing a narrow victory over Juventus, goals inside the opening minute in each half providing the Portuguese side with a 2-1 advantage.
Goalkeeper Marchesin was perhaps quieter than he may have anticipated against Cristiano Ronaldo and company, though produced when called upon making smart saves to deny both Adrien Rabiot and Alvaro Morata.
The 32-year-old’s positioning was strong throughout and he will have been disappointed to see a clean sheet evade him as Federico Chiesa’s strike provided Juventus with hope ahead of the second leg.
Right-back Wilson Manafa – Porto
A strong performance at both ends of the pitch for the Portuguese full-back, who was diligent defensively and provided attacking impetus when getting forward down the right flank.
The 26-year-old’s enterprising run paved the way for Porto to score their second goal just 20 seconds into the second half, driving forward after some clever inter-change before providing the cross for Moussa Marega to double the home side’s advantage.
Centre-back: Marquinhos – PSG
PSG secured a statement victory after thrashing Barcelona 4-1 at the Camp Nou and whilst the Parisian’s irresistible attacking options will take most of the headlines it was a complete performance from the French champions.
Marshalling the backline was the ever-impressive Marquinhos who gave the home side little opportunity to threaten throughout, winning three tackles and playing confidently from the back with the Brazilian completing 96% of his passes.
Centre-back: Ozan Kabak – Liverpool
A much-improved showing from the winter window signing who recovered well from a difficult debut at Leicester last weekend, the youngster looking far more assured as Liverpool secured a clean sheet and victory at Leipzig.
The 20-year-old won four tackles and two aerial duels in a confident performance at centre-back, and whilst there were moments of defensive naivety, this was an encouraging and commanding display from the Turkey international who will hope to build from this.
Solid team performance, great result💪🏻
We move 👊🏼🔴 @LFC #TheReds #UCL pic.twitter.com/2BzmCVmkks
— Ozan KABAK (@ozankabak4) February 16, 2021
Left-back: Andy Robertson – Liverpool
Liverpool’s most consistent player delivered another fine showing in an impressive team performance from the Premier League champions, pushing forward from the left in signature fashion whilst remaining solid defensively as the Reds returned home with a clean sheet and two-goal advantage.
That advantage could have been three had Robertson’s 45-yard effort dipped slightly lower, the Scotland captain almost executing a wonderful finish with goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi left back peddling frantically.
Midfield: Marco Verratti – PSG
Central to a superb PSG performance with the Italian international often at the heart of the club’s best passages of play, working hard in midfield and making things happen with penetrative passing between defensive lines.
Verratti is a metronomic figure in this side and PSG missed his influence with the half-fit star introduced only as a substitute in last season’s final defeat to Bayern.
The 28-year-old is a player capable of making the difference at Champions League level and provided an exquisite assist into the path of Kylian Mbappe with a nonchalant flick in a crowded Barcelona penalty area.
Midfield: Mahmoud Dahoud – Borussia Dortmund
Mahmoud Dahoud’s career at Borussia Dortmund has never truly taken off following his move as a highly-rated youngster from divisional rivals Borussia Monchengladbach, but this was a performance that could spark an upturn in fortunes for the 25-year-old.
Dahoud was tireless in his pressing and disciplined defensively as Dortmund won 3-2 at Sevilla, capping a fine display with a stunning equaliser from distance after the Bundesliga side had fallen behind to Suso’s deflected strike.
What a strike from Dortmund's Mahmoud Dahoud! 🚀
Some way to score the first #UCL goal of his career! 👏 pic.twitter.com/AdnYG8vxme
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 17, 2021
Dahoud’s showing will no doubt have been pleasing to Marco Rose who it was this week announced will take charge of Dortmund next season.
Midfield: Curtis Jones – Liverpool
After being handed sporadic opportunities last season Curtis Jones has emerged as a key figure in the Liverpool side this season, with Jurgen Klopp having full trust in the 20-year-old on the biggest of occasions.
Jones was excellent as the Reds beat Leipzig 2-0 to take command of their last-16 tie, the youngster playing with a confidence that indicates his belief that he belongs on the Champions League stage.
The England U21 international was assured in possession and happy to receive the ball when under pressure, Jones a player for who there appears plenty more to come as the latest exciting prospect to emerge from the Reds’ ranks.
Right-wing: Mohamed Salah – Liverpool
Liverpool’s all-time record goalscorer in the Champions League added another decisive goal to his collection, racing onto Marcel Sabitzer’s misplaced pass to open the scoring for the Reds in Budapest.
It was another reminder of the clinical quality the Egyptian possesses in a performance which was threatening throughout, Salah sharp in attack and willing to work hard to help his side defensively against a high-energy Leipzig side.
Moise Kean – who has looked a player reborn at PSG this season – is unfortunate to miss out after giving Jordi Alba a torrid time in the French side’s win at Barcelona.
Left-wing: Kylian Mbappe – PSG
Kylian Mbappe has wowed audiences ever since bursting onto the scene as a talented teenager, but this was a showing which further underlined his status as one of the world’s finest footballers.
Barcelona could not live with the devastating speed, movement and lethal finishing of the France international who finished his first-ever meeting with the Catalans in prized possession of the match ball.
Mbappe is breathtaking when in this sort of mood and with him in their ranks PSG will have high hopes of reaching a second successive Champions League final.
Forward: Erling Haaland – Borussia Dortmund
Another of the game’s brightest young talents taking centre stage in the Champions League, give Erling Haaland a sight of goal and there will only be one outcome.
Sevilla failed to learn their lesson after Haaland’s close-range opener, the Norway international slotting home a second as Borussia Dortmund scored three away goals to take a giant step towards the quarter-finals.
It’s now 18 goals in just 13 appearances in the Champions League for Haaland who has quickly established himself as one of Europe’s leading goalscorers, and the frightening thought for defences is that the star remains just 20-years-old.
Erling Haaland across all competitions this season:
◎ 24 games
◉ 25 goals
The man is unstoppable. #UCL pic.twitter.com/b1gE8cOeFy
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 17, 2021
After an era in which there have been endless comparisons between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, this week’s performances have shown we may just be about to enter the time of Haaland and Mbappe.
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