The first legs of the Champions League’s last-16 are now complete, with the latest round of fixtures seeing favourites Bayern Munich and Manchester City secure commanding advantages.
Chelsea produced an impressive performance to ensure the Premier League‘s three representative sides are all in a strong position to reach the last eight, whilst 13-time winners Real Madrid edged a stubborn Atalanta side who received the setback of an early red card.
Following the latest action we’ve picked out some of the tournament’s best performers, here is the Football Faithful’s Champions League Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Pierluigi Gollini – Atalanta
With the likes of Manuel Neuer and Ederson restricted largely to watching briefs in midweek, we’ve opted for Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini as our number one with the Italian side putting in a spirited display in defeat to Real Madrid.
Dealt with the hammer blow of Remo Freuler’s controversial early red card after just 17 minutes, Atalanta withstood a wealth of pressure before Ferland Mendy’s wonderful finish secured Real a 1-0 win ahead of the return fixture.
Gollini could do little about that effort, but his brilliant reaction save to deny Raphael Varane on the stroke of half-time has ensured Atalanta remain firmly in the tie ahead of the second leg.
Right-back: Niklas Sule – Bayern Munich
The towering defender was utilised at right-back in the absence of Benjamin Pavard and showed plenty of attacking intent in the unfamiliar role, driving forward impressively as Bayern thrashed Lazio 4-1 to all but ensure their place in the last eight.
Sule made four clearances and four recoveries whilst his physical presence ensured solidity down the right, with the Germany international even showcasing some rarely seen fancy footwork when venturing into opposition territory.
Centre-back: Ruben Dias – Manchester City
Just another day at the office for Manchester City’s club-record signing, Dias again commanding as Pep Guardiola’s side secured yet another clean sheet to win 2-0 against Borussia Monchengladbach.
The Bundesliga side scored prolifically during the group stages but were given little change from the authoritative Dias, who has become the undisputed leader of Europe’s stingiest backline so far this season.
After several misses when it comes to defensive reinforcements Guardiola has now struck gold with the club-record signing of the Portugal international, and Dias may just hold the key to City making a long-awaited impact in the Champions League’s latter stages.
Centre-back: Andreas Christensen – Chelsea
Andreas Christensen has received plenty of flack during his Chelsea career but has shown encouraging signs since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel, his strengths coming to the fore as part of a back three system under the German head coach.
Christensen dealt superbly with the threat of Luis Suarez against Atletico Madrid as the west London side edged the Spanish league leaders in Bucharest, a confident and composed performance from the Denmark international who made several vital clearances as Chelsea secured a priceless clean sheet.
Left-back: Joao Cancelo – Manchester City
What a season this is turning out to be for Joao Cancelo who looks a player transformed from his difficult debut season at Manchester City, the full-back once again superb as Pep Guardiola’s side took control of their last-16 tie with Borussia Monchengladbach.
Cancelo started as a nominal left-back but in truth the 26-year-old played pretty much where he wanted, rarely has a full-back been provided with such positional freedom to ghost into central areas to devastating effect.
The Portugal international’s ball for Bernardo Silva’s opener was outstanding and he was involved heavily in the second of the evening, another whipped delivery finding Silva once more in the build-up to Gabriel Jesus’ goal.
João Cancelo’s game by numbers vs. Gladbach:
100% long ball accuracy
93% pass accuracy
8 penalty area entries
7 duels won
1 big chance created
1 clean sheet
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 24, 2021
Guardiola’s tactical invention has seen him rip up full-back preconceptions, with Cancelo floating around the pitch and picking passes with the effectiveness of a leading playmaker.
Midfield: Toni Kroos – Real Madrid
As so often is the case, Kroos was the player who kept Real Madrid ticking as they patiently attempted to break through a resilient Atalanta defence, completing 94% of his game-high 138 passes with over a third of those coming inside the final third.
The Germany international came close to picking the Atalanta lock with a fabulous free-kick into the path of Raphael Varane, and Kroos will be crucial to Real’s hopes of making a significant impression in the competition.
🎯 Pass success rate – 93.5%
🔐 Key passes – 4
🦶 Tackles – 2
🤤 Dribbles – 1
🤕 Times fouled – 1
📈 Rating – 7.62 pic.twitter.com/FUBFB0S9ws
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 24, 2021
No player made more key passes than the four-time Champions League winner and there are few midfielders of the 31-year-old’s calibre amongst Europe’s elite.
Midfield: Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich
Is it time Joshua Kimmich was given his dues as one of world football’s finest?
The Bayern Munich midfielder can often be overlooked despite an incredible career thus far, including a stand-out showing as the holders secured a comprehensive win in Rome this week.
Kimmich starred in his role as Bayern’s midfield metronome, the 26-year-old a player who covers the ground, wins tackles and unlocks defences with a fine passing range.
The Germany international was influential throughout to secure his 38th victory from just 50 appearances in the Champions League, the most by any player after 50 games in the competition’s history.
Right-wing: Leroy Sane – Bayern Munich
Leroy Sane is growing into his role in this Bayern Munich side following a summer move from Manchester City, continuing his strong start to 2021 with another strong showing against Lazio this week.
The Italian side struggled to live with the electric pace of Sane and fellow winger Kingsley Coman, the duo tormenting the home side as Bayern ran riot at the Stadio Olimpico.
Leroy Sané’s game by numbers vs. Lazio:
100% take-ons completed (5/5)
8 touches in opp. box
2 chances created
2 fouls won
1 shot on target
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 23, 2021
Sane was in the right place at the right time to net Bayern’s third from a close-range rebound, before his raw pace and fleet footwork saw him escape the Lazio defence once more, drilling home a low cross that was turned into his own goal by Francesco Acerbi.
Left-wing: Kingsley Coman – Bayern Munich
The second of Bayern’s flying wingers to make our Champions League Team of the Week, the holder’s have an embarrassment of riches in wide areas and it was Coman and Sane who wreaked havoc in the Italian capital this week.
Coman drifted in and out of the game but burst into life in moments, including one scintillating show of speed in the build-up to Leroy Sane’s goal for Bayern, before playing his part in a counter-attacking fourth.
After scoring the winner in last season’s final, the France international looks set to play a key role in Bayern’s defence of the trophy as he looks to add yet more silverware to an incredible haul of major honours in his career to date.
Forward: Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich
If there’s one player in world football you don’t want to provide a sight of goal, it’s Robert Lewandowski.
Lazio gave themselves a mountain to climb after a sloppy back pass sent the Poland international through on goal, Lewandowski effortlessly rounding Pepe Reina to move up to third in the all-time list of Champions League scorers.
The 32-year-old’s sights of goal were restricted thereafter but he was too good for the Lazio backline, linking the play from the front as Bayern blitzed the Italians to secure a commanding first leg advantage.
It’s now 32 goals in just 31 appearances across all competitions for Lewandowski this season, who may just be the finest footballer on the planet right now.
Forward: Olivier Giroud – Chelsea
Olivier Giroud has been written off on more occasions than we care to count but continues to respond on each occasion, Thomas Tuchel the latest Chelsea manager who looks set to be won over by the French forward.
Giroud was handed a starting opportunity against Atletico Madrid and led the line in signature fashion, though earns his place in our side courtesy of a majestic piece of brilliance that handed Chelsea a 1-0 win against the La Liga leaders.
It was a goal of incredible athleticism and audacity and one that could prove decisive in securing Chelsea’s progress, Giroud a match-winner and now trails only Erling Haaland for Champions League goals this season.
Oh my, Olivier Giroud! 😍
He just loves scoring worldies, doesn't he!?
VAR initially ruled the goal out but it stands as Mario Hermoso was deemed to have deflected the ball onto the Frenchman 🙌 pic.twitter.com/CAweQ8SzAR
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 23, 2021
The 34-year-old has, somewhat incredibly, now scored six goals in just 229 minutes of Champions League action this season.
Read Also – Five all-time top Champions League goalscorers