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Champions League Team of the Week – Semi-final second legs

Liverpool will take on Real Madrid in the 2022 Champions League final following two semi-final clashes full of drama.

Liverpool overcame an early wobble to come from behind and win at Villarreal, having seen the Spanish side wipe out their two-goal first leg advantage during a shaky opening period at El Madrigal.

The following evening saw Real Madrid produce a classic Champions League comeback, scoring twice in the final seconds to send their tie with Manchester City into extra-time. Momentum with Madrid, Karim Benzema’s penalty in the added period set up a rematch of the 2018 final in Paris.

 

Here is our Champions League Team of the Week.

Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois – Real Madrid

Courtois made a string of saves as he found himself the far busier of the goalkeepers at the Bernabeu, producing a man of the match performance as Real Madrid reached the final.

The Belgium international has been a vital part of the club’s run to the showpiece and was excellent again in their semi-final second leg. He made a fine save from Phil Foden and got the slightest touch to Jack Grealish’s late effort with the score at 1-0 to the visitors.

Courtois ended the game with eight saves and in a clash of fine margins reemphasised his status as one of the world’s best goalkeepers.

Right-back: Kyle Walker – Manchester City

Walker’s importance to this side can not be overstated and it was abundantly clear at the Bernabeu, as the England international was rushed back for his side’s clash with Real Madrid.

The right-back’s recovery speed and athleticism helped deal with the threat of Vinicius Junior and he battled bravely despite visibly appearing short of full fitness.

He struggled as the game progressed before being forced off and Pep Guardiola will hope his gamble has not backfired. Another prolonged period on the sidelines for Walker will be a major blow to City’s Premier League title challenge.

Centre-back: Nacho – Real Madrid

In for the injured David Alaba, Nacho failed to put a foot wrong in a commanding performance at centre-back.

The Spaniard has been an unsung component of Real Madrid’s trophy-winning squads of the modern era and a willing contributor whether stationed centrally or at full-back.

Against City he produced a masterclass in one-vs-one defending and covering centre-back play, making eight ball recoveries, four interceptions and five clearances, whilst producing a game-leading 97% pass accuracy.

The 32-year-old now just one game away from a fifth Champions League winners’ medal.

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool

A game of two halves for Liverpool and their towering Dutch defender, who was rattled during the opening exchanges as Villarreal threatened to turn the tie around.

Liverpool were two goals down at the break and their defending left much to be desired, though Van Dijk led a second-half turnaround as the Reds came from behind to win 3-2.

The Netherlands captain won more aerial duels (6) and made more successful long balls (6) than any other teammate as Liverpool reached a third Champions League final in just five seasons.

Left-back: Ferland Mendy – Real Madrid

Full of running and desire as he looked to contain the threat of Riyad Mahrez, the left-back had a major influence on this semi-final with two assists at the Etihad and a miraculous goal-line clearance in the return.

The Frenchman’s brilliant block to keep out Jack Grealish ensured Real Madrid remained alive in the tie and provided the foundation for the Spanish side’s stunning comeback.

Midfield: Eduardo Camavinga – Real Madrid

Excellent, again. The teenager’s introduction off the bench helped turn the game in Real Madrid’s favour.

His defensive tenacity lessened Bernardo Silva’s impact on the midfield and the maturity in his positioning and ball-carrying defied a 19-year-old still in his debut season at the Bernabeu.

Arguably his side’s best performer, Camavinga is set for a huge career at Real Madrid and is a player already pushing the club’s established midfield for an automatic place in Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

His calm and composure under pressure has been a huge influence on Real Madrid’s captivating run to the final.

Midfield: Federico Valverde – Real Madrid

He just runs, and runs, and runs.

Another underrated presence of this Real Madrid side, the tireless work of Federico Valverde is crucial to the Spaniards at both ends of the pitch.

The Uruguayan international started on the right before moving into a central role and ensured his full-backs were rarely isolated, his all-action industry much-needed in games of this magnitude.

There are flashier footballers in Real Madrid’s ranks, but few with his relentless work-rate.

Midfield: Bernardo Silva – Manchester City

Unfortunate to find himself on the losing side after being among Manchester City’s best performers, Bernardo Silva had control of the midfield battle for much of the contest at the Bernabeu.

His subtle touches and industrious running were central to Pep Guardiola’s side, who rarely begin a big game without Bernardo in the engine room.

The Portugal international’s driving run set up what looked to be the winning goal for Riyad Mahrez, before Real staged a stunning fightback.

Right-wing: Rodrygo – Real Madrid

Just as he did in the quarter-finals against Chelsea, Rodrygo came off the bench to keep alive Real Madrid’s Champions League dream.

Rodrygo’s rescue act was something special as he scored two goals after the 90th minute to force extra time at the Bernabeu, getting across Ederson to turn in Karim Benzema’s cross, before rising magnificently to head home a second just moments later.

The 21-year-old has now scored six goals in his last six games and if Real Madrid with a record-extending 14th Champions League crown later this month, his name will be etched into the club’s storied history in European competition.

Left-wing: Luis Diaz – Liverpool

What an impact, what a signing.

Luis Diaz came off the bench at half-time with Liverpool shaken and stunned at Villarreal, his impact almost immediate as the Reds came out a team transformed.

Direct, dangerous and dynamic, he completed more take-ons and had more shots than any other player despite his half-time arrival.

Diaz scored Liverpool’s second of the evening to equalise at El Madrigal, after his introduction had helped turn the tide. The Reds’ decision to move early for the Colombian in January could yet prove the catalyst behind a record-breaking season.

Forward: Karim Benzema – Real Madrid

Virtually anonymous until the closing stages, it had looked like being an off night for Real Madrid’s talisman as he struggled to get into the game and wasted the little opportunities that came his way.

As the clock ticked towards full-time he peeled off and found space to set up Rodygo’s first goal, before winning – and cooly converting – a penalty for the winning goal in extra-time.

He might have been far from his best at the Bernabeu, but Benzema needs only fleeting moments to decide games at the very highest level and a fifth Champions League crown is within reach for the free-scoring Frenchman.

It’s now 43 goals for the season for Benzema, with 10 coming in the Champions League’s knockout stages alone.

Read – Five brilliant footballers we hope move to the Premier League this summer

Read Also – Remembering the eight English players to score in a Champions League semi-final

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