Picking the UEFA Champions League Best XI So Far
With all of the domestic leagues across Europe resuming play in the past few weeks, we can now officially get excited for the resumption of the UEFA Champions League in February.
Before we begin to look ahead to the great matchups that the Round of 16 draw has given us, it is time to take one more look back at the group stage.
Out of all the spectacular performances from the group stage, only 11 players made the best squad from group play.
The starting 11 was chosen to play in a traditional 4-4-2 formation that is used by most clubs.
GK: Fraser Forster
No club had a more miraculous group stage than Scottish champions Celtic.
The highlight of their group stage campaign came when they defeated Barcelona at Hampden Park on November 7.
One major contributor to the Celtic cause was goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
In the win over Barcelona, Forster recorded seven saves, which was one short of his competition-high eight that came in the first meeting with Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Forster only recorded one clean sheet in six matches, but his consistent play in goal helped lead the Scottish champions into the knockout round.
RB: Philipp Lahm
Club: Bayern Munich
One of the best clubs during the group stage was Bayern Munich, and one of their best players was right-back Philipp Lahm.
Lahm's best performance came against Lille on November 7 when the club captain contributed three assists.
The 29-year-old has been one of the best right-backs in the world over the past few seasons, and he is once again showing us his excellent talents this season.
Lahm, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, is one of the leaders on the depth chart that is full of players out to avenge last season's loss in the Champions League final.
CB: Thiago Silva
Club: Paris St-Germain
The best defense of the group stage belonged to Ligue 1's big spenders, Paris St.-Germain.
The best defender for PSG was Thiago Silva, who joined the club over the summer from AC Milan.
Not only did Silva lead the back four of the Parisians by conceding just three goals in six matches, he contributed on the offensive end as well.
Silva scored twice for the Ligue 1 powerhouse during group play, once against Dynamo Kiev and once against FC Porto.
Club: Paris St.-Germain
It is hard not to include both of the centre-backs from PSG on this list.
While Silva gets plenty of the attention for his talents, Alex deserves the same amount of accolades for his strong play in the group stage.
The 30-year-old former Chelsea player only played in five matches for the Parisians, but he had the same impact that Silva did in the back four.
Alex also contributed two goals to the PSG cause, one against Dinamo Zagreb with the other one coming against Dynamo Kiev.
LB: Christian Fuchs
Christian Fuchs may not get a ton of attention for his performances during Schalke's Group B campaign, but he is certainly worthy of praise.
Fuchs played in five matches for the Gelsenkirchen-based club and was a part of a back four that produced two clean sheets.
The 26-year-old Austrian also notched a goal in his club's 1-0 win over Olympiakos.
Fuchs and his Schalke teammates will face a big challenge in the Round of 16 that comes in the form of Galatasaray.
Thirty-three-year-old Braga midfielder Alan burst onto the European stage in the first two matches of the Champions League when he scored three goals.
Alan stole the spotlight during the second match of group play when he scored two goals within 18 minutes to give his club an early two-goal lead over Manchester United.
Unfortunately for Alan and his teammates, they fell victim to a three-goal comeback and could not recover from their loss on Matchday 2 and finished in last place in Group H.
Alan went on to score two more goals in group play before Braga were eliminated from European competition.
Club: Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk were one of the biggest surprises during group play, and Fernandinho was their best player.
Despite having attacking talents like Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the starting 11, it was the 27-year-old Brazilian who came away as the best player in the squad.
Fernandinho not only helped shut down the powerful midfields of Chelsea and Juventus, he was also a powerful force in the Ukrainian champions' attack.
To complement his strong defensive play, Fernandinho scored the winning goal against Chelsea in the biggest win of Shakhtar's European campaign.
CM: Arturo Vidal
One of the best midfield combinations of the Champions League group stage came from Italian champions Juventus.
Arturo Vidal partnered with Andrea Pirlo to form a formidable duo in Group E play.
Vidal barely beats out Pirlo for a spot in the best 11 due to his outstanding offensive contributions.
The 25-year-old Chilean scored three goals and provided one assist in six matches in his club's conquest of Group E.
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo
Club: Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo earned the title of leading scorer in the Champions League with his six goals for Real Madrid in Group D.
Ronaldo's greatest Group D output came back on October 3 when he punished Ajax with a hat-trick.
The Portuguese winger also scored in three other matches to propel Los Blancos into second place in the Group of Death.
In the Round of 16, Ronaldo will return to Old Trafford to play Manchester United, the club at which he developed into a superstar.
FW: Burak Yilmaz
Burak Yilmaz single-handedly brought his club from the bottom of the Group H table to a spot in the final 16.
In his club's final three Champions League matches, Yilmaz netted five goals, including a hat-trick against Cluj on November 7 to start the Turkish club's three-match winning streak.
The crowning achievement for Yilmaz and his Galatasaray teammates came on November 20 when they upset Manchester United at home.
Of the seven goals scored by the Turkish champions, Yilmaz netted six of them and earned a tie with Cristiano Ronaldo for the leading scorer title in the competition.
Expect the goal output of Yilmaz to continue in the Round of 16 after Galatasaray added Wesley Sneijder to their already-potent attack this past weekend.
FW: Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi's spectacular 2012 included plenty of memorable moments in his six Champions League matches.
The most memorable image of Messi came in the final group match against Benfica when he had to be taken off of the pitch due to an injury.
Messi's injury scare became a distant memory when it was revealed that he just suffered a knock, and he returned to the Barcelona lineup four days later.
In his other five Group G matches, Messi scored five goals for the Catalan giants.
Messi's two best performances came in his two matches against Spartak Moscow where he scored two goals in each match against the bottom feeders of Group G.
Because there were so many excellent performers throughout the group stage, a bench of seven players is required to add to the starting 11.
GK: Salvatore Sirigu, PSG
DEF: Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund
MID: Isco, Malaga
MID: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Shakhtar Donetsk
MID: Oscar, Chelsea
MID: Andrea Pirlo, Juventus
FW: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Schalke
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