Building the Best XI Out of the Champions League Semi-FinalistsAugust 17, 2020
A truly helter-skelter week of UEFA Champions League quarter-final football whittled the list of contenders for the crown from eight to four.
Only Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Lyon remain in contention to lift the trophy, with each club standing just two games from glory.
We've attempted to build the best possible XI out of the remaining cast of players, picking on a combination of established ability and those who have delivered standout performances in the latter stages of the competition.
There is one caveat to keep it from getting boring: We limited selections to a maximum of three per club. That stopped it from being a rather cliched all-star team built on name power and meant we were able to get a little bit creative with who slotted in where.
GK: Anthony Lopes, Lyon
Lopes is both a good goalkeeper and a top entertainer; he has a habit of embellishing saves, shall we say, as he throws his body toward the ball in dramatic fashion.
He hasn't been too busy over the course of the knockout stages, as the defensive line of five in front of him has eliminated space and put in a big shift of blocks and tackles, but he's been solid when called upon, with his standout moments probably coming in the form of free-kick stops against Juventus and Manchester City.
With restrictions on players per club in picking this XI, and given the sheer amount of outfield quality to pick from within the ranks of Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in particular, Lopes is the most logical choice between the sticks.
RB: Konrad Laimer, RB Leipzig
Known as a box-to-box midfielder with N'Golo Kante-esque stamina, Laimer was deployed in a strange right-wing-back role for RB Leipzig against Atletico Madrid (when they had the ball), overlapping Marcel Sabitzer, popping up at the back post and teasing in crosses.
It's enough of an excuse to include him at right-back here—to be fair, Laimer is the type of central midfielder whose skills translate to full-back well—and sing his praises in what has been a sensational 2019-20 campaign for him.
Relentless energy, dynamism, excellent pressing and tactical intelligence are his calling cards. He's a perfect fit for Leipzig's highly flexible system.
CB: Dayot Upamecano, RB Leipzig
Upamecano came of age during Leipzig's 2-1 victory over Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals. His dominant performance at the back completely nullified Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata, catching the world's attention in the process.
He's a risk-taker of a centre-back, sticking tight to his man and often nipping forward to intercept or clear, and he is that way because he knows he has remarkable recovery speed, backing himself to get back and clear the second time if he misses the first.
Against Atletico there were no second times; he dealt with every cross, through ball and set piece masterfully, preventing Diego Simeone's men from ever looking a true, threat on goal.
Upamecano put in a similar performance against Bayern Munich in February, playing a huge role in holding them to a 0-0 draw. That's the only game in 2020 Bayern haven't won.
This kid loves a big occasion and will no doubt go on to be one of the world's best in his position.
CB: Marquinhos, Paris Saint-Germain
We've seen Marquinhos in central midfield more often than in central defence this season, but at heart he's still a centre-back and fits snugly into our XI there.
He has slowly developed into one of the finest defensive-minded players in the world, boasting the tactical acumen to lead the line, the physical range to cope with any opponent and the comfort in possession to step into midfield on a permanent basis if required.
At 26, he is entering prime age for his position, and he's knocking on the door of the elite tier of defenders.
LB: Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich
Davies' spectacular rise and incredible talent are no longer a secret to anyone. What he did to Barcelona in the quarter-finals broke the internet, ensuring even the most casual fan knew his name.
It's been a transformative year for the Canadian, who began the 2019-20 campaign as a reserve winger. By October he had been thrust into action as an emergency left-back, and by February he looked like one of the world's best in that position.
For the past two years, the debate of "who is the world's best left-back?" has thrown up two names: Andy Robertson and Jordi Alba. But last week we may have watched Davies supplant Alba in the pecking order.
The speed, the dribbling, the attacking instincts combined with a ridiculous ability to recover—no one has found an answer for it yet.
CM: Marcel Sabitzer, RB Leipzig
There isn't much Sabitzer can't do.
The 2019-20 season has marked him out as one of the most versatile players in the game, capable of playing any midfield position or tactical role, offering discipline, work rate and overwhelming quality wherever he's deployed.
You'll remember the incredible goal he scored against Zenit Saint Petersburg in the group stage, a swerving outside-of-the-boot volley, and that was one of 16 goals in all competitions. Added to that are 11 assists, the latest of which was a pinpoint cross for Dani Olmo's opening goal in the quarter-final.
His production levels this term have been superb, but crucially, they go hand in hand with immense tactical understanding and game management.
CM: Houssem Aouar, Lyon
Perhaps Lyon's standout player against Juventus and Manchester City, Aouar is enchanting the world with his blend of silky ball-carrying and tenacious defending.
Lyon manager Rudi Garcia instructs a cautious game plan for his central-midfield three, which Aouar operates on the left of, asking them to stay close to the defensive line and work hard to pressure and recover the ball.
Once they win it, Aouar is the one with licence to dribble, dazzle and roam; he can slalom out of danger with the ball and pick a pass, and he's quick to push up and support his strikers when they need a midfield runner.
Goal, among others, reported earlier this summer that he might be available for €50 million. His exploits in the round of 16 and quarter-finals should have pushed that price up—else he's an absolute bargain in waiting.
RW: Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich
A man reborn this season, Muller has hit levels even the 2014 version of himself would be greatly impressed by.
His 14 goals and 26 assists this term speak to how effective he's been for Bayern, who themselves have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence under the influence of Hansi Flick.
In a way, he's back to his old self: able to float around and pick out spaces to manipulate, moving with the flow of the game and striking at the right time.
His on-pitch relationship with Robert Lewandowski has developed into something special; he assisted the Polish striker a league-high eight times in the Bundesliga in 2019-20, per WhoScored.com, and their one-two play against Barcelona took apart the defence.
AM: Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain
When Neymar's focus is narrowed, his eyes on the prize, there's very little you can do to stop him—Atalanta found that out the hard way last week.
He completed a ridiculous 16 dribbles in that game, per WhoScored.com, tying Lionel Messi's single-game record in the Champions League, as he tore through the Italians' defence time and time again.
It's the first time in years that he's been fit and available to take part at this stage of the competition, and he lifts PSG to a totally different level when he's present.
His finishing touch was off against Atalanta, but he laid the foundations for the win, putting the team on his back until Kylian Mbappe came on and then creating the two goalscoring scenarios that saw them qualify for the semi-finals.
His manic celebrations at the final whistle conveyed what this means to him more than any words can.
LW: Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Mbappe recovered from an ankle injury to give PSG 30 minutes against Atalanta, and those 30 minutes changed the face of the game. If ever you need a reminder of just how good the elite players are, watch their teams toil without them for a spell!
The France international's speed, directness and great timing of runs ripped apart Atalanta's right side. He drove Hans Hateboer back and breached the space behind him constantly, giving Neymar a pass to aim for and supplying the game-winning assist late on.
We've reached the stage where Mbappe is a top-five player in football, a true game-changer and game-plan-wrecker, the type of player it takes two or more men to stop. That PSG have two of those types is the reason they're a true contender for the crown.
ST: Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
This is the best Lewandowski has ever been.
He's always been a complete forward, and since 2012 he's been near or at the top of the game, but the 2020 version of him is a level above even that.
His cute finish against Barcelona in the quarter-finals was his 54th goal of the season in all competitions, and his lay-off for Muller's opener was his ninth assist. He is the epicentre of football's most dangerous, fluid attack; his sharp-shooting has hit new levels of dangerous.
In recent weeks there have been cries that the cancellation of the 2020 Ballon d'Or has robbed Lewandowski of what would be his first-ever win of that trophy. Given the evidence we have to date, it's hard to disagree with that sentiment.
He was the only choice to lead our XI's line and the perfect note to end on.
All statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk, unless noted otherwise.