Chelsea got their name on the European Cup for the first time on Saturday night, beating Bayern Munich on penalties to bring the curtain down on another dramatic Champions League season.
2011/12 has truly been the year of the underdog, from Basle knocking Manchester United out at the group stage to the two finalists stunning Spanish giants in the semi-final.
Throw APOEL Nicosia’s dream run to the quarter-finals in the mix, and it really has been a competition to remember. Now it’s all over, GMF picks the ultimate XI from the 32 teams that took park.
Don’t agree with some of the selections? Don’t forget to have your say at the end of the article…
Petr Cech – Chelsea
The Chelsea stopper played every minute of all 13 matches en-route to the final, keeping five clean sheets along the way and conceding just 12 goals.
Amidst the turmoil in Napoli, Cech kept his side in the game with a number of second-half saves, and was again impressive in the quarter-final clashes home and away against Benfica.
His very best came against Barcelona in the semi-final though, with fortune favouring the Czech international in the first leg before a string of stunning stops at the Nou Camp to deny the Catalan giants on a famous night for the Blues.
In the final, Cech pushed Arjen Robben’s first-half effort onto the post, save his extra-time penalty and then two more in the shoot-out. A pivotal player in the famous victory.
Phillip Lahm – Bayern Munich
The Bayern Munich skipper will still be reeling after his side somehow managed to blow their chance of lifting the trophy against Chelsea at the Allianz Arena.
Lahm was consistency personified throughout the competition, playing every minute of every match he started, missing just one group game against Manchester City through injury.
Helping his side keep five clean sheets – including two in Group A matches – played a crucial one in the Bavarian side’s progression to the final, and Lahm once again built on his ever-growing reputation.
Carles Puyol – Barcelona
The veteran Spanish defender once again proved his worth throughout the campaign for the Catalan giants, providing consistently high levels of performance at the heart of the defence for Pep Guardiola.
Appearing nine times for Barca – including four matches in the group stages – the 34-year-old continues to define the ageing process, although will miss Euro 2012 this summer through injury.
Helping his side to three clean sheets, Puyol will be hoping for another crack at the competition next year.
Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid
A vital cog in the Madrid defence, Ramos feature 11 times in this season’s competition, missing just on group match after qualification was assured.
The 26-year-old helped his side to four clean sheets in the group stage, as well as another against APOEL in the quarter-finals, and scored against Lyon on the way to a perfect record in Group D.
Utilised at either right-back or centre-back by ‘the special one’, Ramos will look to add the Champions League to his CV when Madrid take another crack at the trophy next season.
Ashley Cole – Chelsea
Always so consistent, Cole was the class act throughout this campaign for Chelsea, producing tackles, blocks and goal-line clearances on a regular basis when the Blues’ backs were against the wall.
He missed just one of his side’s 13 games on the way to the final – a 2-1 defeat in Leverkusen – and played every minute from the quarter-final to the shoot-out at the Allianz Arena.
His spot kick in the final was coolness personified, and the 31-year-old’s position as the best left back in the world shows no sign of going somewhere else.
Gustavo Manduca – APOEL Nicosia
The surprise package from Cyprus went through two qualifying rounds and a play-off to reach the group stages, and didn’t stop there by topping Group G ahead of Zenit St. Petersburg.
Manduca scored twice on the way to reaching the competition proper, and repeated the trick on the big stage with an equaliser in the 2-1 win over Zenit and 90th minute winner against Porto.
In the first knockout round, Manduca scored the only goal in the second leg against Lyon before being sent off, sending the tie to penalties. APOEL would win to meet Real Madrid in the last eight.
And, having missed the first leg at home through suspension, the Brazilian notched at the Santiago Bernabeu to bring an end to an astonishing year of competition.
Nicolas Gaitan – Benfica
One of European football’s hottest properties, Gaitan was at the top of the assist charts with five for Benfica, helping the Portuguese outfit during their run to the quarter-finals.
Crucial to making SLB tick, the 24-year-old was instrumental in the club’s journey from the qualifying rounds to the top of Group C, knocking Manchester United out of the competition in the process.
Zenit were also bypassed in the last 16, before a disappointing end at Stamford Bridge in the last eight.
Kaka – Real Madrid
Used sparingly in the group stages, Kaka showed his class every time he played, and was tied with Gaitan at the top of the assist charts when the competition ended with five.
A goal and assist at home to Ajax helped kick things off personally for the Brazilian in Group D, with another assist against the Godenzonen coming at the Amsterdam Arena in a 3-0 win.
After helping his side navigate past CSKA Moscow in the last 16, he struck twice against APOEL Nicosia – notching in both legs – to help Los Blancos into the semi-final. However, he wasn’t able to swing things Madrid’s way after coming off the bench against Munich in the semi-final.
Lionel Messi – Barcelona
The Argentine playmaker was sensational throughout the competition, scoring a quite staggering 14 goals in 11 games – although a penalty miss against Chelsea in the semi-final will haunt the 24-year-old for the next year.
Six goals in the group stage, including a hat-trick against Viktoria Plzen, propelled La Liga runners-up to the top of Group H, and Messi struck six times in the last 16 over two legs against Leverkusen.
A brace against AC Milan in the second leg at the Nou Camp sent Barca into the semi-final, but it wasn’t to be against Chelsea as they rode their luck to the final.
Mario Gomez – Bayern Munich
The Bayern Munich hitman wasn’t on top form in Saturday night’s final, but scored 12 goals in 12 games to cement his place as one of Europe’s top marksmen.
Six goals in five of his side’s Group A games ensured top spot, with a brace against Manchester City and hat-trick against Napoli the major highlights. Gomez then struck four against Basle in the second leg of their last 16 encounter.
Another goal in the 4-0 aggregate win over Marseille sent Bayern into the last four, and he struck again at home against Real Madrid in the first leg of their encounter. A great campaign despite the disappointing finish.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
10 goals in 10 games was a great return for the Portuguese attacker, who missed two group games after qualification was assured for Jose Mourinho’s side.
Goals against Ajax and Lyon (2) helped navigate Madrid into the knockout stages, and three strikes against CSKA Moscow – one away and two at home – ensured a 5-2 aggregate win.
Another brace in the second leg of the match against APOEL Nicosia ensured a last four encounter against Munich, but his double in the semi-final second leg couldn’t prevent an exit on penalties.