Champions League action is finally returning to our television screens.
Club football’s most prestigious competition resumes from the last-16 phase on Tuesday evening, with Barcelona hosting Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool taking on RB Leipzig.
There’s going to be entertainment of the highest order over the next few months and to celebrate the return of the Champions League, we’ve had a go at picking the greatest XI in its history.
To make things slightly easier, only players to have featured since the competition’s rebrand in 1992 have been considered for selection – although it was still mighty tough.
Let’s take a look at our star-studded XI…
GK – Manuel Neuer
Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas both miss out in favour of Neuer. The German seems to always perform to a world-class standard on European nights and was one of the key men behind Bayern Munich’s triumph last season. He’s still at the peak of his powers as well, so there’s a lot more to come from Neuer.
RB – Dani Alves
Leaving out Philipp Lahm wasn’t an easy call to make, but Alves was just outrageously good in the Champions League at Barcelona, winning the competition three times. The Brazilian wasn’t bad at Juventus and PSG either, which is why he’ll always be revered as one of the finest right-backs of all time.
CB – Sergio Ramos
A leader of men. Ramos always delivers on the European stage, winning club football’s most coveted trophy on four occasions with Real Madrid. He’s also scored in two finals, including a last-gasp equaliser against Atletico Madrid in 2013/14.
CB – Paolo Maldini
Arguably the greatest defender of all time. Maldini won the Champions League on three occasions and was voted man-of-the-match in the 2002/03 final against Juventus. He’s also the oldest player ever to win the trophy, doing so at the age of 38 after Milan’s victory over Liverpool in 2007.
LB – Marcelo
A left-back with more attacking flair than most forwards and one who’s dropped countless masterclasses in the European theatre. No defender has recorded more assists in the Champions League than the Brazilian, with his haul of 24 just beating Alves’ tally of 23. Like Ramos, he’s also won the competition four times.
CM – Xavi Hernandez
A midfield maestro unlike any other. The Spaniard just never put a foot wrong at Barcelona, starring in both the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals against Manchester United. Xavi assisted his teammates on 30 occasions in the competition, the most by a central midfielder.
CM – Luka Modric
The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner makes our XI ahead of teammate Toni Kroos. Modric has been the ultimate big-game player for Real Madrid and there’s no way Los Blancos would have been as dominant in the Champions League over the past decade without the little Croatian genius in their side.
CM – Steven Gerrard
No Andres Iniesta? Controversial, we know. But Gerrard really did save his best for the Champions League. He single-handedly guided Liverpool to glory in 2005 and scored 30 goals in the competition, a quite remarkable total for a midfielder.
RW – Lionel Messi
It was never going to be anyone else, was it? Barcelona’s Argentine superstar has won the Champions League four times and is one of only two players to score over 100 goals in the competition (we all know the other), with 118 to his name at the time of writing.
ST – Karim Benzema
Another eyebrow-raising call here, given that Robert Lewandowski and Raul Gonzalez (both 71) have scored more Champions League goals than Benzema (69). However, the Frenchman’s all-round game – most notably his 27 assists – combined with his haul of four winner medals is why he leads the line in our XI.
LW – Cristiano Ronaldo
The greatest player in Champions League history and that’s not up for debate. Ronaldo has won the competition on five separate occasions, scoring the most goals (135) and providing the most assists (41) of any player. Need we say anymore?
The full XI
An XI full of legends. While we’ve made some bold calls, particularly with regards to Gerrard and Benzema, we feel the reasons provided justify our decisions to select them.
At the end of the day, football is all about opinion and that’s why we love it.