The Champions League may be over for 2021, but don’t worry, it will make its return in February when the knockout stages get underway.
As we look back on an action-packed 12 months in Europe’s elite club competition, who stood out across the calendar year?
GIVEMESPORT’s Sam Brookes has put together a Champions League best XI for 2021, and here it is…
Goalkeeper: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea)
The Senegal international has featured in 12 Champions League matches this year, and has only been beaten on three occasions. That is nothing short of remarkable.
He was at his very best in the latter stages of last season’s tournament, pulling off a couple of fine saves to deny Karim Benzema in the semi-final against Real Madrid, and he then produced a rock-solid display in the 1-0 win over Manchester City in the final.
The 29-year-old has continued to flourish this term, helping Chelsea cruise through to the last 16.
Right-back: Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
There is a wealth of talent at right back across Europe, and in particular in the Premier League. However, it is Walker who gets the nod on this occasion.
While he may not offer as much as the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James going forwards, Walker has been a reliable defender for Pep Guardiola’s side in 2021, and can even drop inside to play as a part of a back three from time to time.
In a team full of stars, the experienced international is still one of the first names on the teamsheet at the Etihad.
Centre-back: Marquinhos (PSG)
Marquinhos seems to have been around forever, but he is still only 27. It is not easy being a defender for PSG, with some players only appearing to be interested when the side have possession, so Marquinhos certainly has his work cut out.
He has captained the team well, though, and held things together at the back. The Brazilian has also chipped in with three goals in the competition in 2021, which included scoring against Bayern Munich and Manchester City last season.
Centre-back: Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)
There would have been long odds on Rudiger making this team at the start of the year. He was rarely used by Frank Lampard at the start of last season, yet he has become a crucial member of Chelsea’s team under Thomas Tuchel.
The side’s Champions League triumph back in May was built off the back of a strong defence, and they have continued in a similar vein this season. It is now hard to imagine Chelsea’s starting XI without Rudiger in it.
Left-back: Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
There is an argument that Joao Cancelo deserves this role, but the Portuguese defender did actually lose his position in City’s team to Oleksandr Zinchenko at the end of last season.
Therefore, he is pipped to the left-back position by Davies, who is well on his way to becoming a star at such a young age.
He registered two assists in this season’s group stage, as Bayern swatted aside the likes of Barcelona and Benfica.
Defensive midfielder: Jorginho (Chelsea)
Jorginho has finally won fans over this year. He has often had his doubters, particularly when he first arrived in England, but he has shown his true class in 2021.
Playing in Tuchel’s favoured 3-4-3 formation, he has become a crucial cog in Chelsea’s winning machine, and this led to him finishing third in the Ballon d’Or vote at the end of last month.
Defensive midfielder: N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
Shall we go with an all-Chelsea midfield pivot? I suppose we have to.
Kante has actually only played two games in the Champions League in 2021/22 so far due to injuries, but his performances in last season’s competition simply cannot be ignored.
He was the best player on the pitch for the Blues in both semi-final legs against Real Madrid, and then was even more majestic in the final. The ultimate big-game player who adds so much to the side when he is fit.
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Attacking midfielder: Lionel Messi (PSG)
He simply couldn’t be left out, could he?
Messi scored for Barcelona in both games against PSG last season, before joining the Ligue 1 giants over the summer.
He has found the net on five occasions in as many games for Mauricio Pochettino’s men in the Champions League, and if they are going to be get past Real Madrid in the last 16, he will have to be at his very best.
Right wing: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
Mahrez has not been a guaranteed starter for City in the league this term, yet Guardiola seems to like playing him in the Champions League and it has paid off this year.
He was directly involved in six goals after the turn of the year last season, and he has already netted five times in 2021/22, including bagging a brace against Club Brugge in October.
Left wing: Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
A young talent who is only going from strength to strength.
He scored twice against Liverpool in April, causing the Reds all kinds of problems, and he has been on fire in the Champions League this season as well.
In the group stages, he scored twice and provided four assists as Real Madrid finished in top spot to seal their place in the knockout rounds.
Striker: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Lewandowski missed the quarter-final against PSG in 2020/21 with an injury, and this proved to be a massive blow for Bayern who bowed out of the tournament.
He did scored in both legs of the last 16 clash against Lazio, though, and he has returned this season to cement himself as the best striker on the planet.
The 33-year-old scored nine goals in the group stages as Bayern won all six of their matches to put down a marker to the rest of competition contenders heading into 2022.
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