Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool heroes light up Champions League quarterfinals
With the quarterfinals at the half way stage, Nick Ames picks the best Champions League XI with Liverpool well-represented following their massive win over Manchester City.
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Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Would Cristiano Ronaldo have had the chance to steal the show if Navas had not saved brilliantly from Gonzalo Higuain with Real leading 1-0 in Turin? Would the Serie A leaders have gone on to give themselves a genuine chance in the tie? Nobody knows for certain but Navas's 23rd minute intervention, repelling the striker's volley from point blank range, was as gamechanging a moment as any that followed it -- and showed again that the Costa Rican is one of the best shot stoppers around.
Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Alexander-Arnold had been targeted, with some success, by Crystal Palace in Liverpool's most recent Premier League fixture and when Leroy Sane experienced some early joy at Anfield there was concern that the 19-year-old could be exposed on the biggest night of his career. Not a bit of it. What followed was a performance of remarkable maturity and also high energy, eventually winning his battle with Sane and making an impact in the opposition half too. Nobody doubts the local lad's credentials now.
Centre-back: Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
Pique has scored some important goals in his time and although he could hardly miss when Alisson parried Luis Suarez's effort into his path, his contribution against Roma was another. It put Barcelona three goals ahead and although Edin Dzeko would grab the Italians a lifeline, Suarez restored the margin later to provide a cushion that should be enough for the Catalan club.
Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Van Dijk has quickly become a dominant figure in Liverpool's backline and made the point again on Wednesday night. Gabriel Jesus was afforded no encouragement all evening, while the Dutchman's composure in possession was also important on an occasion that called for cool heads amid a tumultuous atmosphere. He led a much-criticised defence that did not put a foot wrong against previously free-scoring opponents.
Left-back: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
It sounds faintly ridiculous to call Marcelo an unsung hero, but the number of crucial contributions he makes for Real Madrid flies under the radar at times due to the heroics of more exalted names. His latest was, eventually, a simple finish but came after a trademark marauding run from the left and successive one-twos with Isco and Ronaldo. That put Real 3-0 up; much earlier on in the game it had been Marcelo, providing the pass from which Isco set up Ronaldo's first goal, who helped start the rout.
Central midfield: James Milner (Liverpool)
What a performance this was from Milner against his old club, blending energy with knowhow to help Liverpool overwhelm City and deny them any kind of space or momentum in midfield. The 32-year-old covered every blade of grass and his work could be summed up perfectly by the dispossession of Ilkay Gundogan that led to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal: his crunching tackle started the move and it was the highlight of a snappy, relentless performance that also packed a meaningful punch.
Central midfield: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool)
Watching Oxlade-Chamberlain in this kind of form you wonder how anybody can ever have doubted him. His sizzling 25-yard shot put Liverpool two up against City and proved that he is, at last, becoming a player who can wield a huge influence on the biggest stage. A wider performance full of energy, intent and intelligence underlined the point and suggested Liverpool may, indeed, have got themselves a good deal in signing him from Arsenal for £35m.
Attacking midfield: Isco (Real Madrid)
So influential during the latter stages of last season's glorious Champions League run, Isco was back to torment Juventus once more on Tuesday night. He did not misplace a single one of 57 attempted passes, and crossed from the left for Ronaldo to open the scoring early on. At times the ball seemed glued to his feet: his touch was spot-on throughout a night when Real looked every inch European champions yet again.
Left forward: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
Bayern did not sparkle against Sevilla and were fortunate not to be behind already when Pablo Sarabria struck the La Liga side's opener. But they turned things around and the inspiration was provided by Ribery, who turns 35 on Saturday but still probes with the zest of someone far younger. His cross was inadvertently turned home by Jesus Navas and then another delivery, from which Thiago Alcantara scored a deflected header, picked the home defence's lock again.
Centre-forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The clamour to frame Ronaldo's overhead kick against Juventus in relation to the all-time great goals is unnecessary. It is far better simply to appreciate it for what it was: a feat of athleticism, precision and timing that few players, even on this stage, would dare to produce. Ronaldo had already set Real on their way to what is surely a decisive victory with a close-range finish but nobody who saw it will forget the second-half intervention that put the tie further beyond Juve.
Right forward: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Salah has now scored 42 goals for club and country this season, but his opener against City may yet prove the most important even if it was far from the most spectacular. He went on to provide the cross from which Sadio Mane headed Liverpool's third; his match lasted only 52 minutes due to a groin complaint but Salah needs far less than a full game to make a decisive impact. City will be keeping their fingers crossed that his recovery takes at least a week.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.