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Goal.com’s UCL group stage XI: Messi, Neymar included

Goal.com’s UCL group stage XI: Messi, Neymar included
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The former Barcelona team-mates were among the stars of this opening phase, while there is a surprise inclusion between the posts, but Juventus star man Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to make the cut for his below par performances so far in the competition.

Evan Horvath | Club Brugge

While the likes of Alisson and Iker Casillas have a strong claim to be named the group stage’s best keeper, for sheer impact Brugge’s young US international stole the show.

Horvath, 23, sat out his team’s first three fixtures, which yielded just a single point and five goals conceded.

Once in the starting line-up, however, he kept three consecutive clean sheets as the Belgians picked up a further five points, keeping out Monaco, Dortmund and Atletico, and steering his side to a shock Europa League berth in one of the competition’s most fearsome groups on paper.

Joshua Kimmich | Bayern Munich

At just 23, Kimmich has become an indispensable part of the Bayern set-up, and after playing across the pitch for the Bundesliga giants now looks to be a permanent fixture on the right side of defence.

It was there that he stood out during this group stage, contributing two assists for Bayern as they streaked to last-16 qualification with ease.

Matija Nastasic | Schalke

The former Manchester City defender has been in formidable form throughout the group stage, marshalling Schalke’s defence and securing a place in the next round.

Under Nastasic’s fearsome vigil the Bundesliga side conceded just four goals in their six Group D outings, a record that ensured progression despite a decidedly mean six strikes in favour.

Aymeric Laporte | Manchester City

Signed from Athletic in January, Laporte is now a cornerstone of City’s defence, and seems to grow with every game he plays.

The France Under-21 international was ever-present for Pep Guardiola’s side in the first round, as they qualified at the head of their pool after conceding just six goals.

Jordi Alba | Barcelona

While there were other contenders for this spot, it is simply impossible to overlook Barcelona’s roving dynamo down the left flank.

With three assists, Alba led his team in providing goals during the group stage, missing only the final clash against Tottenham as Ernesto Valverde rotated his line-up.

Axel Witsel | Borussia Dortmund

The Belgium international’s transformation from former prospect chasing the money in China to lynchpin of a fantastic Dortmund side has been one of the stories of the current European season.

Witsel anchored the midfield throughout his side’s Group A campaign and helped them through to the last 16 with the meanest defensive record in the entire competition, surpassing even notoriously mean first round rivals Atletico by conceding a mere two goals.

Miralem Pjanic | Juventus

If the Bosnia international is not the best deep-lying midfielder currently active in world football, he must be extremely close to taking that honour.

Pjanic started Juventus’ first five Champions League games, coming off the bench against Young Boys too on the final day when the Italians slipped behind without his towering presence on the field.

He also chipped in with two goals, outscoring even Champions League specialist Cristiano Ronaldo in the group stage.

Kylian Mbappe | PSG

He may still be a few days shy of his 20th birthday, but Kylian Mbappe is already an old hand at this Champions League lark.

The PSG forward racked up three goals and four assists to see his team clear of Liverpool and Napoli in this year’s group of death, adding to his own remarkable record in the competition.

With 13 goals already in the Champions League, if Mbappe can carry on at this rate he may one day challenge even the seemingly unbeatable marks being set by Messi and Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi | Barcelona

Such is Messi’s ability that he barely needed to play half of Barcelona’s group campaign to confirm his status as a truly special player.

The Argentine’s six Group B goals came in less than 300 minutes on the pitch, and included a memorable hat-trick to put PSV to the sword.

If Leo can keep up that kind of form in the last 16 and beyond, the Catalans have a real chance of regaining the title they last lifted in 2015.

Neymar | PSG

Like current and former team-mates Mbappe and Messi, PSG’s Brazilian star appears to be made for the Champions League.

A five-goal haul in this group stage brings him to 32 in total in the competition, a record for a Brazilian player. He also added two assists for good measure.

Robert Lewandowski | Bayern Munich

While the Bavarians have been far from convincing so far in 2018-19, Lewandowski still knows the way to goal – particularly in the Champions League.

With eight strikes the Poland international led the scoring charts in the group stage, outstripping even Messi and leading his struggling side into the next round.

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newton

A journalist by profession. Did journalism at Malawi Institute of Journalism. Currently working at Malawi Sports as an online sports journalist.