The Champions League round of 16 is in the books. It was the highest-scoring edition of that round we’ve seen, which is to say that the stars came out to play. These are the players that shined the brightest in the round, helping propel their respective teams to the Champions League quarterfinals.
How can a best XI not feature the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? Read on to find out.
GK: Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City
Are there bigger names that played in the round of 16? Of course. Did any play a more pivotal role than Schmeichel did for Leicester City? Unlikely. The 30-year-old came up huge for the Foxes when they needed him most. He saved a penalty in each leg and singlehandedly kept them in the tie in the first leg. When the second leg rolled around he made five saves as Leicester rallied to advance. It was heroic.
DEF: Alex Sandro, Juventus
Sandro showed zero mercy against his former club in the round of 16. The fullback was ruthless for Juventus, showing the requisite balance needed to both attack and defend from the position. He was superb on the ball and intelligent in possession, picking up an assist in the first leg. He kept his flank clean and put together a very solid round of 16 performance.
Sandro’s goal-scoring counterpart, Dani Alves, was also a shout for this team.
DEF: Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid
Ramos had a forgettable first leg (by his standards) against Napoli, but he roared back with a vengeance in the second leg. With their first-leg 3-1 lead cut to 3-2 and Napoli on the front foot in the second leg, Real Madrid needed an answer. Ramos did with a trademark header in the second half, giving Real Madrid a vital away goal. The floodgates opened from there.
DEF: Jose Maria Gimenez, Atletico Madrid
Atletico’s offense stole the show in the first leg, but it was an organized and relentless defense that put the tie on ice at the Vicente Calderon. Gimenez’s usual partner, Diego Godin, missed the first edition when Leverkusen managed to put one in on their own. The only other goal that Bayer scored in the tie was an own-goal from Stefan Savic. Gimenez was a stalwart for Atletico and helped them stonewall Chicharito & Co.
DEF: Dani Carvajal, Real Madrid
Carvajal’s solid overall performance might have slipped under the radar, but he was Mr. Reliable for Real Madrid. Tasked with slowing down the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens, Carvajal did about as well as one can expect when called upon. He also pitched in with an assist in the first leg to open the scoring. Not too shabby.
MF: Thiago Alcantara, Bayern Munich
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single player that had a better round of 16 than Alcantara. Of course, pretty much everyone in Bayern’s team had an awesome round of 16 considering they won 10-2. Nevertheless, Alcantara utterly dominated in both legs. He bagged a brace and an assist in the first leg at the Emirates, bossing the midfield and putting the tie away before they even kicked off at the Allianz.
MF: Julian Weigl, Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos tabbed Weigl as a player that will be world-class one day. That day might not be far off. Weigl’s one of the many young stars that Dortmund deploys, but he might be the most mature of the bunch. Still just 21 years old, the German has all the tools and put on a display in both legs against Benfica. He was a calm, poised presence in Thomas Tuchel’s setup.
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MF: Casemiro, Real Madrid
How can a player that plays for Real freaking Madrid be underrated? It’s hard to picture, but it’s true. On a team full of superstars, Casemiro is the guy that runs the show behind the scenes. A defensive midfielder in every sense of the word, he’s quick to break up attacks and even quicker to initiate them. And he even has the ability to score a cracker when need be.
FW: Kylian Mbappe, Monaco
What a breakout season for Mbappe. The teen sensation has been prematurely dubbed “the new Thierry Henry,” but he’s done little to dispel the notion. He terrorized Man City in the first leg, and with Radamel Falcao out injured for the second leg Mbappe had to shoulder a bigger load. He managed just fine, putting the City defense on skates for the majority of the match as Monaco rallied to make the quarters. He’s one to keep an eye on.
FW: Paulo Dybala, Juventus
Given the freedom to roam around as a No. 10 in Juventus’ set up, Dybala tore apart Porto. The 23-year-old was denied by the woodwork in the first leg, but that proved to be a sign of things to come. He picked apart Porto in both matches and finally got rewarded with a cooly taken penalty in front of the home crowd at Juventus Stadium.
FW: Neymar, Barcelona
At first blush, having a player from a team that lost a tie 4-0 is difficult to justify. Then you remember just how hard Neymar worked to get Barcelona back into the game in the first leg, and how incredible he was in the second leg and throw all those doubts out the window. His Man of the Match performance helped orchestrate the single greatest comeback in Champions League history. With the tie all but dead, the Brazilian scored twice and registered the critical last-gasp assist in the span of six minutes. Yeah, he belongs here.