Liverpool will face Real Madrid in the Champions League final, but who starred in the semifinal second legs? Here’s the best XI from the last four.
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GK — Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid rode their luck against Bayern Munich and could be grateful that Navas, sometimes a maligned figure, produced so spectacularly between the posts. Navas made a string of superb saves — eight in total — which is more than any Real Madrid goalkeeper has produced in a Champions League knockout game this decade. His handling was outstanding and when he plays like this, nobody can doubt his place in the top bracket.
RB — Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
There is a sense Kimmich is wasted at right-back and he showed his goalscoring instincts for the second time in the semifinals when he put Bayern ahead early on at the Bernabeu. His strength in defensive duels could sometimes be better but on the front foot he is a top-class performer and would have been a worthy competitor in this year’s final. After the first leg Kimmich had been disappointed with Bayern’s naivety but there could be no such complaints this week.
CB — Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
It needed a heroic showing from Ramos — as well as his central defensive partner Raphael Varane — to see Real through to the final. His celebrations with the Bernabeu support afterwards were well-earned; in a match that saw Real stretched time and again his leadership was crucial and he came up with a number of well-timed interceptions and blocks, particularly in the second half.
CB — Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Van Dijk has rapidly become an inspirational figure for Liverpool and was vital again amid waves of Roma pressure on Wednesday night. The centre-back’s towering presence in the opposition box contributed to Giorginio Wijnaldum’s goal but his best work came further back, where his mixture of physique and composure — and his knowledge of when to apply both — stood out.
LB — Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
Robertson was up against a tireless performer in Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi but dealt with his threat well, also getting forward well to assist with Sadio Mane’s lightning sorties. The former Hull man has been one of the success stories of this Champions League season and looks more than comfortable at this stage. Now his biggest test lies ahead in Kiev.
CM — Giorginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
He came up with the goal that, ultimately, gave Liverpool the cushion they needed but Wijnaldum’s performance against Roma was about much more than that. Alongside Jordan Henderson and James Milner he harried Roma’s midfield and disrupted when necessary, but also showed the kind of cool head needed to pick passes and afford his team moments of respite in a hurly-burly encounter.
CM — Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
When Alcantara plays like this it is a reminder that, when on top of his game, he is one of the best midfielders in the world. He helped Bayern set a formidable tempo from the off at the Bernabeu, moving between the boxes tirelessly and setting numerous dangerous moves in motion. He deserved better than to be on the losing side having comfortably outshone the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
CM — James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
He would not admit it but James had a sizeable point to prove on his return to the Bernabeu and, accordingly, performed like a man possessed. He should have scored in the first half, skying over from close range, but his goal after the break — a piece of following-up that epitomised the hunger he showed throughout — gave Bayern fresh hope and he was an indefatigable creative force throughout against his parent club.
LW — Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Jurgen Klopp promised Liverpool would not sit back in Rome and they kept to their word, with Mane outshining Mohamed Salah as their most threatening outlet this time. There was never any sense he would miss when confronted with Alisson Becker after Roberto Firmino’s early pass; he duly converted the goal that sent Liverpool on their way, his ninth of this Champions League season, and was at times electric thereafter when leading rapid counters.
CF — Edin Dzeko (Roma)
Roma may have fallen just short but it was not for lack of trying by Dzeko, who scored seven minutes after the break to give the Italians fresh hope and was their best player overall in the two legs against Liverpool. The striker was excellent throughout and can reflect on a fine personal Champions League campaign; he scored eight European goals this season, five in the knockout stages, and played some of the best football of his career.
RW — Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Benzema’s third and fourth goals at Champions League semifinal level were crucial — particularly considering the manner in which Real struggled elsewhere. His close-range header settled them down after a whirlwind start from Bayern and while Sven Ulreich’s mistake handed him what proved to be the decisive goal on a plate, the chance still arose from his hunger to chase down Corentin Tolisso’s backpass. And that is the essence of Benzema — a striker who can sniff out a big goal from absolutely nowhere.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.