The Champions League final is like Christmas morning for fans of the beautiful game. It’s the pinnacle of club football, it’s the trophy every player dreams of winning, and luckily it’s only one sleep away. On the eve of the Champions League final, fans and players alike can’t contain their excitement. This year is bound to showcase a star-studded final as Bayern Munich and Paris-Saint Germain possess some of the world’s best. While Bayern might be the favourites in many people’s eyes, the Parisians will be no pushover. The two squads contain gargantuan quality, but what players are the best of the best? To answer that question there is only one way. A combined XI.
Champions League Final Combined XI
Goalkeeper: All-Time Great or Three-Time Champions League Winner?
Starting off in goal, legendary German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will slot in between the sticks. Neuer is edging past his peak and, as a result, is more prone to errors. The past two to three years have seen Neuer drop out of the conversation for the world’s best keepers. The likes of Alisson Becker, Jan Oblak, and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen have overtaken the 2014 World Cup golden glove winner. However, this season, Neuer has seen a return to form.
While the Bayern number one hasn’t reached the form he exhibited in the mid-2010s, he’s still been very reliable for Bayern Munich. Neuer just edges out the fantastic Keylor Navas due to his importance to Bayern’s defensive structure and high line playing as a sweeper-keeper.
The Back Four
The right-back position is a tough one to pick. Joshua Kimmich is the clear best player in that best position, however, that’s not where the dilemma is. Kimmich has played more in defensive midfield this season with Benjamin Pavard slotting in at right-back. Both are better options than PSG’s Thilo Kehrer but choosing between Pavard and Kimmich comes down to how the midfield is set up. That being said, Kimmich offers so much in the middle of the park and the French World Cup-winning defender is no slouch. Pavard will be the team’s right-back.
The left-back position doesn’t offer as much of a dilemma. Juan Bernat is a solid player but he’s no Alphonso Davies. The young Canadian has taken the world by storm. He’s already in the conversation for the best left-back in the world. After Bayern’s 8-2 mauling of Barcelona, even Marcelo was impressed by Davies. The Real Madrid legend commented: “you bring joy to my eyes when I see you play” on Davies’ Instagram. That’s an impressive endorsement from an all-time great left-back in Marcelo.
Finally, we round out the defence with the two centre-backs. Thiago Silva will be playing his final game for PSG on Sunday night. The Brazilian has been one of the world’s best defenders for close to a decade now. When it comes to defensive steel and reliability, Silva is the clear favourite over Presnel Kimpembe and Jerome Boateng. Partnering Silva will be the multi-faceted David Alaba. The Austrians season was a huge success at central defence under Hans Dieter-Flick. Quick to recover, an eye for a pass, and a good one on one defender, Alaba is the whole package.
The Double Pivot
The two deeper midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 bring stability to the side. As previously mentioned, Kimmich brings so much to the midfield. The only reason he has been used at right-back recently is because of Pavard’s injury and fitness. Therefore, Kimmich is the easy choice to play in defensive midfield. Although credit should be given to Marquinhos for his impressive performances in midfield after Thomas Tuchel’s insistence on moving him there from his previous centre-back role.
Partnering Kimmich could go in a few different directions. The box-to-box Leon Goretzka is a viable option, or more of a maestro type player like Thiago Alcantara or Marco Verratti can be chosen. While Goretzka has been great this season, let’s go with a metronome who can dictate play. Thiago and Verratti have similar profiles which makes them easy to compare.
Thiago or Verratti?
Using their respective league play for a larger sample size of their ability, Thiago played 289 more minutes than Verratti according to fbref.com. This is largely due to Ligue 1′s decision to end the season early because of the coronavirus pandemic. That being said, Thiago finished the Bundesliga season with a passing progressive distance of 8,766 yards. Furthermore, the Spanish international also finished with a carry progressive distance of 3,397 yards. These are important statistics for a deep midfielder as it illustrates how well they progress the ball, analysing both passing and carrying the ball upfield.
Compared to Thiago, Verratti finished the Ligue 1 season with 8,132 progressive passing yards and 3,380 progressive carry yards. Both players have similar numbers. However, in context, Verratti takes the edge. The diminutive Italian played nearly 300 minutes less than Thiago which makes his per 90 numbers superior. Thiago is a better presser with 34.6% successful pressures. Conversely, Verratti clocked in at 29.6% successful pressures. Finally, to round it off, Verratti’s 3.04 shot-creating actions per 90 is narrowly more than Thiago’s 2.85. Both players are brilliant but the Pescara-born Verratti will be the one to get the nod to partner Kimmich.
Champions League Cream of the Crop: The Front Four
PSG and Bayern both hold some of the brightest attacking talents in the world. In the attacking midfield role, Thomas Muller is the favourite. Muller defied all the odds after many thought he was a finished player under Niko Kovac. Flick has relied on the German World Cup winner and Muller rose to the occasion. Robert Lewandowski is getting many plaudits for the season he’s having, however, Muller has had arguably the best season in his already trophy-laden career. Muller finished the Bundesliga season with eight goals and twenty-one assists (a Bundesliga assist record). On the other hand, Angel Di Maria can play on the wings as well as attacking midfield. The Argentine would get into any team in Europe but unfortunately for him, Muller has had a stellar year.
On the left, Neymar doesn’t have much competition as Kingsley Coman and Ivan Perisic are no competition for the magisterial Brazilian. On the right, Serge Gnabry has been brilliant but Kylian Mbappe is one of the world’s best players. Gnabry will be snubbed but that shouldn’t take away from the German’s perplexing performances for Die Roten this season, especially in the Champions League. Rounding out the blistering attack is Robert Lewandowski. With 34 league goals and 15 Champions League goals, the Pole can’t seem to stop scoring. Lewandowski would’ve been a shoo-in for the Ballon D’or this year if it wasn’t for France Football’s decision to cancel the award due to the pandemic.
The front four of Muller, Neymar, Lewandowski, and Mbappe would easily be the best attack in the world. The likes of Gnabry and Di Maria being left out is a testament to these teams’ respective attacks that will be on display in Sunday’s Champions League final.