The Champions League has now reached the business end of the group stage and the more efficient sides have already booked their spots in the knockout round. The Group of Death really lived up to its name this week, while Barcelona were stunned by a determined Celtic side. From all of this action, TheHardTackle presents to you the top eleven players from matchday four of the Champions League.
Fraser Forster (Celtic): The 24-year-old keeper was in scintillating form a fortnight ago when he denied the great Lionel Messi with some other-worldly saves. Just when one thought Forster couldn’t better that performance, as the 94th minute winner from Jordi Alba had broken Celtic hearts, this young lad put in another mind-boggling performance to ensure that Celtic sent Barcelona back home without a single point. Forster denied almost each and every member of Barcelona’s attack and his crowning moment will have to be the assist he provided for Tony Watt’s goal in the latter part of the second half.
Alex (PSG): Travelling to Zagreb was never going to be a difficult task for PSG and they were expected to win comfortably. And they did so in style. The big Brazilian center back started the onslaught with a coolly slotted volley from about eight yards out. From then on, PSG huffed and puffed at the Zagreb defense and were rewarded at regular intervals. Even with a comfortable lead, Alex was at his defensive best and even made a crucial intervention to keep the French side’s clean sheet intact. Alex’s passing from the back was also hugely important in PSG’s triumph, his passing accuracy being a staggering 95 percent.
Yevhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kyiv): Jackson Martinez had stolen all the headlines when Kyiv and Porto played out a goalscoring thriller in Portugal, but it was the defenders’ turn this time around as Khacheridi was impassable over the ninety minutes thereby keeping his club’s qualification hopes alive. It took four tackles and seven clearances from Khacheridi to give his side the point against Porto. The central defender was useful as a ball player too, being his club’s fifth highest passer.
Nicolas Otamendi (Porto): Khacheridi was the destroyer of Porto attacks and it was his opposite, Nicolas Otamendi, who was most instrumental in shutting down all of Dynamo Kyiv’s goalscoring attempts. The Argentine made three tackles and three interceptions, thus keeping Kyiv’s attacks under control. He was also called upon to clean up his side’s defensive messes, as he made seven clearances. Otamendi was undoubtedly the backbone of Porto’s defense and would probably have walked away as the man of the match had it not been for Khacheridi.
Hamit Altintop (Galatasaray): The former Real Madrid man was at his creative best against CFR Cluj on Tuesday as he ran riot down Cluj’s left flank. A constant threat down the wing, Altintop made a complete mockery of Laszlo Sepsi with his tireless running and incredible crossing. Altintop provided the cross for Galatasaray’s first goal and then added to that with a wonderful pass across the penalty area to give Burak Yilmaz and his side their second goal. Unlike his fellow countryman, Selcuk Inan, Altintop made few but immensely critical passes and was easily their best midfielder. Looks like his Real Madrid days are past him.
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk): For the second time in two weeks, the Brazilian midfielder tested and troubled the European champions with his tireless running, superb footwork and pin point passing. Fernandinho was instrumental in both of Shakhtar’s goals, as he directly assisted the first and initiated the move for the second. For his side’s first goal, Fernandinho beat almost four Chelsea players before squaring the ball perfectly for Willian. His dribbling was the highlight of the night and he ended up with as many successful dribbles as Eden Hazard and Oscar put together.
Victor Wanyama (Celtic): To feature as a midfielder in this Team of the Week when your side managed to keep just 18 percent of the possession is flabbergasting. The 21-year-old Kenyan ran and ran and ran all night long, doing all he could to keep Barcelona from playing their slick, quick passes. To add to his defensive efforts, Wanyama scored the opener for Celtic with a thunderous header. This is a night that the young man will never forget.
Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk): Fernandinho was the one pulling the strings against the European champions and it was Willian who ended up finishing both moves. The Brazilian attacker was a constant threat in the penalty area, most often holding a position at the top of the box and thereby being left unmarked. Willian’s shooting was spot on at Stamford Bridge, hitting the target on both shooting attempts. His dribbling was on show as well with him ending the night on three dribbles. To top this all off, Willian scored both of Shakhtar’s goals and brought his side to within seconds of a draw at Stamford Bridge. No wonder Chelsea and Tottenham have showed such keen interest in this young Samba genius.
Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray): With Altintop providing delicious crosses from the right flank, Burak Yilmaz had the time of his life putting the Cluj defense to the sword with his clinical finishing. Yilmaz opened the scoring with a brilliant header from almost fifteen yards out. Cluj equalized soon after but the Alintop-Yilmaz pairing returned to get Galatasaray’s second of the night. The 27-year-old Turkish striker then went on to complete his hattrick with fifteen minutes to go. Yilmaz latched on to a fine pass from Inan, dribbled past one defender and slotted past Mario Felgueiras.
Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich): Bayern’s summer acquisition hasn’t had the greatest of returns to the Allianz Arena. Yet, he was the architect behind the demolition of Lille on Wednesday. Pizarro scored Bayern’s second goal of the night with a brilliant finish from outside the box after a quick exchange of passes with Franck Ribery. He then added Bayern’s fourth goal after Philipp Lahm thundered down the right wing and crossed the ball to the Peruvian, who tapped in with aplomb. Pizarro continued the rout with a fifth goal for the German giants, this time with his head. A hattrick hero like Yilmaz, but probably not as well rounded a performance as that of the Turkish striker.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG): A striker in here without scoring a single goal. How? Well, the big Swede showcased the creative genius inside of him on Tuesday as he laid four balls on a platter, each to be hit in by a different PSG player. Ibra’s first assist was a pin point cross to the feet of Alex, the second an immense display of vision and passing ability as he put Blaise Matiudi in on goal. He turned provider for a third time by initiating the move with a pass out wide to Ezequiel Lavezzi, got the ball back and laid it across to Jeremy Menez who beat a defender to get his side’s third goal. All of this wasn’t enough for Ibrahimovic, as he displayed phenomenal skill to play a one-two with Matiudi and then showed great presence of mind to pick out Guillaume Hoarau even though he was completely off balance. The orchestrator had finally decided he had done enough.
Notable mentions: Willy Caballero (Malaga), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund), Pepe (Real Madrid), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Oscar (Chelsea), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Siem de Jong (Ajax), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)