• Kieran Horn

BEST OF THE BEST: NEYMAR LEADS THIS TEAM OF STARS - BUT WHO ELSE MADE OUR CL TOTW


The final round of group stage fixtures in the Champions League should be remembered for crucial goals and memorable performances, but was instead marred by a racial incident in Paris.


The game between PSG and Istanbul Başakşehir was stopped after just 13 minutes after fourth official Sebastien Coltescu allegedly used a racial slur towards Başakşehir assistant coach Pierre Webo.


In the other games, Group B gave us plenty of thrills, two Italian teams earned their place in the next round and Manchester United are back playing on Thursday nights.


Here is the matchday six CL TOTW:


Goalkeeper


Gianluigi Buffon

While his team were totally relentless at one end, Gianluigi Buffon had a relatively quiet night in the Juventus goal, but when he was forced into saves, he made them look so simple.


On two separate occasions, Lionel Messi tested the fingertips of Buffon, and on both occasions, the Italian veteran palmed them away from danger.


Juventus’ clean sheet proved to be crucial as they overtook Barcelona at the top of Group G due to the superior head-to-head record after winning by three goals at the Camp Nou.


Defenders


Jules Kounde

An injury crisis in the Sevilla camp meant that usual central defender Jules Kounde was pushed out wide to play right-back and after his performance there Julian Lopetegui may play him there more often.


This game had no real significant outcome, as Sevilla had already qualified and Rennes were confirmed to finishing bottom of the group, but the Spanish side would’ve wanted to put the embarrassing defeat to Chelsea behind them.


And it was Kounde who got them off to the best possible start, guiding the ball in with a succulent left-footed strike from 18 yards out.


The defence were unable to keep their clean sheet, but Lopetegui will certainly be happy with this response heading into the knockout rounds.


Nikolas Sule

Another team with a place in the Round of 16 is Bayern Munich, and despite resting a few players, they eased past Lokomotiv Moscow.


It has not been an easy year for Nikolas Sule, the enormous centre-half suffered a significant ACL injury and since then he has struggled to rediscover his best form, but he will have been boosted by his most-recent display.


Not only did the German keep a clean sheet but he also met Douglas Costa’s enticing corner to give Bayern the lead with a powerful header into the bottom corner.


Denys Popov

In a star-studded group G with Barcelona and Juventus, it always felt as though the battle for a Europa League spot would be between Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros.


With both teams on a singular point after their 2-2 draw in October, it all came down to this game in Ukraine, and Denys Popov for Kyiv was the player to make the difference.


Before his decisive goal, Popov was perfectly placed to clear off the line early in the first half and then on the hour mark, Popov leapt highest to powerfully head home Carlos De Pena’s free kick to send Kyiv into the Europa League Round of 32.


Angelino

It just had to be him, didn’t it.


The full-back on-loan from Manchester City sent Ole Gunnar Solkjaer’s side tumbling towards Europa League football with his stunning performance for RB Leipzig.


In the first half he was practically playing as a left-winger and on a number of occasions Aaron Wan-Bissaka gave him far too much room.


After just two minutes, Angelino fired in the opener and then ten minutes later picked up the ball in acres of space to put in a precise cross for Amadou Haidara to double Leipzig’s lead.


It was a nervy end to the contest but Julian Nagelsmann’s side held firm and booked their spot in the next round.


Midfielders


Amadou Haidara

It was abundantly clear the game-plan early on for RB Leipzig against Manchester United was to blow them away in the first half, and Amadou Haidara certainly contributed to that.


Knowing that United are the second-half specialists, Leipzig started the game on the front foot and after Angelino’s early opener, the Spaniard then delivered a precise cross into Haidara who calmly sent a side-footed volley past David De Gea.


Leipzig mounted a rare attack in the second half and Haidara inadvertently got a crucial touch on a Angelino cross which caused mass uncertainty in the United box and Justin Kluivert was on hand to punish the dwindling.


Despite a nervy finish, Leipzig hung on to claim the second-place qualification spot in Group H and thus send United into the Europa League.


Yannick Carrasco

After some poor results in their previous matchdays, Atletico Madrid had to win in Austria and Yannick Carrasco put in a huge performance to ensure that.


In his second spell for the club he has struggled with injuries, but he undoubtedly showed his quality against RB Salzburg.


His whipping free-kick was headed home by Mario Hermoso five minutes before half-time, and then he eased the pressure on the Atletico defence late on finding himself in acres of space to finish clinically past Cican Stankovic.


The crucial second goal from Carrasco is certainly his most important since his equaliser in the 2016 Champions League final.


Ruud Vormer

Club Bruges needed to beat Lazio in their own backyard to qualify and despite the best efforts of Ruud Vormer, the Italian side held out to earn their place in the next round.


After Angel Correa reacted sharply to Simon Mignolet’s parry to give Lazio the lead, just three minutes later Vormer did the exact same when Pepe Reina was unable to hold Noa Lang’s rasping effort.


Ciro Immobile’s penalty and a red card to Eduard Sobol gave Bruges a mountain to climb to qualify, but they very nearly managed it as Vormer’s perfect cross was headed in Hans Vanaken and in the final minutes the Belgian’s hit the bar.


However, Simone Inzaghi’s side just about held on to reach the next round, but Bruges do drop into the Europa League and they will certainly not be there to just participate.


Attackers


Youseff En-Nesyri

After showing no real attacking impotence in the heavy matchday five defeat to Chelsea, Youssef En-Nesyri was given his opportunity to start and he showed Julian Lopetegui just how good he is.


The Moroccan striker had already had a decisive brace after he came off the bench against FK Krasnodar earlier in the group-stage and here he got to add to those goals.


Just before half-time, En-Nesyri headed Sevilla two in front and then to cap off the win finished clinically in a one-on-one situation with Romain Salin.


The 23-year-old may not be the first-choice striker at Sevilla but after his performances in the Champions League, it surely has to be reconsidered now.


Karim Benzema

It’s been a difficult campaign in the Champions League for Real Madrid to say the least, but when they needed someone to step up, it just had to be Karim Benzema.


The French forward has been in impeccable form in patches since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and against Borussia Monchengladbach, he was clearly in a good mood.


Delightful crosses from Rodrygo and Lucas Vazquez were both delivered straight onto the head of Benzema and he sent both expertly past Yann Sommer.


Despite losing twice to Shaktar Donetsk, who could only qualify for the Europa League, Real Madrid finished top of Group B and despite losing on the night, Monchengladbach joined them thanks to other results going the Germans way.


Neymar

You can say what you want about the quality of opposition but regardless of that Neymar’s three goals against Istanbul Basaksehir were something to behold.


After the racial incident on Tuesday, play restarted the following evening with both teams taking a knee in solidarity of one another before kick-off.


Matters on the pitch were far more straightforward however and Neymar showed his world-class ability.


PSG’s opener came when Neymar cleverly nutmegged an Istanbul defender before curling the ball home, his second was a clinical strike underneath Mert Gunok and then to complete his hat-trick in style he emphatically smashed the ball into the top corner, following a neat one-two with Angel Di Maria.


The result confirms PSG as Group B winners, but the biggest story coming out of this will be the incident on the previous night where Uefa are still to make a decision on the exact repercussions.


Manager


Gian Piero Gasperini

You may have noticed no Atalanta players made the Game-week six-team but their manager did, and that’s because Gian Piero Gasperini set his team up in a way where they wouldn’t be at their normal free-scoring best.


Knowing that just a point would be enough, Atalanta deliberately set-up defensively and amazingly it worked.


Ajax were limited to minimal half-chances and only once did they really pierce the Atalanta backline, but Pierluigi Gollini was able to deny Davy Klaasen.


With time running out the Dutch side were then reduced to ten men and Gasperini brought on Luis Muriel to be a nuisance upfront.


And the change certainly paid off as Muriel raced onto Remo Freuler’s through ball to send Atalanta into the knockout stages.