The Champions League has served up some of the most exciting quarter-finals in recent memory, and best of all, there will a ton of young talent of show. While an exhilarating and offensive game is expected between Borussia Dortmund and AS Monaco, a tactical masterclass is sure to ensue when Juventus and Barcelona clash in Turin. In the streets of Madrid, the Cinderella story Leicester City face off against Atletico, while Los Rojiblancos’ neighbours Real Madrid travel to Munich for their fixture against Bayern.
While these European titans will undoubtedly thrill the world with perfect football and brilliant tactics, Scouted Football will have their eyes firmly set on the young stars that will be taking the pitch. With the immense amount of U-23 talent sure to be on display throughout the rest of the tournament, it would be a crime if we did not take a moment to go through and fully appreciate the players at hand.
That is why not only will we provide our usual coverage of these scintillating Champions League last-eight ties, but we have also decided to each put forward our own dream U23 Champions League XI. In attempt to provide further insight on the players hoping to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage, we tried to combine our footballing knowledge to create the ultimate match day squad from the remaining quarter-finalists...
Naturally, it was impossible to agree on one set squad, so we asked four of our handbook writers to pick their side and give a brief explanation why they have picked who they have picked.
Let’s tuck in.
First up, a closer look at my very own squad.
Justin’s Champions League U-23 Squad (@Sousa7474):
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid, 24)
With a lack of goalkeepers who fit our criteria, we have decided to make a small exception for this position. It only seemed fitting that the Atletico goalkeeper made the cut for my combined XI having been featured in the very first Scouted Football Handbook.
The Slovenian shot stopper is tied at five clean sheets in the competition with Gianluigi Buffon and Kasper Schmeichel but has made more saves (23) than either of his fellow goalkeepers (Schmeichel with 19; Buffon with 9). Perhaps Oblak’s vitality to Atletico is best summed up by their Round of 16 performances where Atletico conceded two goals in the first leg against Bayer Leverkusen without the Slovenian in net. Upon his return in the second leg, however, the Spanish giants kept a clean sheet to advance to the quarterfinals. Looking ahead, Oblak’s next challenge will be preventing the ever dangerous Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez from breaching his goal and guiding Atletico to a Champions League semifinal.
Left-Centre Back: Benjamin Mendy (AS Monaco, 22)
In front of Oblak stands AS Monaco’s electrifying left back Benjamin Mendy. The explosive defender has provided Monaco with lung bursting runs up and down the left flank all season long while producing one goal and ten assists in the process.
In the Champions League alone, Mendy averages 2.4 dribbles per match and maintains an impressive 70.6% dribble success rate. Though my three man defense will require more defensive work than the French defender is used to, Mendy is no slouch when it comes to mopping up opposition forwards. His 6’1” frame has been an important factor to the young full back’s ability to beat forwards to a header and make goal preventing blocks throughout the Champions League and in Ligue 1. Mendy has even gone as far as making his first senior international appearance for France after the brilliance he has displayed so far this season.
If Monaco are to surpass Borussia Dortmund in their quarterfinal clash, Mendy will need to be in top form in order to tame the creativity and directness of Christian Pulisic and Felix Passlack. It is without question, however, that Benjamin Mendy will put another mouth watering performance for all fans of the modern fullback.
Centre Back: José Maria Giménez (Atletico Madrid, 22)
Despite injuries periodically haunting him this season, Jose Gimenez has still proven that he is one of the most talented defenders in the world. Over the course of his Atletico Madrid career, we have witnessed the growth and development of Gimenez’s footballing IQ under the guidance of Diego Simeone.
At times, youthful ignorance may pull Gimenez out of position, but the Uruguayan centre-back makes a case for his talent with every appearance he makes for Atletico. A gifted defender both technically and physically, Gimenez provides the perfect cover for Benjamin Mendy in this defense and can start the side’s offensive forays with his ability to play out from the back. Gimenez’s seven clearances per game in the Champions League is just a small testament to his do-or-die type of defending. With Gimenez fully fit at the moment, Atletico Madrid will hope the center back can stay healthy for the remainder of the season as they look to push for successive Champions League Final appearances.
Right-Centre Back: Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona, 23)
The first year Barcelona player has wasted no time in claiming a starting position at the heart of Barcelona’s defence. Just like Jose Gimenez, Samuel Umtiti provides the physical excellence and technical brilliance demanded of all centre-backs in La Liga.
The physical dominance of this French centre-back makes him almost unbeatable in the air and average 0.2 dribbled past ratio in 19 domestic league appearances. In Barcelona’s second leg fixture against PSG alone, Umtiti claimed victory in all five of his aerial duels and committed just three fouls. Over the course of both legs against PSG, Umtiti averaged 67 completed passes and placed five of his seven attempted long balls right at the feet of his teammates.
Although Leonardo Bonucci is the only defender to average more passes per game than Samuel Umtiti in the Champions League, the Italian defender’s 87.1% pass completion is belittled by the Frenchman’s 93.2% pass completion. While Barcelona’s MSN and Juventus’ dynamic duo of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain will most likely grab the headlines at the end of this two legged affair, the winner will undoubtedly be decided by whichever side’s defenders can come up with the biggest plays.
Left Midfield: Bernardo Silva (AS Monaco, 22)
Bernardo Silva is one of the few extremely talented exceptions that can control the tempo of a match from a wide midfield position. The combination of Silva’s ability to beat a defender one-on-one and his sheer craftiness to create chances for his teammates as a number ten make him one of the most dangerous midfielders in the world at just 22-years old. The potent Portuguese winger’s intelligence both on and off the ball allow him to create space for himself and other teammates to work their magic and create chances for one another. Of the remaining players in the Champions League, only Neymar (4.7), Franck Ribery (3.5), and Filipe Luis (3.2) better Silva’s average of 3.1 dribbles per game. Silva has also shown a tenacious side of his game when it comes to closing down opposition defences, winning possession back for AS Monaco 29 times in the final third in 30 Ligue 1 appearances. With the Signal Iduna Park waiting for Monaco on Tuesday, Silva will be a crucial key to Monaco’s chances of breaking down Dortmund and booking a place in the final four of this year’s Champions League.
Centre Defensive Midfield: Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund, 21)
The inclusion of Julian Weigl in this XI will ease the pressure on Bernardo Silva to be the tempo setter of the team. With Julian Weigl sitting just in front of the back three, his tremendous passing range will allow for easier spread of the ball across the field.
Weigl’s ability to read the game will make disrupting the opposition’s midfield play much easier and therefore provide further protection to the backline. Positionally, Julian Weigl could just as easily slot in as a third center back, allowing Benjamin Mendy to get further forward and Bernardo Silva to come more centrally as a number ten. Not a player for statistics, Weigl plays the role of Borussia Dortmund’s unsung hero that makes simple, yet important plays in the build up to one of Borussia Dortmund’s notorious offensive swarms. Without the midfield maestro that is Weigl, Thomas Tuchel’s side will struggle to control Monaco’s own set of young talents over the two legs of their quarterfinal clash.
Centre Midfield: Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich, 22)
With claims of being the heir to Philipp Lahm’s throne at Bayern Munich, Kimmich’s performances over the last season and a half have propelled him in the right direction to do so. In this team, Kimmich will be the box-to-box midfielder that can produce moments of magic in the final third as well as do the dirty work in his own end of the field.
Under Pep Guardiola, Kimmich was exposed to total football style of play that developed his technical abilities and intelligence on the field. Similar to Lahm, Kimmich is a versatile player that can play anywhere across a defensive line, as a center midfielder, or even as a wide midfielder. If Bayern are in need of goals, Kimmich is utilized as a centre midfielder where he has scored all seven of his goals this season. His only assist of the season, however, came from the right back position which goes to show his ability to get forward as a full back. It will be interesting to see how Carlo Ancelotti plans to utilize the young German against his former club Real Madrid during the quarter finals.
Right Midfield: Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, 18)
Borussia Dortmund’s favourite American closes out my midfield after impressing the world with a goal and three assists from just 537 minutes of Champions League football. Similar to Bernardo Silva, Pulisic tends to cut inside throughout a match in order to get on the ball and be involved in the build up play of his side’s goals.
With the versatility of Julian Weigl, Joshua Kimmich, and Benjamin Mendy taken into consideration, Pulisic and Silva could easily be one of the most dangerous and innovative midfield pairs Europe has to offer. At just 18-years old, Christian Pulisic has already made a name for himself at Borussia Dortmund and at the international level with the USMNT. In his last two games for the United States, Pulisic produced a goal and a hat trick of assists against Honduras and set up Clint Dempsey for the team’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Panama. However, the most important match of this American’s young career will be a Champions League quarterfinals match against AS Monaco and another 18-year old that is making waves in France.
Left Forward: Kylian Mbappé (AS Monaco, 18)
If you couldn’t tell, that 18-year old is none other than Kylian Mbappé-Lottin. The French sensation has captivated the world with his incredible pace, silky smooth skills, and, dare I say, Thierry Henry-esque finishing ability. Earlier in the season, there were questions about whether Mbappe would make the cut at a AS Monaco under Leonardo Jardim with his playtime being kept at a minimum.
Nineteen goals and eight assists later, Kylian Mbappé has been absolutely crucial to AS Monaco’s terrific run to the Champions League quarter finals and their current position at the top of the Ligue 1 table. Nowadays a striker at Monaco, his time at left wing was enough for me to be confident in his ability to do well for this side out wide. Mbappé’s skill set are a defender’s worst nightmare when it comes to one-on-one defending, while his break-neck pace is a hassle for anyone to keep up with.
The chemistry between Mbappé and Radamel Falcao will be a big determinant as whether or not Monaco can surpass Borussia Dortmund and get themselves to the semifinals of the Champions League. Words can not describe the excitement everyone at Scouted Football (especially certified Kylian Mbappé fan boy Jake Entwistle) is feeling for this young forward to do well over these next two legs.
Centre Forward: Paulo Dybala (Juventus, 23)
The Juventus golden boy Paulo Dybala will take position at the center of my forward trident where he will provide the team with another goal scoring threat. The Argentine has really shown his capabilities as a goal scorer and a playmaker this season, providing Juventus with sixteen goals and eight assists after 36 matches. Dybala fits the stereotype of an Argentine striker with his compact frame, breathtaking footwork, and lethal finishing ability.
Dybala outshone fellow compatriot Lionel Messi in the first leg, and will have to again if his side are to defeat the Catalan and reach the Champions League semi finals. Looking back on his performances against FC Porto in the Round of 16 and throughout the group stage, there is no doubt Dybala wants and will attempt to carry Juventus to win Europe’s greatest honor no matter what lies ahead.
With the Scudetto seemingly wrapped up for Juventus and Paulo Dybala, the Italian side’s magical Argentine can put the majority of his focus into producing nothing but excellence against Barcelona... again.
Right Forward: Ousmane Dembélé (Borussia Dortmund, 19)
Topping off my XI is one of the most talented and fun to watch players France has produced in recent history. Borussia Dortmund’s exhilarating Ousmane Dembélé has done nothing short of impress and amaze the footballing world with his incredible skills and artistry with a ball at his feet. Arguably the driving force of this Borussia Dortmund side, Dembélé has contributed seven goals and fifteen assists across all competitions for Thomas Tuchel’s side. With five assists in the Champions League, only Neymar (8) can boast statistics greater than that of the French forward.
However, it is no insult to quality when a player is talked about with the same regard as some of the world’s finest ballers. Dembélé is also quietly establishing himself with the senior French National Team with five caps since his debut last September. The last time Dembélé faced AS Monaco, Stade Rennais could only draw 1-1 despite the excellent showing of their young talent. Dortmund’s reliance on Dembélé will continue as they look to feed Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and break down AS Monaco’s centre back pairing of Kamil Glik and Jemerson.
Other Scouted Contributor XI's:
Stephen Ganavas (@Marottanomics): 4-2-3-1
Oblak; Fabinho, Rugani, Umtiti, Mendy; Weigl, Kimmich; Bernardo Silva, Dybala, Dembélé; Mbappé.
Oblak-Mbappé-Dybala-Weigl-Umtiti-Fabinho pick themsevles. Ousmane Dembélé pips compatriot Thomas Lemar because of his explosive raw power, pace and dribbling ability despite the slick skills of Lemar in the final third. Bernardo Silva edges out Pulisic though, with his ability to slow the game down with his precision and willingness to overload centrally a nice foil for Dembélé. Kimmich edges out Bakayoko in midfield. It's a tough call, but the control that Kimmich brings slightly outweighs Bakayoko's defensive qualities. The toughest decision was at centre-back. Giménez is just edged out by Kimpembe and Umtiti and Rugani who have been superb this season. Giménez is just as good, but hasn't quite reached the same heights this season.
Llew Davies (@FfwtboLlew): 3-2-4-1
Oblak; Kimmich, Rugani, Giménez; Weigl, Guerreiro; Silva, Dembélé, Dybala, Mendy; Mbappé
I just needed to get all the forward lads in there...
Jake Entwistle (@JakeEntwistle): 4-2-2-2
Oblak; Fabinho, Rugani, Umtiti, Mendy; Weigl, Kimmich; Bernardo Silva, Dembélé; Dybala, Mbappé.
"It's hard not to just pack the whole team with Monaco youngsters. Whilst I've adopted Jardim's attacking 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 system, I wanted to add the composed presence of German duo Kimmich and Weigl, moving the rampant Fabinho to his former position at RB. The front four pick themselves, with Dembélé pipping the likes of Lemar and Pulisic for the final place. Dybala, Silva and Mbappé in the same team should be forbidden."
Tweet us at @ScoutedFtbl and let us know who would be in your team!