Thursday 23 February 2017

Who makes our Independent.ie ultimate Champions League dream XI?

Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

We don’t have to think back too far to recall the days when Premier League sides were the dominant force in European football, yet the English star has dipped dramatically in the last few years.

So when it comes to picking the ultimate Champions League team made up of players plying their trade in the top flight of English football, it quickly becomes a slightly nostalgic look back at the days when Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea had bite to back up their bark.

This Independent.ie Champions League dream team is certain to create plenty of discussion, with those missing out likely to attract more attention than those who make our cut.

PETER SCHMEICHEL (Manchester United)

Winner: 1999

The shining light of Manchester United’s remarkable win in the 1999 Champions League final, this Danish maestro pulled off a string of sensational saves in his side’s dramatic victory against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp.

He capped the night by getting his hands on the trophy as United’s stand-in skipper in the absence of the suspended Roy Keane.

DENIS IRWIN (Manchester United)

Winner: 1999

Irwin was present on the iconic night United came back from the dead to beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 final and rarely had a bad game for the club in his 529 appearances that spanned over 12 years.

Keane may have been absent when United were crowned as European champions in the last final of the 20th century, but Irwin ensured an Irish name would be added to the elite list of players who have lifted the biggest prize in domestic football.

RIO FERDINAND (Manchester United)

Winner: 2008, runner up 2009, 2011

“I don’t look back with delight on the success we had at United, I reflect on the Champions League’s we should have won and didn’t. They are the matches that stick in my mind.”

The words of serial winner Ferdinand sum up why he was so prolific in his United career, with his powerhouse displays at the heart of their defence driving Alex Ferguson’s side towards the pinnacle of the European game.

JAMIE CARRAGHER (Liverpool)

Winner: 2005, runner-up 2007

If Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was hailed as the hero of Liverpool’s memorable 2005 Champions League final win against AC Milan in Istanbul, then his pal Carragher was very much his second in command.

The inspirational defender still laments Liverpool’s 2007 Final defeat, as AC Milan gained sweet revenge by winning the final staged in Athens.

ASHLEY COLE (Chelsea)

Winner: 2012, runner-up 2006, 2008

Cole was hard to love in so many ways, but his talents on the field could only be admired.

He came close to winning the Champions League with Arsenal as they pushed Barcelona all the way in the 2006 final and after defeat against Manchester United two years later following his move to Chelsea, this England full-back finally got his hands on the European Cup in 2012.

ROY KEANE (Manchester United)

Winner: 1999

It may seem strange to include a player who never started in a Champions League Final, but Keane’s input into United’s 1999 triumph will never be forgotten despite his suspension for the Final.

If any sensible observer of European football is asked to pick out a single performance that defined a glorious career, it would have been Keane’s remarkable, lung-busting effort in the 1999 semi-final against Juventus in Turin after he picked up a yellow card that confirmed he would miss the finale of the competition. A warrior to the last.

PAUL SCHOLES (Manchester United)

Winner: 1999, 2008, runner-up 2009, 2011

Like Keane, Scholes was banned for the 1999 triumph against Bayern Munich, but he was the lone survivor of that United side who started the 2008 Final against Chelsea in the Moscow rain.

Scholes scored the sparkling long-range winner that beat Barcelona in the semi-final before he claimed his second Champions League winners’ medal.

STEVEN GERRARD (Liverpool)

Winner: 2005, runner-up 2007

When the story of European football is reflected up long after we are all gone, Gerrard’s iconic performance in Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final will still stand out as one of the finest examples of heroism.

Liverpool were dead and buried as they trailed AC Milan 3-0 at half-time in Istanbul, but their captain refused to believe the game was up. His goal inspired the comeback and by the end of the night, his legend was secured as he got his hands on the biggest prize of them all.

FRANK LAMPARD (Chelsea)

Winner: 2012, runner-up 2008

A scorer in the 2008 Champions League final against Manchester United, Lampard earned the right to call himself a European champion four years later as Chelsea beat Bayern Munich.

“I though the chance to win the European Cup had passed me by, but then it all fell into place in 2012,” says Lampard, who played 105 times in Europe’s elite competition.

CRISTIANO RONALDO (Manchester United)

Winner: 2008, runner-up 2009

Ronaldo has added to his Champions League legacy since his move to Real Madrid, but he won his first European title with United as he scored in the 2008 final and then missed a penalty in the decisive shoot-out.

John Terry’s infamous slip and miss opened the door for United to claim the title in Moscow, sparking wild scenes of celebration for Ronaldo and his team-mates.

DIDIER DROGBA (Chelsea)

Winner: 2012, runner-up 2008

The villain of Chelsea’s 2008 Champions League final defeat against Manchester United as he was sent-off following a late clash with Nemanja Vidic, Drogba was the ultimate hero for Chelsea in their 2012 final win against Bayern Munich.

His last gasp header handed the Blues a route back into a game against a Bayern side playing on home soil, with his decisive penalty in the shoot-out an iconic defining moment in his brilliant Chelsea career.

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