Champions League XI Axel Witsel destroys Atletico as Juventus defenders hold firm

The ESPN FC panel go in depth on Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Tottenham in today’s edition of Extra Time.

The Champions League saw plenty of excitement this week, but who were the stars? Here’s the best XI from Matchday 3.

Goalkeeper: Neto (Valencia)

Valencia will be disappointed with their 1-1 draw away at Young Boys — although, having collected seven draws from nine La Liga matches so far, it was hardly a surprise. Perhaps their only player who will be happy with his display was goalkeeper Neto, who made six saves on Tuesday night, including a fine full-length stop to turn away Christian Fassnacht’s low drive, before getting a small but crucial touch on Sekou Sanogo’s header, turning it onto the post before gleefully catching the rebound.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

Like Liverpool overall, Alexander-Arnold seems to come alive on European nights — his first goal came in the crucial playoff against Hoffenheim and arguably the best defensive performance of his career came when stopping Manchester City’s Leroy Sane in the quarterfinal at Anfield last year. During the 4-0 victory over Red Star Belgrade he was a constant overlapping presence down the right, and his dead ball skills won the penalty eventually missed by Sadio Mane.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)

Bonucci has been responsible for some slack marking since returning to Juventus, costing his side goals in Serie A, but this week he was back to his best — as confirmed by Jose Mourinho, whose Manchester United side managed just one shot on target. “Mr Bonucci and Mr Chiellini could give some Harvard University classes about how to be a central defender,” he said.

Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

Now 34, Chiellini remains the archetypal Italian centre-back, an expert man-marker who sticks tightly to opponents. His job in nullifying Romelu Lukaku was outstanding — there were some shirt-pulls and overly physical marking at set-pieces at times, but Chiellini has spent his career getting away with those small, niggly fouls. He won all his tackles and made the most clearances on the pitch: seven. His only mistake was talking himself into a booking, which could prove crucial later in the competition.

Left-back: Achraf Hakimi (Dortmund)

This was as dominant a performance from full-back as you’ll witness in this season’s competition. The Real Madrid loanee stormed forward into a central position to create an early chance for Christian Pulisic, then assisted three goals in Dortmund’s incredible 4-0 thrashing of Atletico Madrid. There was a pull-back to Axel Witsel on the edge of the box, a low cross to the incoming Raphael Guerreiro, and then, after bursting through onto Mario Gotze’s through-ball, he selflessly squared to Jadon Sancho for a tap-in. It was a truly outstanding display.

Central midfield: Axel Witsel (Dortmund)

Witsel’s opener was somewhat fortunate — his low shot was deflected home off Lucas Hernandez. But from then the Belgian was magnificent, barely conceding possession from his deep-lying midfield role, commanding the game against top-class opposition. It has taken a while for Witsel to move to one of Europe’s major clubs, after a long spell in Russia and a brief stint in China, but his move to Dortmund appears to, at last, be bringing out his best.

Central midfield: Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon)

Ndombele is a brilliant all-round midfielder, capable of building play from deep positions before storming forward into attack. His outstanding backheel into the path of Bertrand Traore allowed the striker to blast against the post in the early stages, before he grabbed Lyon’s second with a powerful near-post finish from a tight angle after one of his typical bursts into the inside-right channel. He also dribbled past opponents five times — no-one else in the game did so more than twice.

Central midfield: David Silva (Manchester City)

Another virtuoso midfield display from the wonderful Spaniard, whose retirement from international football perhaps means he’s increasingly fresh and capable of sustaining his performance at club level. Here he completely dictated the game as Manchester City ran out 3-0 winners at Shakhtar, hitting the post in the early stages with a volleyed backheel, and then powerfully volleying home the opener. Once ahead, City were never in danger.

Right-forward: Bertrand Traore (Lyon)

After 18 goals in all competition last season and a fine start to this campaign, Traore is starting to make a real name for himself. In this week’s 3-3 draw with Hoffenheim he was constantly involved: hitting the post in the early stages, pressing Kevin Vogt to force a turnover on the edge of the opposition area and prodding home the opener, and then assisting Ndombele’s powerful goal after half-time. Enjoying the space he was afforded on the outside of Hoffenheim’s back three, he was Lyon’s most dangerous attacker throughout.

Centre-forward: Edin Dzeko (Roma)

In Dzeko’s last Champions League appearance, he smashed in a hat trick in the 5-0 thrashing of Victoria Plzen. He very nearly repeated the trick here, managing two goals and an assist. First he tapped home after good work from Lorenzo Pellegrini, then he drove into the far corner after Stephan El Shaarawy had dribbled through the defence, and then his knock-down allowed Cengiz Under to score Roma’s third. In truth, he probably should have converted a deep corner for his hat trick, but five goals in two Champions League games is a decent return.

Left-forward: Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim)

After a disappointing spell in the Premier League with Leicester, Kramaric has enjoyed a good couple of seasons in the Bundesliga and helped Croatia to the World Cup final, and he was in fine form on Tuesday night in the 3-3 draw with Lyon. His two goals were remarkably similar: playing on the left of a front three, he twice pushed forward to receive deep right-wing crosses, chested the ball down, and powered home inside the near post.