Each year the Champions League serves up some absolute peaches in the group stages.
This year we have Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich tussling it out in Group B, a repeat of last year’s highly entertaining quarter-final between Barcelona and Juventus in Group D, the poetic justice of Diego Costa’s now-Atletico Madrid and former Chelsea colliding in Group C and, of course, the mouth-watering clash of Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur in Group H.
So with a double-header of the latter fast approaching, with the first being held at the Spanish footballing amphitheatre that is the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday evening, let’s take a look at a combined XI between two of arguably the most exciting teams in Europe right now.
1. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
With six clean sheets from his 10 appearances so far this term across all competitions for Spurs, there is little doubt as to why Hugo Lloris gets the nod in between the sticks over Keylor Navas.
The reason behind Los Blancos’ consistent pursuit of Manchester United custodian David de Gea is a simple one, Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane cannot always rely on his shot-stopper to do just that.
The Frenchman is a much more established goalkeeper in terms of reliability, and for that reason alone would be preferred over his Costa Rican counterpart.
2. Serge Aurier (Tottenham)
In truth, if Dani Carvajal had recovered fully from his heart infection it would be his name here instead of Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier’s.
However, in the 25-year-old’s absence, the Spurs man, who has started both Champions League games for the North Londoners so far this campaign, is the one to take the field.
The Ivory Coast international is yet to really prove his worth in front of the Wembley crowd since his arrival from PSG in the summer, which might have something to do with his well-known ill-tempered attitude, however there is a sensational player in there somewhere.
3. Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Zidane was able to welcome Marcelo back into his starting XI during Real’s 2-1 win over Getafe at the weekend, following the Brazilian’s three-game absence with a muscular injury.
The French manager had placed his faith in back-up star Nacho, who is more suited to centre-half, in that time, however will be pleased he is able to field one of his most experienced players when Tottenham travel to the Spanish capital on Tuesday.
Following the start Tottenham man Ben Davies has achieved the season, particularly in the Premier League, there could well have been a toss-up between the two, but the Wales international is not expected to be on the plane – therefore it’s a straight win for the Madrid left-back.
4. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
There is little doubt that Sergio Ramos is still one of the best centre-backs in the world, proving time after time what it takes to achieve success.
Yes, he does have the reputation of ‘bending’ the rules ever so slightly, however you cannot captain your side to two successive Champions League trophies and not be truly elite.
Adding that to his World Cup-winners medal, two European Championship successes, four La Liga titles, two Spanish Cup trophies and nine other accolades, I beg you to tell me a better centre-half in world football. I’ll wait.
5. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Now, alongside Ramos is where things become a bit tricker. You could argue both Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have both shown they are high quality defenders over the past 24 months, and even before that.
However, Raphael Varane has been an instrumental figure in arguably the best club side to grace the earth since the days of Barcelona’s dominance under Pep Guardiola.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2012, the Frenchman has recorded 39 clean sheets in La Liga alone, and coupled with his Spanish teammate, the two are virtually as-solid defensive pairing as you will find.
6. Casemiro (Real Madrid)
If it were not for Dele Alli serving the final game of his three-match ban, the young Englishman’s name would certainly be involved.
The 21-year-old, who Spurs somehow snapped up for just £5m in 2015, netted 18 Premier League goals from midfield last year – finishing sixth on the Golden Boot list ahead of stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eden Hazard.
However, due to his ill-discipline during Tottenham’s exit in the Europa League last season, a more defensive outlook will be taken.
Madrid’s Casemiro is as safe as they come in midfield, a good old-fashioned spoil and distributor, who also chips in with the odd-goal.
There aren’t many out there that challenge the Brazilian for reliability when securing the back-four across the world at the moment.
7. Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
The ex-Spurs man is a certainty in the combined XI, and if Tottenham were at the level they are at today in 2012 when he made the switch from White Hart Lane to Los Blancos, he could well be on the opposition team for Tuesday’s fixture.
The Croatia international is best-known for his stupendous ball-retention statistics, and the 32-year-old has not failed to impress so far this term.
The midfielder currently holds a 90% pass accuracy success rate in La Liga, 1% higher than the figure he finished the entirety of Madrid’s title-winning season with last time around.
8. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Christian Eriksen’s progression in a Tottenham shirt since his £12m move to North London from Dutch club Ajax in 2013 has been staggering.
The 25-year-old is now considered as one of the best creators in the Premier League, manufacturing 111 chances last term and finishing on 15 assists.
This campaign is no different, with the Dane already claiming two set-ups from the 19 chances he has created in just the opening eight fixtures.
9. Harry Kane (Tottenham)
There is little to be said regarding Harry Kane’s inclusion in the combined XI.
The 24-year-old’s 16 goals in 16 competitive games for club and country this season really emphasises the true attacking prowess Spurs hold going into the Group H tie.
The England international’s raw ability to find the back of the net from the most improbable of situations is just one of the reasons as to why he travels to the Santiago Bernabeu with speculation surrounding the possibility of him playing his football there a lot more regularly in the near future.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Similarly to Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo is one player than cannot be left out of this truly sensational group of players.
The 2016 European Championships-winner has, throughout his career, provided amazement at how good one man can be – which is no more so proven by him netting 413 goals for Real in 404 games.
There is little doubt that a large part of Pochettino’s pre-match team-talk will be surrounding how to quash the sheer attacking danger that the 32-year-old poses, and all I can say is good luck.
11. Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
Marco Asensio has taken Europe by storm since announcing himself within the confines of Real Madrid.
Two goals and two assists in just eight league appearances during an indifferent start to the season for the La Liga holders’ has made everyone take note.
The 21-year-old has been a vital spark for Los Blancos, particularly when both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were absent for a number of games at the beginning of the campaign, and has been vital in Zidane’s side’s recovery to second-place in the Spanish top-flight.