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Champions League Group Stage Ultimate XI

Group Stage Ultimate XI

The Champions League group stages are done and dusted with Chelsea becoming the first holders in the history to be knocked out in the group stages, Manchester City completely out of Europe, Real Madrid finishing second and Lionel Messi in fine form.

Here, IntoTheTopCorner picks its Group Stage Ultimate XI, containing the very best performers over the six matchdays in a 4-5-1 formation. There’s an alternative to each selection, so have a look at the team below…

GK – FRASER FORSTER (CELTIC)

Forster

Celtic are through to the knockout stages for the first time since the 2007/08 season and they had some individual performances to thank for. The former Newcastle United shot-stopper is one of them, as he had two brilliant games against Barcelona that actually secured their qualification. A last-gasp defeat at the Camp Nou and a historical win at Celtic Park did their confidence a world of good, and their final matchday win over Spartak Moscow was more than deserved.

Alternative – Joe Hart (Manchester City)

RB – PHILIPP LAHM (BAYERN MUNICH)

Lahm

Bayern’s skipper and Mr. Consistent, Philipp Lahm, has proved dependable yet again as the Bundesliga leaders secured the top spot in Group F ahead of Valencia. Though, the German international captain did his best work on the left flank he comes in our side as a right-back. He managed three assists and won one penalty in the five matches he played and looked very solid at the back.

Alternative – Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)

CB – THIAGO SILVA (PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN)

Thiago Silva

The Brazilian is known as one of the best defenders in the world of football at the moment and he didn’t let anyone down. The former AC Milan centre-back was very consistent throughout the group stages as he helped the French side to first place in Group A in their long-awaited return to Europe’s elite. He scored two goals including the opener in PSG’s important win over Porto on Matchday six.

Alternative – Martin Demichelis (Malaga)

CB – MATS HUMMELS (BORUSSIA DORTMUND)

Hummels

Dortmund – surprisingly – topped the Group of Death and they had their solid defence to thank for it. Hummels, the integral part of the reigning Bundesliga champions’ back four, was at his very best as Die Schwarzgelben remained unbeaten in all of their six group games and also managed to keep three clean sheets in the process.  All the defence played their part, but the German international was perhaps the standout performer in Jurgen Klopp’s back four.

Alternative – Nicolas Otamendi (Porto)

LB – GIORGIO CHIELLINI (JUVENTUS)

Chiellini

Juventus secured their passage through to the knockout stages as Group E winners thanks to an unbeaten run of six games. Their last three were impressive wins and also clean sheets, while the Old Lady came out victorious in Donetsk – a feat achieved by very few teams in the past 12 months or so. The Italian international was perhaps the most impressive player in Antonio Conte’s back three.

Alternative – Christian Fuchs (Schalke)

CDM – ARTURO VIDAL (JUVENTUS)

Vidal

The Chilean international has to be one of the players of the group stages. The former Leverkusen man is a typical box-to-box midfielder combining defensive steel with goal-scoring prowess at the highest level. His partnership with Claudio Marschisio is the engine of Conte’s team. In the group stages, he averaged 4.8 tackles per game and scored three goals with one assist—an absolutely remarkable feat for a defensive midfield.

Alternative – Victor Wanyama (Celtic)

CM – WILLIAN (SHAKHTAR DONETSK)

Willian

The Brazilian alongside the Chilean gives our side some South American feel in the midfield. Willian, who has attracted a lot of interest from the Premier League clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham in the past, was one of the top performers for Shakhtar scoring four goals and creating two as they made it through to the last-16 and dumped the holders out of the competition in the process.

Alternative – Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)

CM – ISCO (MALAGA)

Isco

The 20-year-old Spaniard scored twice and assisted two in six games to announce himself on the European stage and walk straight into our line-up. While he has failed to to translate this form into his La Liga games, Isco has been in super form in the Champions League. It’s his form in the in Europe’s elite competition that has clubs scrambling to meet his €18.5 million buyout clause before Malaga extend his contract, and it’s clear this kid has something slightly special.

Alternative – Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)

RW – CRISTIANO RONALDO (REAL MADRID)

Ronaldo

Love him or hate him, but the Portuguese is surely one of the best players in the world and he proved it with his performances for the Spanish champions in the group stages. The former Manchester United star managed to scored six goals in the group of death and will be hoping to score many more in the later stages as he hopes to guide the Los Blancos to their first ever Champions League title in over a decade.

Alternative – Juan Mata (Chelsea)

LW – LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA)

Messi

A Champions League team without the best player in the world? Not possible at all. The Barca striker is at his very peak and was again at his very best in the group stages scoring five goals and creating two as he helped the Catalans top their group. The Argentine has had the best year having scored 90 goals and will be hoping more of the same in 2013 as he looks to guide his team to yet another European success.

Alternative – Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray)

ST – ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (PARIS SAINT-GERMIAN)

Ibrahimovic

Out strike force is a nightmare to any team and Ibrahimovic leads it. The Swede has played for the many elite club during his career but his contributions for the French capital side in this season’s campaign can’t be ignored. He has managed to score just two goals in the six games but it’s the five assists that are the most impressive. Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez must really enjoy playing alongside the Swede as he continues to impress.

Alternative – Jackson Martinez (Porto)

Group Stage Ultimate XI

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Lionel Messi Breaks Record – Watch All The 86 Goals (Video)

Messi-Record

Lionel Messi broke Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old record for the most goals in a calender year with a brace in Barcelona’s 2-1 win at Real Betis.

The Argentine took just 16 minutes to equal the German legend’s mark of 85 goals in 1972 when he slotted home a ball from Adriano. And the 25-year-old surpassed the former Bayern Munich player nine minutes later with a sweeping shot from Andres Iniesta’s deft backheel.

The milestone is the latest in a jaw-dropping career, and you can watch all the 86 goals he scored this year in the video below..

Premier League Team Of The Week – Gameweek 13

See who have made our Team of the Week from an exciting thirteenth weekend in the Premier League. Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur provide two players each, while there is one each from Chelsea, Stoke City, Norwich City, Southampton and Wigan Athletic.

Petr Cech (Chelsea)

It has been a difficult past week for Chelsea, but the Czech international keeper has show some good leadership qualities during it. He was once again commanding in the draw with Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, making a number of good saves.

Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)

The Argentine international put in another professional display against Chelsea on Sunday and showed everyone why he is preferred ahead of Maicon and the injured Micah Richards for the big games. He was solid in the defence and always prepared to join the attack, looking to become the extra man in attack in an attempt to make the difference.

Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)

Stoke recorded their sixth clean sheet of the season during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Fulham. The former Manchester United defender has played a leading role in making the Potters defence watertight and over the weekend he led by example, and also came close to finding the target as he struck the crossbar.

Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

Much of the focus before and during City’s trip to Chelsea was on the Blues’ new interim boss Rafael Benitez, but the City skipper was man of the match on the pitch. The Belgium international was solid as a rock at the back and showed no signs of his ankle injury that required heavy strapping. He kept Fernando Torres quiet throughout the whole game and made numerous blocks, interceptions and clearances.

Sebastien Bassong (Norwich City)

The Canaries have stretched their unbeaten run to six game and much of the credit goes to this Cameroon international. It doesn’t matter who Chris Hughton pairs him with, he seems to shine. He was the man who earned Norwich a share of the spoils at Goodison Park, and was also a rock at the back as Everton were restricted to just one goal in front of their own supporters.

Anderson (Manchester United)

The Brazilian has not actually shined during his time at Old Trafford, but on Saturday against QPR he entirely changed the game. He physicality in the midfield pushed United on following his introduction in the second half after going a goal down and his assist for Chicharito’s goal was top class.

Darren Fletcher (Manchester United)

On Saturday afternoon,  it didn’t look like it was the Scot’s first Premier League game for over a year as he put in a display that surely would have pleased the manager and the fans alike. He was not at his very best but made the most number passes in the game than any another player, and also scored an excellent header to put United ahead.

Gaston Ramirez (Southampton)

There has been a lot of talk of the Uruguayan international before his arrival to England and on Sunday he showed his true potential in Southampton’s 2-0 win over Newcastle. He put in an outstanding performance, as he set up the first goal for Adam Lallana and scored the second himself. He linked up perfectly with Lallana and Rickie Lambert as the hosts looked far more threatening going forward.

Jordi Gomez (Wigan Athletic)

His own fans were jeering him earlier in the game but his response was as emphatic as you can get. He scored an injury time goal that not only completely his hat-trick but also nicked all three points for the hosts against Reading on Saturday. He became the only second Spaniard ever to notch three goals in the same game – after Fernando Torres.

Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)

Much like his Tottenham team-mates, the Welshman has not really hit the heights so far this season, but a good display in the North London derby defeat to Arsenal last weekend looks to have woken him up. He scored a nice goal and was an ever-present threat to the West Ham defence during the 3-1 win at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur)

The England international striker is certainly enjoying his like under Andre Villas-Boas, as the former Porto and Chelsea boss prefers to play him in the lone striker role. His good form continued on Sunday with a brace against his former team, taking his tally for the season to seven.

Premier League Team Of The Week – Gameweek 12

See who have made our Team of the Week from an exciting eleventh weekend in the Premier League. Arsenal, Liverpool, Norwich City and Southampton provide two players each, while there is one each from Manchester City, Sunderland and West Brom Albion.

John Ruddy (Norwich City)

The England keeper was in instrumental form in his side’s shocking 1-0 win over Manchester United at Carrow Road on Saturday. He made a succession of crucial saves – especially from Ashley Young – and two right at the death, to frustrate United and keep them at bay.

Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)

Southampton have conceded the most number of goals this season, but Clyne is one player to keep an eye for in the future. In the biggest game at the bottom of the table, he was rock solid in defence when his team needed him and going forward he chipped in with an assist as his team got the better of QPR at Loftus Road.

Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland)

The former Aston Villa defender has been rock solid at the back for the Black Cats this season and he was once again at his best against Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday. He put in a very impressive defensive display and also scored his first goal for the club by heading home a corner.

Michael Turner (Norwich City)

Turner struggled at the start of the season but on Saturday he was at his very best. He was the heart and soul of the Canaries’ spirited defensive display and dealt brilliantly with both Javier Hernandez (later replaced by Danny Welbeck) and Robin van Persie. He put his body on the line and successfully got his head to numerous crosses to keep United’s attack at bay.

Jose Enrique (Liverpool)

This is the second consecutive time the Liverpool left-back has made our Team Of The Week and he completely deserves it. Played in an advance role in Saturday’s comfortable win over Wigan, the Spaniard put in his best performance of the season so far and ended the game with a goal and an assist.

Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

Arsenal fans and manager Arsene Wenger may be split on whether Theo Walcott is worth the money to keep at the club past this season. However, on Saturday in the North London derby at least Walcott put in a brilliant display. His contribution included an assist and an injury time goal.

Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)

The little Spainiard has been the Gunners’ best player this season and on Saturday he was at his creative best against Tottenham, making the most of Arsenal’s one-man advantage. He was involved in most of the hosts’ intricate build-up play, and topped off his performance with a goal and a brilliant assist in the 5-2 thrashing.

Jason Puncheon (Southampton)

He provided the impetus from the right side of midfield for Southampton, on his first return to Loftus Road, having played there on loan last season. His two assists and a sweet left-footed curling goal from the edge of the box was just the reward for his impressive performance.

Luis Suarez (Liverpool)

Another weekend and its Suarez again. The Uruguayan international is in the form of his life and without him I really can’t see Liverpool being a serious threat. However, he now has ten goals this season and increased his tally over the weekend with two well taken finishes in the home win over Wigan.

Shane Long (West Brom Albion)

The former Reading man spent a good 60 minutes terrorising the Chelsea defence and David Luiz in particular on Saturday. His goal involved great movement and his assist for Peter Odemwingie was of the first order. He has adapted very well to the life in the Premier League and now can produce performances capable of dismantling top sides.

Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

The Argentine striker ended his barren spell of just one goal in his last 12 appearances for City, with a brace in the 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. His first came from the penalty spot, while his second was a close-range tap-in. But, his performance will be the most pleasing thing for Roberto Mancini.

FIFA Puskás Award 2012: Ten Nominated Goals (Videos)

FIFA will be announcing the winner of the Puskás Award on January 7, 2013 along with the Ballon d’Or during the star-studded gala evening in Zurich.

Named after the legendary Hugarian striker Ferenc Puskás, the award is given to the player – male or female – judged to have scored the most aesthetically significant and “most beautiful” goal of the year. The award was presented for the first time in 2009, with Cristiano Ronaldo being the first winner. Turkey’s Hamit Altintop won the award the next year followed by Neymar in 2011.

This week, FIFA released the 10-goal shortlist. Take a look at each strike and then cast your vote for 2012’s best goal.

Agyemang Badu (Ghana v Guinea), Frebuary

Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle v Blackburn), January

Radamel Falcao (America de Cali v Atletico Madrid), May

Eric Hassli (Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto FC), May

Olivia Jiminez (Mexico v Switzerland), August

Gaston Mealla (Nacional Potosi v The Strongest), January

Lionel Messi (Argentina v Brazil), May

Neymar (Santos v Internacional), March

Moussa Sow (Fenerbahce v Galatasaray), March

Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce v Genclerbirligi), March

Top Ten Most ‘Liked’ Footballers On Facebook

It’s been a landmark past week for Portugal and Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Fresh from celebrating his 100th cap for his country, Los Blancos striker has hit 50 million ‘Likes’ on social networking site Facebook.

The former Manchester United star has 12 million more ‘Likes’ than his greatest rival on the pitch – Lionel Messi. His huge online following means that every 5 per cent of the users on Facebook are a fan of the Portuguese skipper.  In our today’s Picture Special we have a look at the top ten most ‘liked’ footballers on the world’s most famous social networking site.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid | Portugal (50,282,401 Likes)

2. Lionel Messi – Barcelona | Argentina (38,707,688 Likes)

3. David Beckham – Los Angeles Galaxy | England (21,557,388 Likes)

4. Ricardo Kaka – Real Madrid | Brazil (18,783,751 Likes)

5. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona | Spain (11,005,764 Likes)

6. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United | England (10,653,989 Likes)

7. Iker Casillas – Real Madrid | Spain (7,902,171 Likes)

8. David Villa – Barcelona | Spain (7,303,228 Likes)

9. Mesut Ozil – Real Madrid | Germany (7,223,803 Likes)

10. Neymar Jr. – Santos | Brazil (6,921,961 Likes)

Top Five Keepers Who Can Replace Reina At Liverpool

According to the reports, Liverpool have given Pepe Reina until January to prove his ability to fit into Brendan Rodgers’ new system, or face being sold.

Reina’s role as Spain’s second choice keeper has already been given to Barcelona’s Victor Valdes and his club career looks in danger of following the same path, but who could replace him at Anfield? Here, IntoTheTopCorner has a look at the top five candidates..

1. MICHEL VORM (SWANSEA CITY)

The Dutch international has been very impressive since moving to the Premier League from FC Utrecht a year ago. Vorm kept 13 clean sheets in 37 appearances last season and his performances won him the Fans’ Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and the Away Players’ Player of the Year awards. The 28-year-old worked under the current Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers at the Liberty Stadium last season. Good reflexes, good ball distribution and comfortable with ball at his feet, Vorm fits into Rodgers’s system perfectly.

2. CRAIG GORDON (FREE AGENT)

The Scotish international was once famously hailed as one of the best keepers in the world by Gianluigi Buffon, but with him currently being a free agent, it looks like no one is willing to take a gamble on the injury-prone former Sunderland stopper. Though a move to Liverpool would be a risk for the club, should they keep him injury free and get the best out of him, then it could be the bargain buy of the year.

3. JACK BUTLAND (BIRMINGHAM CITY)

Jack Butland’s performances for Team GB at the London Olympics 2012 has done justice to his hype that had build around him after being selected in the England squad for the Euros. The youngster has only played first-team football in League Two while on loan at Cheltenham Town, but was tipped for a move to one of the top Premier League sides this summer. Signing Butland would be a major gamble due to his age and experience, but he could develop into one of the top keepers in the world and occupy the number one spot for many years to come.

4. MAARTEN STEKELENBURG (AS ROMA)

The Dutch number one inherited the jersey from the former Manchester United keeper Edwin van der Sar upon his retirement from national football. Since then Stekelenburg has improved steadily and has also made AS Roma’s number one jersey his own ousting current Liverpool back-up Doni at the Stadio Olimpico. With the rise of Tim Krul in the last year or so, the Roma man may need to move elsewhere to fight off the challenge for the Netherlands number one jersey and a move Liverpool could be the best opportunity. He being a product of the Ajax academy, it won’t be difficult for him to adjust to Rodgers’ style of football.

5. MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN (BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH)

The German has got many scouts from across Europe excited with his performances in the Bundesliga over the past season. Just 20 years old, Ter Stegen has already made his debut for the senior Germany side and also saved a penalty from Lionel Messi in the recent international freindly. The young keeper forced himself into Gladbach’s starting XI while still a teenager and is a very exciting prospect for the future. His style of goalkeeping has been frequently compared to the great German keeper – Oliver Kahn