·3 October 2023
·3 October 2023
With the Champions League up and running it's still too early to know which teams will go deep into the competition, although everyone will already have their suspicions. Of course, Liverpool are in the Europa League this term, so plenty of teams will be glad to avoid an intimidating mid-week trip to Anfield. With the Reds out of the way, and after winning the whole thing last year, Manchester City are obviously the favourites, while Real Madrid can never be ruled out.
That is getting ahead of ourselves a little, though, as we are only in the group stages after all. So as we try to focus on the here and now, we've decided to make a combined XI for every group. Having done so, we've ranked those eight teams from best to worst. Enjoy!
While this could be a tight enough group for the chasing pack, Atletico Madrid are obviously the favourites and they dominate the combined XI here with six players in the lineup, including star forward Antoine Griezmann. Lazio have endured a difficult start to the season with just two wins from seven in Serie A but did at least pick up a point against their Spanish opposition in the opening Champions League round thanks to that dramatic header from goalkeeper Ivan Provedel in the 95th minute.
Experienced heads Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile make the team from the Italian outfit, while Greg Taylor is the only Celtic representative at left-back. Young centre-back Dávid Hancko comes into the deference from Feyenoord, while 22-year-old striker Santiago Gimenez – who has ten Eredivisie goals in seven games this term – can't be left out. It's a relatively strong team, but this is the Champions League and standards are high, which is why Group E ranks lowest on our list.
Next up we have the group that contains last season's runners-up in Inter Milan. With Red Bull Salzburg, Real Sociedad, and Benfica all to compete with, this is another well-balanced bunch with plenty of exciting names to pick from.
André Onana joined Manchester United in this summer, so La Liga shot-stopper Álex Remiro gets the nod instead. In defence, 22-year-old centre-half Strahinja Pavlović is the only representative for Red Bull Salzburg, while Orkun Kökcü steps into midfield for Benfica after his big-money move from Feyenoord in the summer. This group would certainly have a fun front three with the likes of Mikel Oyarzabal, Lautaro Martínez, and Takefusa Kubo all working in tandem.
For balance, we've tried to include at least one player from each team when possible, which could potentially weaken teams but Royal Antwerp's Toby Alderweireld would bring plenty of experience to this side – and he's somehow still only 34 years old. Former Liverpool talent Marko Grujić represents Porto in the middle of the park alongside legendary Shakhtar midfielder Taras Stepanenko, who has over 400 appearances for the club.
We've also picked Diogo Costa in goal, but Marc-André ter Stegen is a tad unlucky to miss out. The rest of the team is made up of Barcelona stars – although players with longer-term injuries such as Pedri, Raphinha and Frenkie de Jong are left out.
With Arsenal back in the Champions League for the first time since 2016, there is plenty of interest to see how they'll get on. Unsurprisingly, they dominate this team with the likes of William Saliba, Declan Rice, and Bukayo Saka having all made their debuts in the competition this season.
In goal, it remains unclear who will play most games for the Gunners between David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale, but Brice Samba is the undisputed number one at Lens and, having been nominated for the Yashin Trophy, he is a strong choice between the sticks. Experienced Sevilla stars Marcos Acuña and Ivan Rakitić both make the side, while Gabriel Martinelli's current injury issues afford PSV's Noa Lang the chance to come in on the wing.
Only a fool would dismiss a Champions League side made up mostly of Real Madrid players but our combined XI for Group C only ranks as the fourth strongest team. With Thibaut Courtois injured, Napoli shot-stopper Alex Meret comes in. Captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo and star attackers Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia also make the team after the fantastic Serie A-winning campaign they enjoyed last term.
Robin Gosens flies the flag for Union Berlin but unfortunately no player from Braga makes the lineup with the quality within Madrid too good to ignore. Jude Bellingham, Luka Modrić, and Fede Valverde make up the midfield, but any one of Toni Kroos, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni could just as easily step into the XI.
The injured Manuel Neuer doesn't make the cut for this one with Champions League finalist Onana coming in to take his spot. He's joined by Man Utd teammates Raphaël Varane and Casemiro who won the competition multiple times with Real Madrid before heading to Old Trafford. Senior attackers Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford also make the side.
As Joshua Kimmich hasn't been quite at his best for a little while, nor has he been playing at right-back, Galatasaray's talented 23-year-old Sacha Boey comes in at fullback with Alphonso Davies on the other flank. Harry Kane can't be left out as he's joined by other Bayern stars such as Min-jae Kim, Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sané. This would be an extremely tough team for any opponent to come up against.
Group F is very much the group of death with four top teams all involved. As a result, they have a really strong combined XI with PSG the dominant team featured. Marquinhos and Achraf Hakimi all make the backline, while Manuel Ugarte steps into midfield and Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé lead the attack.
Of course, AC Milan stars Mike Maignan, Theo Hernández and Rafael Leão can't be left out but this leaves room for Julian Brandt to represent Borussia Dortmund. Sven Botman and Bruno Guimarães of Newcastle also make the lineup but Keiran Trippier, Sandro Tonali and Alexander Isak can all count themselves unlucky not to be included. This certainly is some team though and would surely go deep into the competition.
Considering the way Man City dominated the competition last term and will be expected to do so this time around, it's hard to look past Group G as having the strongest combined XI with nine City players making the team. Of course, Joško Gvardiol only arrived from RB Leipzig in the summer – so he makes the team mainly on the merit of what he achieved with the German side before his move to England.
Elsewhere young talents Benjamin Šeško and Xavi Simons would be extremely exciting to add to the mix up top alongside Erling Haaland. With Kevin De Bruyne injured, Julián Álvarez has stepped up admirably and he consequently makes our team as well. All in all, this best combined XI is just an improved Man City so you can see why they top our rankings.