·20 September 2023
·20 September 2023
Current Time 0:00
The Champions League is back upon us and we've already been treated to a moment of pure drama as goalkeeper Ivan Provedel scored a 95th-minute equaliser for Lazio against Atletico Madrid in the Group E match that ended 1-1. Elsewhere, we saw plenty of talent in action as Kylian Mbappé and Achraf Hakimi got on the score sheet in Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.
Every season the competition throws up memorable matches and it's undoubtedly where every player wants to be playing. For instance, just look at how Declan Rice stares adoringly at the ball in Arsenal training as he prepares to make his debut in the tournament. But of course, not every footballer gets to leave out the dream.
This season, a number of stars will be absent from the Champions League as their teams didn't qualify for the competition, or they are no longer eligible to play in it because they moved to clubs outside of Europe – with the Saudi Pro League snapping up plenty of talent on that front. Things certainly will look different as this will be the first campaign in 20 consecutive seasons, since 2002-03, without either at least one of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo involved in the action. With this in mind, GIVEMESPORT has made a best XI of stars who won't be playing in the competition this term.
Having played in goal when Chelsea won the 2021 Champions League, and also being named the competition's best goalkeeper that year, Édouard Mendy is a good shout here since he moved to Saudi side Al Ahli this summer. But Liverpool's Alisson is one of the best shot-stoppers in the game and yet won't be in the competition after Liverpool finished fifth in the Premier League last season.
He of course won the competition in 2019, while also winning the Yashin Trophy in the same year. And while that was a few seasons ago, the 30-year-old is still at the top of his game and could potentially be the best in the world in his position right now – especially with Thibaut Courtois out for a while with an ACL injury.
Reece James at Chelsea can't stay fit right now, so we'll go for another Liverpool player in Alexander-Arnold. The Reds' right-back also won the competition in 2019, but has played in two further finals – losing to Real Madrid on each occasion.
He was named in the Champions League Team of the Season for his efforts in the 2018–19 and 2021–22 campaigns. And with 12 assists in the tournament over the years, he is level in terms of his creative output with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Eden Hazard, and David Silva.
The Brazilian defender had played in the Champions League consecutively for 14 seasons season since making his competition debut in 2009/10. But that run ended after Chelsea finished 12 in the Premier League last term.
He made it clear how unhappy he is to not be in the competition this time around by Tweeting a crying emoji this week. At the age of 38 now, it remains to be seen if he'll add to his 105 tournament appearances. At least he won the whole thing with the Blues before the club's recent fall from grace.
Still only 29 years of age, it could be argued that Laporte swapped the Premier League and European football for the Saudi Pro League in the prime of his career. After all, he won the treble just last season. However, he was an unused substitute in the CL final against Inter Milan.
In fact, he only played four times – with three starts – in Europe last term, which perhaps explains why he was happy to leave Man City in the summer, and why Pep Guardiola let him go. The Spain international now plays for Al-Nassr alongside Sadio Mané and Ronaldo but would still start for most Champions League teams.
Another Liverpool ace who has played in three Champions League finals, winning one, the Scottish fullback has now played 51 times in the competition all up, being named in the Team of the Season for 2021/22.
Still very much the first-choice left-back under Jurgen Klopp, Robertson and his teammates will expect to go far in the Europa League this term having finished runners-up in that competition when they last played in it back in 2016 (losing 3-1 to Sevilla in the final).
Costing Chelsea £115m this summer, he may well be the most expensive central midfielder of all time, but Caicedo is yet to play in the Champions League and will have to wait at least one more season to do so after the Blues finished way outside all of the European spots last term.
Judging from the way Mauricio Pochettino's men have started the new campaign, you can't help but feel as though the Ecuadorian would actually have more hopes of qualifying for the competition if he was still at Brighton. Still, Caicedo is only in the infancy of his Chelsea career and once he's settled in he could prove to be worth every penny.
Paul Pogba and Fabinho were contenders for this role, but their careers are very much on the slide of late, while Szoboszlai appears to be on the rise. Indeed, the midfielder joined Liverpool in the summer for £60m and has made an impressive start to life in England, having played every minute in the league so far with Klopp's men yet to lose.
Spells at Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig mean he has played Champions League football before and he will no doubt be desperate to get back into the competition again next term with the Reds. Still only 22, the Hungarian has a very bright future.
Another £100m+ midfielder signed in the Todd Boehly era, Fernández has won the biggest knock-out competition of them all with Argentina at the 2022 World Cup last winter. He does also at least have CL experience, having played in the competition with Chelsea last term, as well as with Benfica before that.
Just 22 years of age, the midfielder will likely be a mainstay at the top of European football over the next decade. But as with Caicedo, he may have to be patient as it's hard to know just when exactly the Blues will be competing up there with the best again amid their recent woes.
With 48 goals in the Champions League, Salah is 13th on the all-time top scorers in Europe's biggest club competition, sandwiched between the legends Alfredo Di Stéfano and Eusébio. At 31, the winger could yet climb that list further but as he's not in the tournament this season, and was heavily targeted by the Saudi Pro League in the summer, there is a chance he'll never play CL football again.
He has actually played in the tournament for four different clubs starting with Basel in 2013, before spending brief spells at Chelsea and then at Roma (as well as Fiorentina, but he never played in the competition with them). As we all know, he eventually ended up at Liverpool, winning the whole thing back in 2019.
While Ronaldo may well be the competition's all-time top goalscorer, at the age of 38 now, he is well past his prime and so doesn't make this team despite his eligibility since joining Al-Nassr last year. Messi may also be past his best, but that hasn't stopped him from having a fantastic last 12 months.
The Argentine has dazzled in America since joining MLS side Inter Miami, and won the World Cup and Ligue 1 before the move, and may well be awarded the Ballon d'Or this year. It's certainly weird to have a Champions League without Messi – who has won the competition four times, scoring 129 goals while also picking up 40 assists along the way – but all good things eventually must come to an end.
Part of the reason PSG spent around €222m (£200m) to buy Neymar from Barcelona in August 2017 was to help them finally win the Champions League. He had, after all, lifted the trophy in 2015 with the Catalan giants. Sadly, though, he failed to deliver that dream.
Indeed, whilst helping the French side continuously dominate Ligue 1, the Brazilian didn't live up to expectations in Europe, often picking up injuries making him absent for key knock-out games. At just 31, he has now left the continent having joined Saudi outfit Al-Hilal in the summer. Despite the disappointing way things ended, only three players – Messi, Ronaldo and Ángel Di María – have more than Neymar's 31 assists in the competition.