?Group H in the Champions League kicks off on Tuesday as Europa League champions Chelsea take on Valencia at Stamford Bridge and Ajax host LOSC Lille.
It’s a tough group for Chelsea, with an Ajax side that reached the semi finals of the competition last year expected to do well again, while neither Valencia or Lille are expected to roll over easily.
With so many exceptional players in all three teams, picking a combined XI was not easy, but here’s a look at who made the cut.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Kepa Arrizabalaga (GK) – ?Chelsea boast one of the youngest squads in the Premier League and impressive shot-stopper Arrizabalaga falls into that category. Joining the club in 2018 from Athletic Club for around £70m, he has adapted well to life in the English game. Despite not keeping a clean sheet this season, the 24-year-old gets the nod ahead of Valencia goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, who made a number of errors as ?Barcelona beat Valencia 5-2 at Camp Nou this past weekend.
César Azpilicueta (RB) – The Spain international has made the right back position his own since his move to Chelsea from Marseille in 2012. Clocking up 342 appearances in all competitions to date, ?Azpilicueta is one of the key figures in the squad.
José Fonte (CB) – The former Southampton centre back will have the tough task of leading the Lille backline. Now 35, the Portugal international was drafted in last summer following a brief spell at Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang. He will come up against the likes of in form Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham and 29-year-old Spain international Rodrigo.
Ezequiel Garay (CB) – The 32-year-old Argentinian has been a prolific figure alongside former Arsenal centre back Gabriel Paulista since his arrival at Valencia from Zenit St. Petersburg in 2016. A key figure under former manager Marcelino, he will command Los Che’s backline as he aims to guide his team to the last 16 of Europe’s elite competition.
José Luis Gayà (LB) – Gayà, 24, like Valencia predecessors Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat, has a natural inclination to attack and makes an impact going forward. His fast acceleration allows him to sprint down the left flank, while he can also drop back, recover his position and defend. Thanks to a strong first touch and good ball control, Gayà is able to drive in and out down the flanks without giving away possession and can also deliver dangerous crosses, especially with his left foot.
Donny van de Beek (CM) – Best described as a modern, dynamic, box-to-box midfielder, Van de Beek has become one of Ajax’s leaders. His effectiveness lies in his flexibility, as he’s blessed with a perfect first touch and combines individual skill with stamina to devastating effect. Van de Beek is comfortable drifting out wide, instigating Ajax’s forward press, dropping deep to cover and making smart runs into the penalty area, which has enabled him to pop up with 32 goals in 140 matches, also creating a further 25. He is one to watch in this season’s competition.
N’Golo Kanté (CM) – Kanté is back playing in the deep-lying midfield role he has perfected over the years following last season’s positional debacle under Maurizio Sarri. The 28-year-old France international is one of the senior figures in the ?Chelsea ranks and Lampard hopes he will be able to feature against Valencia on matchday one following a small knock he picked up in the Premier League.
Dušan Tadi? (CAM) – Ajax paid a transfer sum of €11.4m to bring the former Southampton playmaker to the Johan Cruijff ArenA last summer. The Serbia international impressed in the 4-1 victory over Real Madrid in last season’s competition, netting in the match, and was a constant threat against Juventus too. Tadi?, 30, will be hoping for more success in this season’s competition, having seen his side fall at the semi final hurdle against Tottenham.
David Neres (RW) – The Brazil international helped guide Ajax to their first Champions League semi final since the 1996/97 season. Skilful, quick and agile, the Neres expresses himself much better when running into the box like he did against Real Madrid to finish off Tadi?’s outrageous assist for the second goal in Ajax’s iconic 4-1 success in Madrid last season.
Tammy Abraham (ST) – Abraham has already racked up seven goals in the Premier League this season, netting a hat-trick away to Wolves in his most recent appearance, and is now the joint top scorer in the division alongside Sergio Agüero. Valencia’s Rodrigo could have easily made it in to the XI due to his experience, but the 22-year-old has had a fine start to Premier League life and is excelling under Lampard.
Gonçalo Guedes (LW) – The 22-year-old has made a real name for himself since swapping Paris Saint-Germain for the Mestalla on a permanent deal last summer. He made his senior international debut in November 2015, at the age of 18, and played at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, also scoring the winning goal for Portugal in the 2019 UEFA Nations League final. Being instrumental in helping his side defeat Barcelona in the 2019 Copa del Rey final, the Portugal international likes to cut inside and will pose a constant attacking threat.