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ESPN's Ultimate XI: We pick our dream team that could win anything

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Picking an Ultimate Champions League XI (2:35)

Alejandro Moreno picks his ultimate XI for the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League and is allowed only two player choices per club. (2:35)

If money were no object, which 11 players would you sign to form the ultimate team? This is the question we put to ESPN FC's experts ahead of the Champions League group stage, which begins Sept. 17.

We asked our experts to pick the XI they felt would be both indispensable and unbeatable in the pursuit of long-term glory. There were some basic rules:

- no more than two players from the same club
- use the 4-3-3 formation, a base template for so many top teams
- remain true to each player's position: no picking four center-backs and no using a star in a position he plays the least
- everyone's picks were collated and the most-selected player at each position made the cut for our Ultimate XI

- Pick your own Ultimate team in ESPN's Champions League Fantasy game

Our panel: Gab Marcotti, Mark Ogden, Melissa Reddy, Musa Okwonga, James Horncastle, Ryan O'Hanlon, Nick Ames, Nick Miller, Julien Laurens, Andrew Hush, Jon Carter and Graham Hunter.

Who did our experts pick and how much would this team cost to build? (Answer to that second bit: roughly €1.2 billion at current market prices.) -- James Tyler

Jump to: GK | DF | MF | FW | Subs


Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak

Age: 26
Club/country: Atletico Madrid/Slovenia
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €100 million

The Atletico Madrid and Slovenia shot-stopper is the first surprise on the list, pipping arguably the top goalie in 2019, Liverpool's Alisson, to our XI. Oblak and Atleti might have finished a distant second to Barcelona in La Liga last season, but Oblak was a star from start to finish: Diego Simeone's side conceded just 29 goals in 38 league matches and outperformed their expected goals allowed by over 12 goals (data models believe they ought to have conceded 41 times across the season). As such, this pillar of consistency gets the nod.

Also receiving votes: Oblak beat out several keepers in England such as Alisson, David de Gea (Man United) and Ederson (Man City), showing that at least for now, the balance of goalie power is located in the Premier League.

What the experts said:

- "We don't really know how well he'd perform outside of Diego Simeone's defensive structure, but we also don't really care. He's the best shot-stopper in the world, and that's a keeper's No. 1 job." -- Ryan O'Hanlon

- "It took Oblak just 178 games to keep 100 clean sheets for Atletico Madrid; that is an astonishing achievement for a 26-year-old keeper who could easily have a dozen more years at the very top. His positioning and shot-stopping underpin everything good about Simeone's side." -- Nick Ames


Right-back: Joshua Kimmich

Age: 24
Club/country: Bayern Munich/Germany
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €70 million

It feels like he's only just starting out at his top level for club and country, having taken over the troublesome right-back spot in both situations from a genuine legend in Philipp Lahm. Kimmich can play several positions with aplomb, but his intelligence is best served on the flank, where he can mix it up on both sides of the ball.

What the experts said:

- "The weight of having to replace Lahm must be a heavy one to cope with, but Joshua Kimmich seems to be doing fine. He's experimented with different positions, but full-back seems to be his strongest, and he could turn out to be one of the greats." -- Nick Miller

- "The Bayern Munich right-back gets the nod over Trent Alexander-Arnold because he has much more in his locker defensively. His game intelligence also makes him capable of playing in different systems and positions." -- Mark Ogden

- "Thirteen assists last season? Check. Shaved that awful mustache? Check. Can also double as one of the best defensive midfielders on the planet on the off chance this group actually plays a competitive match together? Check." -- Ryan O'Hanlon

- "Tactically astute with an exceptional engine." -- Musa Okwonga


Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk

Age: 28
Club/country: Liverpool/Netherlands
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €90 million

The fact that a defender is a legitimate favorite to win a Ballon d'Or in 2019 -- the first time since 2006 -- says it all. When it comes to Van Dijk, he boasts transformative powers, converting Liverpool from a leaky, entertaining collective into a ruthless winning machine and also helming his national team's rebirth after years in the doldrums.

What the experts said:

- "The straw that stirs the drink. Covers deceptive amounts of ground and pops up at the other end with goals, too." -- Gab Marcotti

- "The team in front of Virg is nimble, a bit lightweight and, I'm guessing, unlikely to track back and cover. Not that he minds. The Dutchman will push up and stop danger before it arises. After all, Van Dijk is the first centre-back with a shot of winning the Ballon d'Or since Cannavaro." -- James Horncastle

- "Single players have made colossal impacts on teams plenty of times down the years, but has a defender had as profound an effect on a side as Van Dijk has on Liverpool? Without him, would they be European champions? Almost certainly not." -- Nick Miller

- "A colossus. A picture of composure. So hard to dribble past that when an elite forward actually manages it but falls over afterward -- as was the case with Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe -- they are lauded. Immense in the air and his long diagonal passes might as well be art. Unquestionably the best defender in the game, and by a sizeable margin, too." -- Melissa Reddy


Centre-back: Kalidou Koulibaly

Age: 28
Club/country: Napoli/Senegal
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €75 million

How is this guy still in Serie A? All the top clubs around Europe want Koulibaly, and few central defenders measure up to him in 2019. Recent game-winning "assist" for Juventus aside, the Napoli anchor is everything you need from a modern centre-back: pace, poise and power.

What the experts said:

- "Consistent, dominant, intelligent, so good in the air and with his feet. An all-around gem of a defender." -- Melissa Reddy

- "I figure one of our centre-backs will have to hang back when we have an attacking set piece, which is a shame because Koulibaly is a real handful in the opposition penalty area. Koulibaly has endured a difficult start to the season but that changes nothing for me. I want the reigning Serie A defender of the year to bulldoze his way up the pitch and play those rainbow diagonals out wide so our wingers can hurt defenders on the dribble." -- James Horncastle

- "Heart of a lion, brains of a fox. Size, speed and leadership." -- Gab Marcotti


Left-back: Andrew Robertson

Age: 25
Club/country: Liverpool/Scotland
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €60 million

Robertson famously tweeted, "life is rubbish with no money #needajob" back in 2012 when he was waiting to find a first pro contract, but the fiery full-back soon signed with Queens Park in Scotland's third division and never looked back. Few can do what Robertson can do with the ball in wide positions, and only his Reds teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold has him beaten when it comes to delivering consistently menacing crosses for their dynamic front three to convert.

The Scotland defender plays the game without a filter, and while his overenthusiasm can be an issue at times, he's one of the unsung heroes amid Liverpool's renaissance.

Bayern's David Alaba, Barca standout Jordi Alba and the seemingly ageless Aleksandar Kolarov, now a force for AS Roma, also received votes, but nobody really came close to replacing the Liverpool tyro.

What the experts said:

- "Consistently produces 8/10 performances in both the defensive and offensive elements of his game. Exceptional engine, delivery and Scotland's captain is robust; he is hardly ever unavailable for selection." -- Melissa Reddy

- "Crosses like a winger, works tirelessly at both ends of the pitch and does the basics of a full-back's job with aplomb." -- Andrew Hush

- "Tenacious and team-oriented with a brutal work ethic, Robertson is a tremendous athlete with a flood of goal assists and goal chances laid on to boot. How could he not be in here?" -- Graham Hunter

- "The Liverpool left-back's energy levels have to be seen to be believed. A rapid, searing outlet who can cut defences apart with his delivery and runs from deep, while still boasting the recovery powers to get back and keep things tight defensively." -- Nick Ames


Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne

Age: 28
Club/country: Manchester City/Belgium
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €130 million

It says a lot that De Bruyne missed huge chunks of the 2018-19 season -- and Man City's impressive domestic Treble -- but is still almost a unanimous pick for one of our three coveted midfield places. When fully fit, there's simply nobody with the combination of passing prowess and anticipation that the Belgian playmaker possesses. He's continued to improve under Pep Guardiola's watchful eye at Man City and is decisive in virtually every game he plays.

De Bruyne was close to a consensus Ultimate XI by our panel of experts as well; only Lionel Messi (see later) had a 100% vote.

What the experts said:

- "This midfield could teach geometry. It's all about the angles. Imagine a scenario in which Paul Pogba has taken too many touches. Your defence has time to set and backs itself not to be beaten. De Bruyne will find a pass that beats you. An improbable angle. The tightest of gaps and he's put Messi through for his fifth goal of the night." -- James Horncastle

- "Sees passes several days before anyone else but also possesses the kind of laser-guided passing to be able to use that extrasensory perception he's been blessed with. He's never played with these strikers and, if he did, we'd see a still more spectacular De Bruyne." -- Graham Hunter

- "The perfect blend of energy, fantasy and defensive responsibility." -- Musa Okwonga

- "Vision: check. Passing range: check. Goals, assists and the ability to bend a game to his team's will: check. An absolute marvel to watch when he is on his A-game, which is quite often." -- Melissa Reddy

- "Struggled with injury last season but De Bruyne's energy, passing and goal threat make him a key man for Guardiola. A modern-day Steven Gerrard." -- Mark Ogden


Midfield: N'Golo Kante

Age: 28
Club/country: Chelsea/France
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €100 million

The era of the box-to-box midfielder might have passed for the most part, but Kante is the rarest of modern players in that he can literally cover the work of two or three players, and do it well to boot. He was instrumental in Leicester City's miraculous Premier League title for his knack of winning back possession and covering the entire pitch in support of Riyad Mahrez & Co., and now his prodigious skills are Chelsea's gain.

Kante pipped the likes of Bernardo Silva, Toni Kroos and Fabian Ruiz in our Ultimate XI, and while the Blues are still figuring out how to extract the best from Kante in the middle, he'd walk into the starting XI of any top club team with ease. A priceless addition.

What the experts said:

- "Watch how Chelsea play when he's not in the team, and his value will become clear." -- Nick Miller

- "To paraphrase a Leicester coach's famous line, this team would have De Jong in midfield with Kante on either side." -- Andrew Hush

- "There is Chelsea's midfield with N'Golo Kante and there is simply no Chelsea midfield without him. The France international's ability to stifle opposition attacks before sparking his team's own offensive moves is sublime. There are countless games that speak to Kante's brilliance, but the first half of the Super Cup final against Liverpool will have you questioning if there was three of him on the pitch at the same time." -- Melissa Reddy

- "Literally a phenomenon. It's not just the fact that he's physically capable of doing the work of three players, or that he's psychologically inclined to do so. This remarkable guy is also a shrewd, savvy footballer. Don't think it's all just hard work and running which separates Kante from the rest -- good football brain." -- Graham Hunter


Midfield: Frenkie De Jong

Age: 22
Club/country: Barcelona/Netherlands
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €85 million

De Jong's rise has been stratospheric but entirely deserved. He was the swaggering midfield playmaker that led Ajax to within minutes of last season's Champions League final, but everyone knew of his brilliance before the spring, as he'd already agreed to his summer move to Barcelona back in January. He projects to be the Xavi replacement the Spanish giants have been craving ever since the diminutive dynamo decamped for Qatar back in 2015, and has already slotted in seamlessly to revive a flagging midfield.

Other creators like Paul Pogba and Thiago Alcantara couldn't come close to knocking the young Dutchman out of our Ultimate XI, either. The sky's the limit for him in Spain, though bringing the Champions League back to the Camp Nou is surely top of his to-do list.

What the experts said:

- "Just to be sure, it's Frenkie not Nigel. This isn't a team that goes around kicking opposition playmakers at chest height. Frenkie is responsible for 500 of our 700 passes a game. He picks the ball up off our centre-backs and elegantly moves and eludes our opponents with smart one-touch give-and-gos." -- James Horncastle

- "If we want our team to dominate their opponents -- and let's face it, we do -- then De Jong is an absolute must. Tactically savvy and technically impeccable, he has an unparalleled ability to pick the ball up in deep areas before tearing teams to shreds with his courageous dribbling and piercing passing." -- Tom Williams


Forward: Lionel Messi

Age: 32
Club/country: Barcelona/Argentina
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €150 million

What do you say about greatness?

What the experts said:

- "He's a different player these days, a man of moments rather than complete game dominance, but what moments. Messi can stand still for 87 minutes but use the other three to score a hat trick that will make you thank your deity of choice that you watch this game." -- Nick Miller

- "The best. Simple as that. Unparalleled brain, skills still burning white hot, throbs with a determination to win, scores, makes, opens opponents up. Entertains." -- Graham Hunter

- "He won his first Ballon d'Or in 2009. Ten years later, he's still the best goal-scorer, finisher, creator, passer, dribbler, free kick-taker -- and best player -- in the world." -- Ryan O'Hanlon

- "He needs no introduction and even if he did, none would be possible." -- Musa Okwonga


Forward: Kylian Mbappe

Age: 20
Club/country: Paris Saint-Germain/France
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €200 million

We keep waiting for Mbappe to suffer that "sophomore slump," but the French kid, fresh out of his teens, continues to add personal and team trophies to his collection while showing little sign of slowing down. As a happy-go-lucky, all-action forward at PSG, it hasn't taken Mbappe long to prove he's worthy of a leadership role despite playing for a star-studded, ego-laden team including the likes of Neymar, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani.

He already has a World Cup title with France, has won just about everything one can win in France and it's surely a matter of time before he tries his hand at a bigger challenge. We'd never dream of rooting against him.

Mbappe is already PSG's de facto leader and it won't be long until he's the king of the sport. Just wait and see. Other talented youngsters such as Jadon Sancho and Joao Felix got votes from our Ultimate XI panel, but 10 of 12 experts had room for the 20-year-old from the Paris suburbs in their lineups.

What the experts said:

- "The most thrilling and visceral footballer around at the moment, Kylian Mbappe is a force of nature. And still only 20; if we're lucky, we've got another 15 years of him to enjoy." -- Nick Miller

- "The player primed to dominate in the post-Messi/Ronaldo space. Whether stationed on the left or on the right, the 20-year-old is deadly in the finish, with his take-ons and quality chance creation." -- Melissa Reddy

- "How do you leave out the likes of Raheem Sterling, Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah from a team of the best players in the world? If Ronaldo and Messi take the first two attacking spots, Kylian Mbappe simply has to be take the third, regardless of the competition." -- Mark Ogden

- "Last season's 39-goal haul at club level gave an indication of the lethal centre-forward that Mbappe now stands poised to become. An exhilarating, generational talent, the 20-year-old has already eclipsed Neymar at PSG and it now seems only a matter of time before he takes over from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world's outstanding footballer." -- Tom Williams


Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo

Age: 34
Club/country: Juventus/Portugal
Estimated transfer value (via Transfermarkt): €90 million

The Messi vs. Ronaldo rift has raged for over a decade, but picking one over the other always felt like a waste of time, and it's no surprise that both of the perennial Ballon d'Or winners made our Ultimate XI. This time, Ronaldo wasn't as unanimous as some of his peers, but his never-say-die attitude and constant productivity in his club or country's biggest matches make him the Ultimate X Factor in our team.

If there's one game between your team and eternal glory, you'd do a lot worse than having Ronaldo on the pitch to make a vital contribution.

What the experts said:

- "As his staggering consistency in the Champions League demonstrates, Ronaldo is football's ultimate big-game player, and even with his 35th birthday just around the corner, he remains a terrifying prospect for opposition defences. Our team will get goals with Ronaldo, obviously, but perhaps more importantly, it will also get the heart of a champion." -- Tom Williams

- "Quite simply, Ronaldo is a goal machine, and despite now being well into his 30s, the Juventus forward remains the man most likely to deliver when it matters in the Champions League." -- Mark Ogden


"Subs bench," aka other players receiving significant votes

GK Alisson Becker, Liverpool/Brazil: "Not just a great keeper, he's excellent with his feet, a nice guy and very handsome, too. What more do you want?" -- Gab Marcotti

RB Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool/England: "Trent is from our town. He's been with us since he was a kid and it's always been his dream to play in our colours. When Messi retires, the armband is his. We value his imagination and quick thinking at full-back. The standard of his delivery is so high that we've had to tell De Bruyne to keep his hands by his sides because he can't stop instinctively applauding them." -- James Horncastle

CB Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid/Spain: "Not to everyone's liking, but the Real Madrid captain is a defender and leader in the truest sense. Perhaps one of a dying breed and maybe lucky to edge out Matthijs de Ligt, but Ramos is still one of the best in the world." -- Mark Ogden

CB Gerard Pique, Barcelona/Spain: "Simply a brilliant footballer. Possesses every skill needed to anchor this team, to play out from the back, to pass and to stay aerially competitive but above all, he's fired by a rapacious hunger to win and keep winning." -- Graham Hunter

LB Jordi Alba, Barcelona/Spain: "Still doing it after all these years, Jordi Alba has been a constant for Barcelona since signing for them in 2012, and even at age 30 he doesn't seem to have lost any of his dynamism." -- Nick Miller

MF Bernardo Silva, Man City/Portugal: "Does more need to be mentioned than Guardiola saying his starting XI at Manchester City is 'Bernardo and 10 more players?' Yes? OK. Technically incredible and tenacious, he is enjoyable to watch both for his abilities and how much of a nuisance he is to the opposition." -- Melissa Reddy

FW Eden Hazard, Real Madrid/Belgium: "Narrowly ahead of Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane, since the only player in world football who can run riot to greater effect is Messi." -- Musa Okwonga

FW Mohamed Salah, Liverpool/Egypt: "The best attacker in the Premier League warrants a place in the world XI. His 2017-18 season was Messi-esque, and he followed that up with another Golden Boot for himself and another European Cup for his club. Your annual reminder: He cost less than Gylfi Sigurdsson." -- Ryan O'Hanlon