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Liverpool and Real Madrid dominate Champions League XI, but no Roma

The Exploding Heads recap the semi-finals, Mo Salah's goal celebrations and more with Champions League in 90 seconds.

The semifinal first-legs had plenty of goals, and Liverpool and Real Madrid dominate Nick Ames' best XI. With no Roma players making the cut.

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Champions League XI
ESPN FC's Champions League Team of the Gameweek.

Goalkeeper: Sven Ulreich (Bayern Munich)

This was not exactly a week for goalkeeping heroics but perhaps Ulreich, who had no chance for either of Real Madrid's goals against Bayern, may yet prove to have had a vital influence on the tie. He saved late on from a marauding Karim Benzema, ensuring a difficult second-leg task did not become a near-impossible one, and could hardly be blamed for Bayern's inability to take chances at the other end.

Right-back: Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)

Kimmich has a taste for Champions League goals this year. His strike against Bayern was his third of the season and, at the time, looked as if it could pave the way to a bigger advantage for the German side. It was Kimmich at his best, galloping onto a James Rodriguez pass and confusing Keylor Navas, who had been prepared for a cross, with a clever finish inside his near post -- but a repeat performance may be necessary if Bayern are to reach their first final in five years.

Centre-back: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Real were under the cosh for long spells at the Allianz Arena and, considering the number of chances Bayern created, it was not exactly their most solid defensive display. But Varane was an exception: he produced a near-faultless performance of athleticism and intelligence alongside Sergio Ramos, coming up with a number of important interceptions and blocks in front of Real's goal and helping ensure that, for all their invention, Bayern were not able to get the foothold in the tie that they deserved.

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

There was barely a weak link in Liverpool's XI against Roma. Their concentration levels dipped late on but that had nothing to do with Van Dijk, who continues to thrive at Anfield and answer any critics who felt his £75 million price tag was exorbitant. This was another powerful, composed display, laced with some fine distribution from the back that set some devastating attacking moves in motion.

Left-back: Marcelo (Real Madrid)

It was not exactly the perfect performance from Marcelo, who was exposed on occasion and allowed Kimmich to run behind him for Bayern's goal, but yet again the Brazilian proved decisive in the opposition half. Marcelo's rifled finish just before half-time came completely out of the blue as Real battled to avoid going in two goals down at the break, changing the complexion of the tie and offering another reminder that he is a man for the big moments. Marcelo also scored in the away leg against Juventus -- a goal that ended up being crucial -- and continues to wield more influence than any other left-back at the top level.

Central midfield: James Milner (Liverpool)

You have probably seen the statistic by now. The corner that set up Roberto Firmino's second goal against Roma was Milner's ninth assist of this Champions League season -- beating a record previously held by Wayne Rooney and Neymar. The 32-year-old, whose energy and nous make him a vital cog in the Liverpool machine, is enjoying a revival late in his career and will be relied upon even more now that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury has reduced their already limited midfield options.

Central midfield: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

Henderson was tremendous in the Liverpool engine room, setting a fearsome tempo and putting Roma off their stride after the Italians had threatened to dominate the early stages. Against formidable opponents in Kevin Strootman, Daniele de Rossi and Radja Nainggolan, he helped gain Jurgen Klopp's side a stranglehold from which they played some of the season's most scintillating football. It was a genuine captain's performance from the 27-year-old.

Marco Asensio came off the bench to score a well-taken winner at Bayern Munich.
Marco Asensio made a big impact for Real Madrid.

Central midfield: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)

It ended up being a deeply frustrating night for Bayern although, as Jupp Heynckes pointed out afterwards, it was not for a lack of good football or chances created. At the heart of their best efforts was on-loan James Rodriguez, these days a trim and athletic-looking figure who clearly had a point to prove against his parent club. The slide-rule pass that set Kimmich away to open the scoring was exceptional.

Right forward: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

There is no more exciting player in world football right now than Salah, who can barely put a foot wrong and slayed Roma in thrilling fashion. His curled opener was the kind of finish he has made seem routine but was, in fact, a spectacular piece of work; he kept the coolest of heads with his dinked second goal and laid on Firmino's first goal after a scintillating dash down the right. Salah was unplayable and anything close to a repeat next Wednesday will surely see Liverpool through to the final.

Left forward: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)

Real had packed little punch going forward until the introduction of Asensio, who replaced the injured Isco at half-time and instantly posed a more direct, immediate threat. The winning goal followed quickly enough, confidently lofted past Ulreich after Lucas Vazquez had seized on Rafinha's mistake, and was the hallmark of a player who looks slick and accomplished alongside his older, more decorated teammates. At 22, there is every chance Asensio will be equipped to pull more big results out of the fire for years to come.

Centre-forward: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)

Firmino has become a top-class operator and he richly deserved his brace against Roma. The Brazilian had already created Salah's second goal with a perfectly-weighted pass when, with two close-range finishes after the break, he appeared to have put the tie to bed. That did not quite prove to be the case but Firmino, whose unselfishness and intelligence brings the best out of everyone around him, can reflect on a fine night's work.

Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.


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