Friday 28 October 2016

The top 20 players in this year's Champions League ranked

Published 08/06/2015 | 19:44

From magical Lionel Messi to rock-solid Arturo Vidal - who were the best players in the 2014-15 Champions League campaign?

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20. Geoffrey Kondogbia (Monaco)

The French midfielder was one of the best destroyers in the tournament all season: his all-action performance against Arsenal at the Emirates gave his side the platform for a famous 3-1 victory, so much so that the London club are now reportedly interested in signing him. It's certainly hard to see him lasting too much longer at Monaco.

19. Jackson Martinez (Porto)

At times, Porto's surprising charge to the quarter-finals felt like a one-man show: Martinez ended up with a remarkable eight goals from 10 matches - including one in the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals - and would have been higher in this list had Porto not been so comprehensively demolished in the second leg in Munich. Unsurprisingly being linked with a clutch of Premier League clubs, most notably Arsenal.


18. Dani Alves (Barcelona)

Alves will never be Europe's most popular player but his effectiveness is beyond question. The Brazilian has helped redefine the expectations of modern full-backs, with his attacking prowess just as impressive as his defensive work - he provided four assists in the tournament, just one fewer than Andres Iniesta.

17. Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)

The man rated by Lionel Messi as the most consistent player in club football had another excellent campaign, his performances in central midfield so accomplished that you almost forgot he started life as a full-back. Had an off-day in the semi-final first leg in Barcelona, but he was not the only Bayern player who under-performed that day.

Joe Hart.jpg  

16. Joe Hart (Manchester City)

The only Englishman in our list, and a worthy candidate as perhaps the competition's outstanding goalkeeper. His two displays against Barcelona in the last 16 were outrageously good, and he can now add his name to the list of goalkeepers who have saved penalties from Lionel Messi.

15. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Now firmly established as one of the finest centre-halves in Europe, the French international was exceptional at the heart of Real Madrid's defence, even if he was occasionally left exposed by his teammates. No player made more clearances than he did - 81 - and it is no surprise to see him being linked with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

14. Koke (Atletico Madrid)

Proof that Diego Simeone's Atletico can blend a little beauty with their brawn, Koke's profile has rocketed in the last two years and his performances in the Champions League this season have just added a layer of gloss to his reputation. Atletico's creator-in-chief fuelled their run to the quarter-finals, where they were unlucky to be edged out by Real.


13. Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)

Bayern may have ended their campaign in disarray at the Nou Camp, but no blame can be attached to Thomas Muller. While many of Bayern's A-listers were dogged by injuries during their 2014-15 campaign, Muller was rock-solid throughout and underlined his reputation as one of the most effective strikers in Europe, scoring seven goals.

12. Alex Sandro (Porto)

An unsung hero at the heart of the Porto midfield, Sandro (above, right) will doubtless be much in demand this summer as Europe's elite clubs start to circle the Estádio do Dragão. No player made more interceptions in the whole competition than his 39.

11. Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)

Other players at the Nou Camp might have the stardust, but is there a more improved player at the club than Rakitic? The Croatian is, in his own way, just as important as Messi, Suarez and co. and tends to reserve his big moments for the big occasions, not least his opening goal in the final against Juventus.

10. Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)

The 29-year-old only missed one match for Juventus in their European campaign, and no wonder: his dynamism in midfield was a crucial reason for their run to Berlin. Not a glamorous player, perhaps, but Marchisio is the modern embodiment of the Italian midfield destroyer, breaking up play and actnig as the launchpad for more lauded talents such as Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo.


9. Arturo Vidal (Juventus)

Another ferocious presence at the heart of the Juventus midfield, Vidal was the competition's stand-out tackler - not just in the quantity of challenges he made (52 in total, well clear of his nearest rival, Chelsea's Nemanja Matic, who had 46), but in their quality. Also managed to walk the disciplinary tightrope with classic Italian precision, always doing just too little to earn himself a red card.

8. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

At first glance, claiming that Ronaldo had a slightly underwhelming Champions League campaign seems grossly unfair. No player bettered his tally of 10 goals, or his 30 shots on target, and Real deserved their place in the semi-finals. Yet his curiously lethargic performances in both legs of that last-four defeat to Juventus - despite his two goals - contributed to Real's exit, while his narcisisstic tendencies continue to flourish.

7. Alvaro Morata (Juventus)

The hipsters' new favourite striker. Morata's penchant for stepping up when his team needed him most - in the semi-final against Real (his old club, no less), and the final (when his equaliser gave Juve real hope) - underlined how he has taken his game to a new level after being deemed insufficiently starry for Real.


6. Carlos Tevez (Juventus)

A striker reborn in Turin, Tevez was the totem of Juve's attack during their run to the final. His tireless endeavour and brutal finishing, often from spectacular distances (three of his seven goals were scored from outside the area) reminded us why Manchester United were so upset to lose him all those years ago. He is a better player now, and - it seems - an easier character.

5. Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

The moment Juve's Champions League dream died might not have been Luis Suarez's second goal in Berlin, or Neymar's injury-time third, but the second Giorgio Chiellini felt his calf muscle ping on the Wednesday before the final. That injury ruled him out of Berlin, denying not just the watching world a reunion with Luis Suarez - whose teeth had sunk into his shoulder during last summer's World Cup - but also Juve of their most accomplished defender.


4. Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Suarez was always likely to charm Barcelona's demanding fanbase - his relentless energy and indefatigable character have provided the perspiration that fuel Barca's formidable attack, although it would be heinously wrong to characterise him as a mere work-horse. His seven goals show that he has not lost his clinical edge and he eclipsed Lionel Messi in the Berlin final.

3. Neymar (Barcelona)

This was the year Neymar came of age on the Champions League stage. Before now, the Brazilian had largely reserved his stellar performances for the international stage; in Europe this season, however, he was world-class, linking seamlessly with Lionel Messi and Suarez to form arguably the best front three of modern times. He finished the campaign with 10 goals - nobody scored more - and set new standards when it came to his work ethic, covering 128km over the course of the tournament - the most of any player outside the workhorses of Juventus.

2. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

The greatest midfield partnership in the Champions League era may be no more, but Xavi's exit from Barcelona did not blunt Iniesta's gifts. His numbers might not have been overwhelming - others played more passes, created more goals and enjoyed more touches - but Iniesta's gifts are not quantifiable in that way. He was the heartbeat of his side's campaign and the undisputed man of the match in the final in Berlin.


1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Shock horror! Messi's qualities are more chronicled than any footballer's in the modern era - with the possible exception of some bloke in Madrid - but that does not make them less gobsmacking. The numbers are awe-inspiring in themselves: in the Champions League this season, Messi scored most goals (10), had most shots (48), provided most assists (5), created most chances (36), attempted more dribbles (150) and had more touches (1,211) than any other player in the competition. Yet it was his ability to rise to the occasion which really took the breath away, and in particular the devastating two-minute spell which saw Bayern Munich reduced to rubble at the Nou Camp.


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