UEFA Champions League Group Stage: 10 Key Players to Watch
This season’s Champions League promises to be an enticing and riveting affair. Besides the usual suspects in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, this season’s competition is apt to shine the spotlight on other prodigious talents.
The competition promises to be equally intense across all groups. Perhaps no other group holds the most potential as that of Group D, this year's group of death, which hosts four reigning champions across four leagues—the Premier League champions Manchester City, the La Liga champions Real Madrid, the Bundesliga Champions Borussia Dortmund and the Eredivisie champions Ajax.
Here’s a brief recap of the groups:
Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb
Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier
Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga
Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund
Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic
Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj
Progress into the knockout stage means that on deadlocked situations, certain individuals will have to take upon the responsibility to see off the required result. Here are 10 such players to watch in the Group Stage.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that Real Madrid and Manchester City will coast by. Borussia Dortmund, with their intricate passes, deadly through-balls and long-lofted crosses, are no strangers to the Champions League. Winners in 1997, the club outclassed and outplayed Bayern Munich (last year’s finalists) on the domestic front, including a humiliating five-goal thrashing in the DFB Pokal final.
Despite losing one of their talismanic figures in Shinji Kagawa, Dortmund have a host of talents to rely upon. They boast a rock-solid defence combined with a fluid offensive threat in Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski.
Marco Reus’ gave a particularly resounding performance last season for his Borussia Monchengladbach, and he will certainly be a key to Dortmund’s title defence this season.
Also Vital: Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski and wunderkind Mario Götze
Arsenal perhaps have made the signing of the season by having procured the services of Santi Cazorla—a phenomenally talented player for petty change.
A few games into the new season and he has already won plaudits of pundits and fans alike.
Of course, those who watched him in the La Liga—previously with Villareal and lately Malaga—need no introduction to the two-time recipient of the Spanish Player of the Year (2007 and 2012).
Arsenal always do well in the Champions League and despite the departure of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, cannot be written off, especially with the acquisition of Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud.
With Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere also in the mix, I see Arsenal progressing far this season. Very far.
Also Vital: Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelan
What started as a god-awful season last year for El Nino ended with him winning the Champions Leauge, the FA Cup, the Euro, the Golden Boot and Gary Neville’s full adulation.
The new season has seen him return to the Torres of old. With two goals in two games, his confidence seems also to have been partly restored.
Furthermore, with service coming in from dynamic players such as Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, expect Torres to bag in quite a handful in the Champions League as well.
Speaking of Hazard, the Belgian has quite the ego, but walks his talk.
No other player has made such an impressive start to the new season as the new Chelsea man. With four assists and a goal in only two matches, Eden Hazard is set to take England and Europe by storm.
Also Vital: Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Ramires
When Bayern Munich are willing to dish out the largest fee ever in Bundesliga history, you can rest assured that they have done so pragmatically.
He is solid in defense and even better in midfield. He can intercept, hold and pass the ball effectively. I would suggest operating him as a defensive midfielder from where he can distribute the ball with precision.
He will operate alongside one of the greatest midfielders of all time in Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Reasoning reckons that having witnessed Sami Khedira’s telepathic partnership with Schweinsteiger in the Euros convinced them to procure a player of similar mold.
Martinez’s acquisition will mean that Bayern will have an almost indomitable midfield.
Also Vital: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Philipp Lahm
Manchester City were famously knocked out in the group stages in last year’s competition. However, they will return a bit wiser and play with more ferocity.
Given their group, Roberto Mancini’s men will have to show a great level of fortitude to avoid last year’s disastrous campaign.
The key to their survival will be Sergio Agüero.
His heroics ensured that last year’s Premier League trophy came to the Etihad, and he will be looked upon, along with Carlos Tevez, to produce the necessary amount of goals.
Also Vital: Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and David Silva
At Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa played a major role as he helped the club win back-to-back league titles, leaving perennial juggernauts Bayern Munich in the dust.
The acquisition of Kagawa means that United need not be overly reliant on their main man, Wayne Rooney. Rooney would not have to drop deep and turn into an attacking midfielder of some sort—orchestrating the attack and setting up other strikers.
Kagawa will allow Wayne Rooney to focus on his goal-scoring duties and lift the creative burden from Rooney’s shoulders. Both players would complement each other immensely.
Besides boasting the usual repertoire required for an ACM—great vision, passing and dribbling skills—Kagawa can also score goals by the plenty. Last season alone, Kagawa amassed 13 goals in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund and played a key role in their title-winning season.
One thing is for certain, Kagawa does not shy away from taking shots. He is also deft at creating spaces. He will work well with Rooney and Antonio Valencia, receiving passes from them and scoring. To those who doubt his goal-scoring exploits, here is a collection of his 10 best goals.
Also Vital: Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic
Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi
The trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi is perhaps the most perfect trio in world football.
All three are equally capable of taking the game by the scruff and grinding out a result. Try to mark one of them and the other two inflict collateral damage.
So riddled is Barcelona’s midfield with star-studded talent that even if Xavi is rested, Cesc Fabregas is there to wreck havoc upon the opponent.
With David Villa back in the ranks, things look even more pessimistic for their opponents.
Also Vital: David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets
With an emphatic Euro behind him, Cristiano Ronaldo answered his critics who have questioned his performances in big-game situations.
With the acquisition of Luka Modric, Ronaldo’s game will get even better. This might be the season when he finally gets to lay a hand on the Champions League trophy as a Real Madrid player.
Also Vital: Luka Modric, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira
Obviously, due to restrictions, talented players like Javier Pastore, Grand-Master Andrea Pirlo et.al. had to be cut. State a case for which player shall be instrumental for their club in the Champions League Group Stages. This is a subjective list and as such, I request my readers to respect my opinions while I shall do the same. Every fan views issues differently, and it would be great to get some input and feedback. Thank you!
Follow me on Twitter: @BrenGoetze
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