UEFA Champions League: Most Important Attacking Player for Each Team (Part One)
The UEFA Champions League will be back on September 18.
The playoff round finished in late August, with the group stage draw held last Thursday. While the preliminary rounds of the tournament are always fun to watch and do attract a sizable amount of views, there is no comparison to the group stage.
While the knockout rounds—whether it be qualifying or after the group stage—are always very interesting, the Group Stage features all the best European teams, while also giving the smaller sides a chance to shine.
The Champions League brings together the best players in Europe. Whether they be from the biggest teams, like Real Madrid or Manchester United, or tiny sides from remote locations, such as Nordsjaelland or CFR Cluj, the world's top players will be participating in this year's group stage.
(This is part one of the list, featuring all the teams from Group A to Group D.)
Paris Saint-Germain: Zlatan Ibrahimovich
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This list begins with one of Europe's biggest spenders of last summer.
Paris Saint-Germain may not have started their Ligue 1 campaign too well, but are still expected to top Group A in the Champions League.
After such an expensive transfer window, PSG have many great attacking players. Nonetheless, I feel that Zlatan Ibrahimovich is clearly the French side's most important one.
The Swedish striker already has four goals in Ligue 1 and will certainly score many more over the course of the season.
Ibrahimovich is one of the few players known for winning the league with every club he joins. He has won the domestic leagues of Netherlands (with Ajax), Italy (with Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan), and Spain (Barcelona).
Winning the league with his new team might just be his hardest task yet.
PSG may be starting slow this campaign but there is no doubt they have enough quality players to win multiple trophies this year.
FC Porto: James Rodriguez
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The sale of Hulk came as a huge surprise to fans around the world. And the destination of Zenit St. Petersburg made the transfer even more astonishing.
With their star striker gone, I feel that James Rodriguez is Porto's most important attacker.
In the 2011/2012 campaign, the Colombian scored 13 league goals in 14 starts (six substitute appearances). He's only 21 years old and was rumored to be headed to Manchester United all summer.
Rodriguez plays on the wing and will certainly earn many more starts this season. It'll be interesting to see if he can make an impression in the Champions League.
Dinamo Zagreb: Fatos Beciraj
Last year, Dinamo Zagreb had a very bad Champions League. They lost all six group stage games, scoring three and conceding 22.
It was very humiliating for the Croatian side who were simply unfortunate that they got put into the Group of Death with Real Madrid, Ajax, and Lyon.
This year, their group is easier, but tough, nonetheless.
So it's important that Fatos Beciraj is on top form.
The Montenegro international was last year's HNL (Croatian league) top scorer, with 15 goals in 28 appearances.
He was instrumental in Zagreb's title success and will now want to help his team make the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Real Madrid fans may remember that Beciraj was one of the few players able to score at the Bernabeu last season.
Dynamo Kiev: Ideye Brown
Dynamo Kiev went trophyless last season and will want to perform much better this campaign. Yuri Semin's side were narrowly beaten in the league by rivals Shaktar Donetsk but crashed out early in both the Europa League and the Ukrainian cup.
This season, Kiev will be looking forward to the Champions League.
In the Ukrainian Premier League last year, they were superb defensively, but had problems scoring goals.
Dynamo need their young striker Ideye Brown to put the ball in the net as much as possible.
The Nigerian joined from Sochaux in 2011 and scored 13 total goals last season. He has started this season very well, with seven goals in eight appearances.
Kiev need Brown to be at his very best in Europe.
Arsenal: Santi Cazorla
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The Gunners looked very strong at Anfield last week and Arsene Wenger will hope for more of the same.
Arsenal normally don't have any issues making it past the Group Stage and it'll be no different this time around.
While they are strong favorites to win their group, Arsene Wenger will not take anything for granted. And he will need Santi Cazorla on form.
While Abou Diaby was clearly man-of-the-match against Liverpool, Santi Cazorla was Arsenal's best attacker.
He has only scored one goal so far this season, but has played superbly in all three games. He will be very important for the Gunners if they are to win any trophies this year.
Montpelier: Younes Belhanda
Arsenal's main threat in Group B is Ligue 1 champions Montpellier. The French side were deserving winners of last year's trophy and will want to be even more successful this season.
Rene Girard lost star player Oliver Giroud to Arsenal over the summer, but still has other attacking threats at his disposal.
The main one is Younes Belhanda.
The 22-year-old midfielder was tracked by various clubs over the summer but chose to stay with Montpellier.
The Moroccan international scored 12 and assisted six in the league last season and will now play in the Champions League for the first time ever.
Olympiacos: Rafik Djebbour
Olympiacos were unlucky not to make the knockout rounds in last year's Champions League, as the Greek side were one point away from beating Marseille for second place in Group F.
Olympiacos' group is arguably more difficult this season, but the Greek side looks better now than they did a year ago.
Manager Ernesto Valverde and his team have had an outstanding 2012 so far—winning the Super League and the Greek Cup in April.
Now they will be looking to make a mark on the European stage.
With Kevin Mirallas now on Everton, Olympiacos' most important attacking player is Rafik Djebbour.
The 28-year-old scored 16 goals in 31 appearances last season and has started the new campaign with three goals in two matches.
Schalke: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
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Schalke hasn't made the headlines so much since their amazing Champions League run two seasons ago.
The German side reached the semi-finals of the tournament and were great to watch. You'll recall that they had a famous 5-2 away win against Inter Milan in the quarter-finals.
Schalke's 2011/2012 campaign wasn't too good for their standards, though the club still qualified for the Champions League.
My choice for most important attacking player is easy: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The Dutch striker was the Bundesliga's top scorer last year with 29 goals. He was also unbelievable in the Europa League, scoring 14 times in 12 matches.
The fact that Huntelaar was able to score so easily in Europe last season will be great for Schalke in the Champions League.
Malaga: Javier Saviola
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Group C is probably the hardest to predict.
Anderlecht, Milan, Malaga, and Zenit St. Petersburg are the four teams in the group and I feel any of them could qualify for the Round of 16.
I'll start with Malaga. As we know, the Spanish side had financial issues all summer and were forced to get rid of two of their top attackers, Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon.
Malaga were great in last season's La Liga, but the Champions League will be difficult for the newcomers.
While the loan deal for Roque Santa Cruz will help Malaga, the free transfer of Javier Saviola is even better.
The Argentinian striker didn't have a great last season for Benfica and it wasn't too surprising that he was released by the Portuguese club. Nevertheless, the former River Plate star has had a great career and remains a top scorer.
Saviola has a good history playing in the Champions League, mainly while on Barcelona in the early 2000's. He also played an important part in Sevilla's 2005-2006 UEFA Cup triumph.
Anderlecht: Dieumerci Mbokani
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This will be Anderlecht's first time playing in the Champions League Group Stage since 2007.
The side have won five of the last nine Belgian Pro League's but haven't been great in European play (at least in the 21st century).
This year, Anderlecht will be striving to at least make it past the Group Stage—something they have never done in the Champions League.
Last season, Dieumerci Mbokani was Anderlecht's top scorer and manager John van den Brom will hope that the 26-year-old can lead the team in Europe.
AC Milan: Giampaolo Pazzini
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With Zlatan Ibrahimovich no longer with AC Milan, Giampaolo Pazzini is the Rosoneri's main threat in attack. The Italian striker moved from rival side Inter over the summer and has started his season very well, with a hat-trick in just his second match (against Bologna).
Milan will be delighted to have Pazzini on their team, especially after his wonderful start to the campaign.
Zenit St. Petersburg: Hulk
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Before the early 2000's, Zenit St. Petersburg very rarely featured in European competition. At the end of the 20th century, the Russian side had only played in Europe four times.
Gas company Gazprom invested in the club in 2005 and, since then, Zenit have enjoyed much success.
In the last seven years, they have played in two Champions League, four UEFA Cups and one Europa League. They have also won the Russian league twice in the past three years.
Zenit have made multiple high profile signings since the Gazprom takeover but nobody could have expected the Russian side to sign Hulk.
The Brazilian is one of the world's best strikers and instantly makes Zenit a side to worry about.
Hulk had four great seasons with Porto in which he scored 78 goals and assisted 55 times in 169 appearances. He has lots of experience playing in Europe and helped his former team win the Europa League in 2011.
Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo
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The Group of Death.
This year, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax will be competing for two tickets in the knockout round. Quite remarkably, all four of these teams won their domestic leagues last season.
This is one of the toughest groups I've ever seen in the UEFA Champions League. Real and City will be big favorites to qualify but Borussia Dortmund and Ajax will be difficult to overcome.
While it's hard to predict how this game will turn out, it's not hard to choose the most important Real Madrid attacker.
Cristiano Ronaldo is either the best or the second best player at the moment and is coming off his greatest season ever.
In the 2011/2012 campaign, the Portuguese striker scored an astonishing 60 goals in 55 matches. He played a huge role in Real's title triumph and helped the team reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Madrid have hard games ahead of them and they will need Ronaldo at his very best, especially against Manchester City's defense.
Borussia Dortmund: Robert Lewandowski
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Dortmund had a poor 2011/2012 Champions League. After such a superb domestic 2010/2011 campaign, Borussia looked like the team to beat and were expected to perform well in Group F.
It didn't go as plan as the German side were left with four points after six matches, leaving them in last place.
This year, Jürgen Klopp will expect his team to play better. The Bundesliga champions lost Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios over the summer, but signed the highly-rated Marco Reus.
While Reus will be an essential part of the Dortmund team this year, Borussia's most important attacking player is Robert Lewandowski.
The Polish striker looked destined to leave the Westfalenstadion over the summer. In the end, he chose to stay and will now be Dortmund's biggest threat in the Champions League.
He scored 30 goals in 46 matches last year and was voted the Bundesliga Player of the Season.
If Dortmund are going to make it out of the Group of Death, they will need Lewandowski on form.
Ajax: Miralem Sulejmani
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Ajax was denied a spot in last year's Champions League Round of 16 in quite remarkable fashion.
On the final day of the group stage, they were three points ahead of Lyon with a goal difference of eight more than the French side.
As you'll recall, it was Lyon who advanced to the knockout rounds as they beat Dinamo Zagreb 7-1, while Ajax lost to Real Madrid 3-0. The two sides were tied at eight points, but Lyon had a better goal difference at the end of the day.
This year, the task looks even more difficult. They have a harder group than they did last year and sold star defenders Gregory Van der Wiel and Jan Vertonghen over the summer.
Ajax will need Miralem Sulejmani to step up even more this season. The Serbian attacker has started to prove himself over the past two years. He scored 11 Eredivisie goals last season and eight the year before that.
Suljemani is 23-years-old right now and has attracted lots of interest from various top clubs. He played well in the group stage last season, but will want to make a bigger impact this year.
Manchester City: Yaya Toure
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Manchester City made their Champions League debut last season and narrowly missed out on the Round of 16.
This year, they look like a better, more organized team. They were deserving winners of the Premier League and will now seek to making history in Europe.
The Citizens have so many superb attacking players that it is hard to decide who is most important.
I chose Yaya Toure because he is arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in the world and scores many key goals.
The Ivorian has already scored two goals in three games this campaign. I would expect the 29-year-old to beat his last year's tally of nine goals in all competitions.
City will hope that Toure's strength and vision can give them an edge over the other Group D sides.