The knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League is months away, but every game is critical for title contenders. If you look at the roster of clubs like Chelsea and Barcelona, you'll notice depth at various positions, where players will be able to afford an off-game or two.
Some clubs, however, have their future riding on one or two footballers only. These will be the key players to watch during the group stages, as they'll need to carry their clubs to the next phase.
Let's take a look at the players who will need to be at the top of their game throughout the entire group stage.
Borussia Dortmund forward Marco Reus is a young player coming into his own in recent years. The attacker was named Player of the Year in Germany by media members and, at such a young age, the sky is the limit for Reus.
However, during group play Reus will have to carry the bulk of the load for Borussia Dortmund.
Reus realizes the importance of reaching the knockout stages. He told Sports Mole, "I have read while on vacation that my new teammates have spoken about Champions League qualification [for the knockout stages] as a goal for the season, and I agree fully with that conviction."
Reus understands the difficult odds he faces, but is still optimistic. He shared the following with Bettor.com:
Many think that Dortmund have no chance in this group, but we believe in ourselves and know that anything is possible. I see no limit to my performances and can improve every day. Jurgen Klopp is the right person to make us all better. With him in training, I learn things that I've not done before.
It'll be on Reus to do those things he has not done before, and advance Borussia Dortmund to the knockout stage this March.
Cristiano Ronaldo's 201 career club goals have earned him recognition among the best of his generation of soccer players. A bit older, and wiser, than some of his competition, he's still Real Madrid's best shot at advancing to the knockout stage.
They opened group play of the 2012-13 Champions League with an exciting 3-2 Win over Manchester City, as Ronaldo scored a crucial goal in the opening match to help start Real Madrid on the right foot.
Madrid will need more heroics from their trusted leader in order to advance to the next phase of play. In a group as tough as theirs—it includes Borussia Dortmund, Man City, and Ajax—he'll need to continue his stellar play to advance his club.
In Group C, Malaga faces stern opposition in Milan, Anderlecht, and Zenit St. Petersburg. Two stunning goals from the Spanish attacker boosted their spirits in the opening game, though, as they powered through Zenit to start off 1-0.
The 20-year-old neophyte set the tone early by scoring in the match's third minute. He sent a message not only to Group C opponents, but to Malaga itself: He'll be the one to carry his club to the next stage.
Don't be surprised if the newcomer writes his own Cinderella story, and carries Malaga on his back to advance. It'll take more than one dynamite showing of course, but with a debut like the one Isco displayed, it'll be difficult for the club to avoid gaining momentum.
Opposing Isco and Malaga in Group C is Zenit, who will depend on Hulk to advance them on to the knockout stage.
The £32 million man from Brazil is the face of Zenit, and, without dominating his opposition, will likely see his club fail at advancing to the next phase of play.
They didn't get off to the start they'd hoped for in this year's Champions League. However there's plenty of time left to make up lost ground. It will take every bit of Hulk's strength to power Zenit through group C. He's their ticket to the knockout stage—it's up to Hulk to take them there.
In Group B, Olympiacos will be depending on Vasilis Torosidis' sturdy defending to advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Nicknamed "Captain Fantastic", Torosidis is especially versatile, as he can defend the midfield as well as his traditional position on the field.
Torosidis has led his club by example for the last five years, and it will be on him if Olympiacos find themselves in the knockout stage in the coming months.