UEFA Champions League: 5 Players Who Must Step Up for Their Teams to Advance
The Champions League has reached the halfway point of its group stages, and it's been a pretty wild one so far.
While some of the European powerhouses lead their groups, there are a few teams that have provided us with some surprises.
I doubt anyone predicted that Manchester City would only have one point so far, or that BATE Borisov would be tied for the lead in Group F.
With a few exceptions, though, there is still much competition to be had between the teams fighting to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Now that each team has played the first leg against their respective group opponents, every point is crucial for those teams on the fringe of qualifying for knockouts.
Like any other crucial games, teams will have to dig deep down to pull out great performances; especially considering they all have domestic leagues to worry about as well.
Every team still involved would be well-served with having players give standout performances. These are just a few players that I feel must shine if their team wants to advance.
Carlos Tevez, Manchester City
It's hard to see Manchester City advancing out of Group D with only one point so far. Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid firmly control the top two spots and don't look like they'll slow down.
An uphill battle that, as it would seem, makes it illogical to include a City player on this list. Well, however improbable it is, City does still have a chance to make it out.
Additionally, it's unfair to single out a particular player on a team that has been way-short on the quality that makes them one of the best in Europe.
I'm not singling out Tevez for the team's poor play, though. I'm singling out Tevez because, if City has any hope to advance, it starts with Tevez.
On a team blessed with a plethora of top-class attacking options, Tevez has been the standout. Edin Dzeko's heroics aside, Tevez has been the best player.
He has only seen the pitch in two (once as a sub) of City's three Champions League games, but I feel he'll see more. He has to. Mancini is going to have to throw everything he can at the other teams in Group D.
The task is mighty, but Carlos Tevez is the key to City's goal.
If he can provide the type of scoring, goals and assists, that he has in the Premier League this season, then it's a step in the right direction.
Marko Simic, BATE Borisov
BATE Borisov, no doubt, have been the story of the Champions League group stages so far.
A virtually unknown club from Belarus matched with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. Add in more strong sides that are not pushovers in Valencia and Lille, and it was easy to doubt whether BATE Borisov could compete.
Yet here we are, and they are currently tied with Bayern and Valencia with six points a piece.
BATE picked up a 3-1 win over Lille before stunning Bayern with a gutsy performance that produced the same result. It was Valencia, though, that brought the Belarus squad back down to Earth.
Robert Soldado stole the show with a hat-trick that downed BATE 3-0. If they are looking to bounce back, the first place to look is the defense.
The defense's scrappy performances trying to hold leads against Lille and Bayern was endearing, but we all were just waiting for it to collapse.
That happened in the Valencia game, and it was Simic who was the unfortunate center of attention. He was tasked with keeping Soldado in check and, after conceding a penalty, it was evident that he wouldn't be able to.
Still, one game is not the end for the BATE defense or Simic. In addition to playing Valencia again, Lille would love to play spoiler, and we know Bayern will look for revenge.
The Serbian must shake off what happened against Valencia and prove that it was a one-off performance.
Giampaolo Pazzini, Milan
Giampaolo Pazzini immediately rings bells in the ears of Milan fans because, honestly, they don't know how to feel about him. One game he'll score a hat-trick, and then the next he'll be frustratingly anonymous.
Milan's struggles this season have been well-documented and exhausting. Still, in spite of that, they are still well-positioned in the Champions League.
Through the three games, Milan is second in Group C with four points, but Zenit St. Petersburg is right there with them.
If the Rossoneri want to advance, and ward off Zenit, then they'll need someone to come up big.
For all their struggles offensively, Milan does have capable attacking options. And Pazzini, for all his frustrations, scores in the Champions League.
In 15 matches, including qualifiers, Pazzini has six goals and two assists. Again, he's no deadly poacher, but Pazzini is a quality hit man in the European competition.
If Pazzini is causing chaos in front of the net, even if he's not necessarily scoring, then Milan is instantly better.
Fernando Torres, Chelsea
I'm tired of hearing about Fernando Torres, you're tired of hearing about Fernando Torres, hell, I'm sure Fernando Torres is tired of hearing about Fernando Torres.
Sorry to everyone, but I'm going to talk about him again.
Chelsea are in good position with a one-point lead over Juventus, both trailing surprise Shakhtar Donetsk, but something needs to improve if the Blues want to advance.
With the defense not perfect but able, and the midfield doing their part, mostly due to the wonderful form of Oscar. The missing link is found in the forwards.
Oscar has three goals, Juan Mata has two and David Luiz and Ramires have one apiece. Daniel Sturridge, Victor Moses and Fernando Torres? Zero.
That's unacceptable for any forward and when you are a forward of Torres's talent, it's even worse. There's no sugarcoating it, the forwards need to score. None of them more than Fernando Torres.
Luckily for him, there's still time. In the next three games, Torres must make his presence on the field known. For his sake and Chelsea's.
The Blues still have a good chance of advancing to the knockouts without Torres, but how much farther after?
If Chelsea wants to succeed, then Fernando Torres must rise above it all and prove he is worth his high price tag.
Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus
Juventus, like Chelsea, is actually in a good position. Shaktar is not off pace, and if both teams can beat the group leaders, then Juventus and Chelsea will find themselves advancing to the knockout stages.
That being said, Juventus has currently hit a bit of a wall; which is understandable given the form they have put up for well over a year and a half.
The demoralizing defeat to Inter was the icing on top of the sundae that has been a run of mediocre, at best, football for the Bianconeri.
Now that Juventus have been exposed as mortal, it will be interesting to see how they respond. This Wednesday's return fixture with FC Nordsjælland will be the first test, and they'll need a win to keep pace with Group E.
Most fittingly, in their time of need, Juventus will look to their captain and leader, Gianluigi Buffon. If Juventus are to achieve any success, domestic or Champions League, it will be because of Buffon.
Buffon has started to show some wear and tear, but despite this, he continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
With Juventus's back line looking more leaky over the past couple Serie A games, and the lack of a true scoring attacker, Buffon's goalkeeping will be tested heavily.
It will be up to him to stand strong and be the key man if the Bianconeri wish to advance past the group stages or farther in the Champions League.