Messi is undoubtedly one of the Champions League's star turns, but who else joins him?
Friday sees the draw of the Champions League quarterfinals and in the last eight, there is some of Europe’s top talent.
Many at the start of the season would have arguably predicted Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus to reach this point, but Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Malaga and Galatasaray less so.
The selection for this last eight is enticing, even if it surprisingly does not include any English sides for the first time since 1996. There is also huge potential for some sensational ties.
A vast talent pool comprises a number of different styles and varying levels of experience, some top talents are obvious, some more understated. I have tried to get the right balance between the two.
Here, in my opinion, are some of the most skilled players in these potential Champions League quarterfinals.
Messi's performance against Milan underlined his importance for Barca
Perhaps the most obvious of the talents left in the competition. But after his match-winning performance against AC Milan at the Camp Nou, Lionel Messi is once again the talk of Europe after a mini domestic goal drought.
The Argentine phenomenon helped inspire the Catalan giants to become the first team to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit, as no other side had progressed without scoring an away goal in the first leg. This is Messi and Barca’s sixth straight quarterfinals appearance.
With 40 goals so far this season, the 25-year-old is in exalted company at this stage of the Champions League. But Messi and Barcelona will be the most dangerous of all customers when the draw is made later today.
With 15 goals in 16 matches at this stage, Messi is the highest current scorer in the quarterfinals.
Ronaldo's role in dumping out former club Manchester United was key
Like Messi, the Portuguese proved his considerable worth with a superb individual showing over two legs against former side Manchester United to help eliminate Sir Alex Ferguson’s men 3-2 on aggregate.
The joint top scorer in the competition so far with eight goals, Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho’s Real side are now gunning for continental glory, as their chances of domestic success have faded away.
One of the competition’s undoubted stars, Ronaldo will once again be a key player in these quarterfinals as he tries to help Real to win that elusive 10th European title that they covet so much.
With 44 percent of Los Merengues’ European goals this season, Real's hopes lie largely with the Portuguese.
Gotze has formed part of a lethal attacking trio at Dortmund
An up-and-coming star though no surprise either, Mario Gotze’s Borussia Dortmund have shocked the football world by taking their breathtaking, high-octane style of football from the Bundesliga into Europe.
It has come at a cost, with Jurgen Klopp’s side trailing quarterfinal compatriots Bayern Munich by 20 points in the Bundesliga, but BVB can concentrate on their continental exploits with the title already gone.
Gotze, along with Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus has been one of just three main components in the Dortmund attack. But whilst the whole team deserves credit for their run this far, the trio will arguably take the majority of plaudits. Gotze, for his part, has an impressive two goals and four assists thus far.
Expect Gotze to play a large role in any Dortmund progress past the quarterfinals. It would not be a surprise to see the Germans reach the semis. One thing is for sure; nobody will want to travel to Signal Iduna Park.
Moura's impact has been immediate in the French capital
He may have only made two appearances so far in this season’s competition, but Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura has had an explosive impact on Europe.
The Brazilian only arrived in Paris in January, and a month later he was helping PSG to destroy Valencia in their round of 16 first leg at the Mestalla that the capital club should arguably have won more comfortably.
His league form has been impressive too and initial fears that the €45million man would need to be eased into European football have been proved wide of the mark. He is ready to be a star and to take centre stage now.
An ankle injury means that he faces a race against time to be fit for the first leg of the quarterfinals against whichever side Carlo Ancelotti’s side draws.
However, a fit Moura in the second will give PSG a chance of maintaining their dark-horse status for this season’s competition
Isco has been a revelation this season, as have Malaga
One of the surprise packages of this year’s edition, along with his side, Malaga, is Isco.
Arguably the least-fancied side left in the competition, not many teams will want to face the Spaniards either. They are a potential banana skin waiting to happen.
Three goals and three assists so far have helped the 20-year-old to lead the troubled outfit this far in their maiden Champions League voyage.
But with a ban from European competition next season and potentially the one after that, this will also likely be his last chance to taste success with his hometown club before the vultures start to feast on the troubled Costa del Sol club.
Yilmaz and Galatasaray are doing things the hard way
Turkish goal machine Burak Yilmaz has led Galatasaray to an unexpected quarterfinal berth against all the odds.
The last time the Cimbom reached that stage or further was 2001’s quarterfinal with Real Madrid. There they they won the first leg 3-2 thanks to a superb comeback from two goals down, but lost 3-0 in the away leg. They even made the semi-final in 1989 when they lost to Steaua Bucharest. Another quarterfinal followed in 1993.
This year's progress has been largely thanks to Yilmaz’s goals, though. Currently joint top scorer in the competition with eight goals, the Turkish international has struck in six consecutive Champions League matches.
He is the first player to do so since Marouane Chamakh, something not even Lionel Messi has yet achieved. Add those goals to his 14 domestically this term and the 27-year-old former Trabzonspor star is a man on fire.
Yilmaz has arguably been this year’s breakout star along with Malaga’s Isco.
Martinez is emerging as an indispensable member of Jupp Heynckes' side
Another Spaniard making waves in Europe and at home this season has been Bayern Munich’s Javi Martinez.
The 24-year-old who shone so brightly for Marcelo Bielsa’s swashbuckling Europa League finalists Athletic Bilbao last season has enhanced his burgeoning reputation by joining German powerhouse Bayern Munich.
The Germans have looked steady so far this competition, although enthusiasm has been dampened by a 2-0 home defeat by Arsenal. That saw the Bundesliga leaders squeak into the quarterfinals instead of roar after a 3-1 first leg victory in London.
Martinez will miss the first leg of the quarterfinal through suspension, but will be a vital part of any Bayern success over the course of two legs.
Pogba is rapidly becoming a star with the Old Lady
Finally recognised at senior international level after breaking into the Juventus first team this season, Paul Pogba is a rising star in Serie A. Five goals in 20 appearances so far this domestic season has cemented his rise to Les Bleus’ senior setup.
Already well known from his time at Manchester United, the Frenchman failed to make the breakthrough at Old Trafford. Despite only being 20, he has been afforded a chance to shine by Antonio Conte this season.
Pogba has featured in six Champions League matches so far this campaign; don’t bet against him extending that run with the Italian champions.
Alba is vital to Barcelona's style of play domestically and in Europe
A largely unsung hero at the Camp Nou thanks to the presence of Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, Jordi Alba has been just as important.
Witness his superb performance against AC Milan on Tuesday and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
His showing may have been overshadowed by another Messi wonder show, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t hugely important in the result.
His flawless balance between attack and defence makes him a huge asset for Barca going into their potential quarterfinal. He also netted the hosts’ fourth goal on the night.
Kroos' goal against Arsenal in London proved vital for the Bavarians
Whilst Thomas Muller may be leading Bayern’s charge into the last eight with four goals and one assist, the Germans’ classy, creative midfielder Toni Kroos is another player to watch in the quarterfinals.
With three goals so far, the German international’s contribution to the Bavarians’ campaign cannot be underestimated.
Two goals in the group stage against Valencia and Lille were followed by an even more important strike away at Arsenal that helped the Bundesliga leaders through on away goals.
Muller may continue to notch the goals, but Kroos’ contribution will be equally as vital if they are to reach a third final in four seasons.
Ibrahimovic will be out to quell the naysayers in PSG's second quarterfinal, he is suspended for the first
Ibrahimovic is banned for first leg of the quarterfinal as it stands. If the ban is revised, then obviously Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be one of the top talents heading into the last eight.
His role as provider and not just goal scorer cannot be underplayed. The competition’s joint leading assist provider will need to concentrate more on his scoring though if PSG want to progress to the semi-finals.
Xavi and Andres Iniesta
It would be impossible to look ahead to the Champions League quarterfinals without acknowledging the dual talents of Xavi and Andres Iniesta that Barcelona possess. Messi may grab the plaudits and Alba has undoubtedly been the revelation of this season’s competition for the Spaniards, but the architects of a semifinals berth for La Liga’s leaders will likely be this pair.
Dortmund’s prolific Polish hitman will likely be a key figure in any further success that Klopp’s side enjoy in this season’s campaign. With five goals to his name already, Robert Lewandowski will be a marked man in these quarterfinals.
The same goes for his teammate Reus. Together, with Gotze, the pair have formed a formidable attacking trio, and no team will relish a clash with BVB. Reus’ three goals, added to Lewandowski’s five and Gotze’s two, combine for 10 goals.
Outcast at Inter Milan, Wesley Sneijder’s decision to join Turkish giants Galatasaray has been vindicated by their progress to the quarterfinals. A title winner already with the Italians, the Dutchman’s experience will be vital to Cimbom’s hopes of reaching he semis.
Classy and perhaps overlooked but never undervalued, Claudio Marchisio is vital for Antoinio Conte’s Juventus. Two assists and two goals in six matches this season is a big contribution for a player who is vital both when defending and attacking. The Italian international is convinced that the Old Lady can claim European victory; he will be vital to those hopes.
The man who scored the winning penalty in last season’s final in Munich made a quick return to Europe’s top table after his summer exit from Chelsea. Now with Galatasaray, a second consecutive title may be ambitious, but Drogba’s presence along with Sneijder’s brings plenty of experience to Fatih Terim’s side.