UEFA Champions League: Ranking the Top Striker from Each of 8 Remaining Teams

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2013

UEFA Champions League: Ranking the Top Striker from Each of 8 Remaining Teams

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    The UEFA Champions League is now down to the quarterfinal stage, with this season's competition looking extremely exciting after some down-to-the-wire Last-16 ties.

    Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Malaga, Real Madrid, Galatasaray, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus are the eight remaining teams hoping for glory in Europe's biggest cup competition, and each side will be looking primarily to their main front men to score the goals to help them reach the semifinals.

    As some of Europe's best teams, there is of course a plethora of impressive talent in the final third available to each club, and ranking them in order of ability is difficult at times, but that's what we've done here.

    Two sets of criteria were applied to rank these players: First, to qualify as a striker, the player has to play in a central attacking role for his team on a regular basis, though the exact role he plays is unimportant, be it target man, second forward or any other tactical variation of an attacker.

    Secondly, they were ranked partly in accordance with their performances from this season in the UEFA Champions League and also partly in terms of their general ability at club level shown over the past season or two.

8. Malaga: Roque Santa Cruz

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    Roque Santa Cruz, Malaga

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Eight games (five as sub), one goal

     

    Malaga have utilized both Santa Cruz and Javier Saviola as the main forward during their Champions League run this season, with the taller Paraguayan forward often having to settle for being an impact substitute.

    He has taken to this role in the team well, and was a big factor in their progression past Porto in the Last 16 when he scored with almost his first touch after coming on.

    Whereas Saviola might have the better movement and a little more pace, Santa Cruz is arguably the bigger threat for his team. Should Julio Baptista recover form and fitness quickly, the Brazilian could instead become the main man in attack, though.

    Santa Cruz has had a varied career, but his longevity at the top level proves his ability. He'll likely be an option off the bench again in the last eight, but remains a threat for the Spanish side.

Real Madrid: Gonzalo Higuain

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    Gonzalo Higuain, Real Madrid

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Five games (two as sub), no goals

     

    Real are another side that switches between two central strikers, but neither Higuain nor Karim Benzema could truly be regarded as a world-class forward in a very talented squad.

    Higuain just about edges the preference of coach Jose Mourinho, but he is neither the main source of goals for his team nor an undisputed first pick to play up front.

    The Argentine offers good pace and movement and is a decent finisher, but his lack of real impact on the team is shown by his return of not a single goal in this season's Champions League, despite Real Madrid being in the quarterfinals.

Bayern Munich: Mario Mandzukic

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    Mario Mandzukic, Bayern Munich

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Six games (two as sub), one goal

     

    With Mario Gomez injured from the start of the season, new signing Mario Mandzukic was handed a chance to spearhead the Bayern attack. He has performed his role well, scoring 15 times in his domestic league, but has not proven quite so formidable in Europe.

    The Croatian striker is a powerful presence in the final third but also makes good use of his movement to create spaces for himself and others.

    He could certainly be an even bigger force next season, but this year you can count his debut season with Bayern as a success. He will want to add more goals to his Champions League tally, though.

Juventus: Mirko Vucinic

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    Mirko Vucinic, Juventus

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Six games (one as sub), two goals

     

    One of perhaps the most technically gifted forwards remaining in the Champions League, Vucinic plays a key role for Juve as the link man between midfield and attack.

    He weighs in with perhaps less goals than you might expect, tallying only seven in league play this season and two in the Champions League, but the Montenegro international is a dangerous player in the approach and can open up a defence with a pass or a dribble at will.

    It will be fascinating to see how he, and the rest of the Juve attack, fare against one of the meanest defences around when they take on Bayern Munich.

Galatasaray: Burak Yilmaz

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    Burak Yilmaz, Galatasaray

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Eight games (one as sub), eight goals

     

    Forget the rest, Burak Yilmaz of Galatasaray and Turkey is the top-scoring central striker of the entire competition this season.

    He is also by far the player upon who a team left in the Champions League is most reliant on—his eight goals contribute 73 percent of Gala's total tally this term.

    Yilmaz's impressive consistency and accuracy (he boasts a 28 percent conversion rate) has been a major factor in his team's progression to this stage of the competition. At 27 years of age he is in his prime, and his terrific form this season won't go unnoticed in the summer.

Borussia Dortmund: Robert Lewandowski

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    Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund.

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Eight games (one as sub), five goals

     

    Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski is very much first choice in the No. 9 role for his team, amid speculation he may be in his final campaign with the reigning Bundesliga champions.

    He possesses excellent awareness and positioning off the ball and is extremely confident with shooting with either foot, a vastly overlooked trait in the penalty area.

    Dortmund have a very attack-minded and creative trio playing behind him, but Lewandowski is the end-game piece of the puzzle who can fire them closer towards European glory.

Paris Saint-Germain: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Seven games, two goals

     

    Zlatan seems to be getting even better and even more fond of himself as he gains in experience. A big-money move to PSG in Ligue 1 this season has yielded a bucketful of goals, and though he hasn't been as prolific (he has a one start to one goal ratio in Ligue 1) in Europe, his all-round performances have still been impressive to behold.

    Ibrahimovic's style of play and immense self-assuredness will ensure he always has his admirers and detractors, but there is no doubting his importance to the newly-assembled cast in Paris.

    The Swede possesses the ability to win games for his team with one piece of skill, control or finishing, and he will be vital to PSG's hopes of causing an upset against his former club Barcelona.

    Which brings us nicely to the top-ranked forward left in the Champions League...

Barcelona: Leo Messi

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    Lionel Messi, Barcelona

    2012-13 UEFA Champions League record: Eight games (one as sub), seven goals

     

    Who else? Messi continues to break records, be a match-winner and score mountains of goals for Barcelona.

    Just when it seemed that someone had found a cure to preventing him from destroying every defence which crossed his path, he goes and hits a brace against AC Milan to aid a remarkable second leg turnaround.

    Barça's sheer volume of top quality players means that they have a chance to progress in the Champions League, but it is Messi's goals and class which might tip the balance in their favour to win any given tie, even the final itself.