Ranking the 20 Best Players in the Champions League so Far

Joe Krishnan@joekrishnanContributor IOctober 13, 2013

Ranking the 20 Best Players in the Champions League so Far

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    It's been an explosive start to the Champions League campaign, and with two rounds of matches already completed, the frontrunners are starting to break away.

    Last year's holders Bayern Munich are aiming to become the first team to retain the Champions League crown and have got off to a superb start, with maximum points and a generous goal difference.

    But they will have several challengers worthy of picking them off, and it will take a sterling effort from Pep Guardiola's men to stand firm and protect their trophy.

    It's easy to analyse who could possibly challenge them, and so we've opted to assess who have been the top 20 players so far in the competition.

    For the sake of variety, this list won't include the whole Bayern Munich squad, and nor should it. But be sure to let us know if we've left a big name out who you think has performed.

20. Thiago Motta (PSG)

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    One of the unlikely heroes from Laurent Blanc's Ligue 1 challengers, Thiago Motta has established himself as a key figure in the side under the French coach.

    The Brazilian-born midfielder, who is an Italy international, has already scored twice in the Champions League in the current campaign, with a brace in the 4-1 win over Olympiakos.

    He gives Blanc's team a real presence in the midfield, and for a player with his frame, he is very confident and technically gifted on the ball. 

    Scoring is certainly not his forte as a defensive midfielder, but any positive contribution the 31-year-old can make to the team will be beneficial as PSG look to challenge for the European title this season.

19. Phillip Lahm (Bayern Munich)

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    As captain for both Germany and Bayern Munich, Philipp Lahm's consistency is something to be admired, especially in the Champions League. 

    Even when switched from his favoured right-back spot, which he is renowned as the best in the world, into defensive midfield, he still showed the same level of work rate, passion and determination.

    The 29-year-old was particularly phenomenal in the 3-1 win over Manchester City, with his leadership on the pitch crucial to helping Die Roten to victory.

    After 18 years at his hometown club, his influence is more crucial than ever and will be a vital part of the team in attempting to retain their Champions League title.

18. Alex Teixeira (Shakhtar Donetsk)

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    He was superb when Shakhtar played Real Sociedad, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win at Anoeta, and a constant menace as the Ukrainian giants secured an important point against Manchester United at home. 

    But it's fair to say it's taken a while for the Brazilian to settle down at the club. The 23-year-old, signed from Vasco da Gama back in 2010 for £5 million, eventually got to grips with the conditions and has scored 26 goals in 94 games.

    His dribbling ability is of a high standard, as well as his tendency to pick out a wonderful pass. His temperament needs work still, with Teixeira receiving two red cards during his time at the Donbass Arena.

    But after replacing Fernandinho, who joined Manchester City in the summer, he has taken up a deeper role and appears to be relishing his regular spot in the side.

17. Andre Schurrle (Chelsea)

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    Andre Schurrle had to take time to acclimatise to the Premier League and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side, but the £18 million winger has come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks.

    Played as a lone striker against Manchester United may not have been the best tactical decision, but as always, the 22-year-old displayed incredible work rate and character, which would have pleased his manager.

    And after deputising for the injured Eden Hazard against Steaua Bucharest, Schurrle was magnificent, using direct running and an abudance of pace against Daniel Georgievski, who had a nightmare as a result.  

    He had a hand in two of the four goals, and the signs look very encouraging from the former Bayer Leverkusen forward.

16. Atsuto Uchida (Schalke)

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    The Japanese full-back has proved to be a solid figure among the back four as Schalke completed their second game in the Champions League without conceding.

    A comprehensive 3-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest was expected, but the German giants put in an assured performance against Basel, highlighting their tactical discipline as they snatched a 1-0 win in Switzerland.

    Uchida has been very much involved in their success so far, showing himself to be one of the top performers with a high level of work rate and determination. 

    And he scored a rare goal, something of a collector's item, in the game against Steaua.

    His form is there for everybody to see, and with Uchida being just 25, there's no doubt he can carry on improving in this Schalke team.

15. Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)

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    Gael Clichy's departure to Manchester City in 2011 was fiercely opposed by the Arsenal supporters, but as one door closed, the opportunity was there for Kieran Gibbs to take it.

    And little by little, he's grown into a mature character, a real professional. Rarely do you see him get caught up in the niggly parts of the game; he simply does the job at hand, whether it's defending or attacking.

    Gibbs was superb as Arsenal clinched a 2-1 victory away to Marseille, working hard for the whole 90 minutes and showing why Nacho Monreal is struggling to get into the side at present.

    Even with an abundance of creative maestros within the midfield, Arsene Wenger will be pleased that creativity is coming from other areas of the pitch too. And the England international has certainly been working on his attacking game, scoring once and creating three goals in the Champions League this season.



14. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

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    There's something different about Wayne Rooney this season, and it's difficult to find out what it is.

    Rooney scored twice in the 4-2 win over Leverkusen and has displayed his natural ability as a goalscorer this campaign, netting five goals in eight appearances in all competitions.

    Yes, of course he's playing under a different manager in David Moyes, but it almost seems like the 28-year-old has regained his hunger, his real passion for the game, which makes him such a valuable asset to Manchester United.

    He's clearly lost weight, that's evident in the image above. His pace has improved, and perhaps we can credit Moyes for that with his intense workouts in training.

    Whatever it is, Rooney is keeping the ship from sinking at present, and should be commended for his efforts in helping the Red Devils stay afloat. 


13. Mohamed Salah (FC Basel)

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    It seems almost inevitable that Basel will struggle to hang onto another star which they unearthed from the obscure quarters of African football.

    Mohamed Salah showed his promise in last season's Europa League, scoring against both Tottenham and Chelsea. And when the 21-year-old Egyptian faced the latter last month, he proved he was no one-trick pony.

    A stunning finish silenced the Chelsea crowd and helped the Swiss side achieve the shock result of the campaign so far. His level of balance, pace and agility all seem to be perfectly measured as he likes to race past defenders and cause problems with his favoured left foot.

    Without a doubt, he could be one of the surprise packages of the season, and it would be a surprise if he fails to attract a few admirers come January.

12. Arda Turan (Atletico Madrid)

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    With his elegant play and dynamism in the midfield, Arda Turan is one of the more underrated players in European football at present.

    His first touch is never anything other than world class, and rather like Andres Iniesta for Barcelona or Juan Mata for Chelsea, his team suffers without his creativity.

    Still only 26, it feels like Turan has been around for much longer. In reality, his talent has propelled him into the limelight at a very young age, and has had to cope with the expectation for the majority of his career at Galatasaray.

    To score a last-gasp winner at the Estadio do Dragao is no easy feat, as Porto had not lost at home since Chelsea defeated them back in 2009.

    But to execute a training-ground routine free-kick with such composure and skill, Diego Simeone would have been extremely impressed with his superb playmaker and of course the provider, Gabi.

    Arda could be the key to unlocking Atletico's path to the next stage, having struggled in the past do just that.

11. Ramires (Chelsea)

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    He likes to go about his business quietly, but Chelsea's midfield workhorse appears to be having more of an effect than ever under Jose Mourinho.

    Since his £18 million transfer from Benfica three years ago, the 26-year-old has slowly forced his way into a regular spot in the midfield. And while he doesn't possess the same technical ability as a typical Brazilian footballer, the sheer athleticism he holds is incredible.

    He is the engine of the Chelsea side, running for the whole 90 minutes from one end to the other, and rarely do you see a player cover as much ground as he does for the Blues.

    Ramires is yet to score in the league this season, but two goals against Steaua Bucharest highlighted his ability to get forward and put away his chances. 

    And he could be an important part of the team as Chelsea look to secure their third consecutive European title.

10. Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)

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    After several months of speculation ended with a new contract, Arjen Robben knew he had a point to prove.

    And how he silenced the critics was magnificent. The Dutch wing wizard was the standout player in the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund, becoming a constant menace for Marcel Schmelzer, and scored the winning goal in the dying moments.

    Still only 29, it was difficult to see where Robben could better himself. But his improvement was evident against Manchester City, and his all-round work rate was rewarded with a goal.

    His performance epitomised how many believe Bayern Munich could become the first side to retain the Champions League, and if he carries on performing at this level, it's difficult to dismiss the idea.

9. Julian Draxler (Schalke)

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    We've seen some players in European football experience a meteoric rise in their reputation, but none quite like Julian Draxler.

    The German starlet was given his debut only two years ago, but in that time, has made 82 appearances for Schalke in the Bundesliga and forced his way into the Germany national team setup, notching eight caps and scoring once.

    The 20-year-old is one of the key players at present at the Gelsenkirchen, and scored a stunning goal in the 1-0 win over FC Basel, as well as two goals against PAOK in the playoffs.

    As if interest wasn't already high enough in the talented playmaker—with Chelsea and Manchester United strongly linked, per The Mirror—Draxler has increased his stockpile with some stunning individual performances.

    To the extent that Schalke would only be willing to part with their star asset for around £60 million, and based on his current level of performance, it's not as far-fetched as some may believe. He certainly has the qualities to help the German side build on their impressive start to their Champions League campaign.



8. Neymar (Barcelona)

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    Those who doubted whether the Neymar-Lionel Messi combination would work perhaps wanted to be the ones who said "told you so!" when it failed. Sadly for them (and Barcelona's opponents) things have all gone to plan so far for the Brazilian star.

    It's easy to forget that with his composure and confidence, Neymar is still only 21. Before moving to Barcelona, he had scored 136 goals for Santos, which is nothing short of incredible.

    And he's carried that form with him to Barcelona, who signed him for £57 million this summer. While Messi has been scoring the goals as per the norm, Neymar has been the creative influence on the left-sid of attack.

    Three goals and six assists in 11 games is an impressive record, especially when you compare the Brazilian division to Spanish football, but Neymar has quickly adapted to his new surroundings, and can help Tata Martino revitalise this wounded Barcelona side.

7. Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid)

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    After Gareth Bale's arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu, Angel Di Maria was tipped to be one of the players to be sacrificed.

    It turns out that the man to leave was Mesut Ozil, with new coach Carlo Ancelotti placing his faith in Di Maria, who arrived at Real Madrid for £25 million back in 2010.

    And the Argentinian winger has certainly repaid his manager's confidence in him, returning with three assists and two goals to become their most influential player in the Champions League so far this season.

    Still a regular feature in the side, Di Maria is making it as difficult as possible for Ancelotti to drop him in favour of Bale. The Welshman is injured at present, but he will face a tough fight to dislodge the 25-year-old from the side.


6. Marquinhos (PSG)

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    After his £32 million move from Roma, European experts were not surprised to see Marquinhos command such a large fee.

    The 19-year-old Brazilian had played just 26 games for Roma as a centre-half, but managed to make the spot his own, forcing Nicolas Burdisso onto the bench.

    He was one of the key performers and, although a few eyebrows were raised at the hefty fee involved, it was an investment rather than a short-term solution.

    Slotting alongside Thiago Silva at the heart of the defence, Marquinhos has been impressive in front of goal, managing to score two in two games in the Champions League.

    PSG have only conceded once so far, and the solidity that Silva and Marquinhos provide at the back can help Laurent Blanc's team to progress further in the competition.

5. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

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    So it turns out Aaron Ramsey is indeed human. Arsenal fans may be hoping that he can maintain his stunning start to the campaign after scoring eight goals in 11 games.

    The Welsh midfielder has risen to prominence after some harsh criticism in the past few years, and the 23-year-old must be commended for his attitude on the pitch.

    He scored three goals against Fenerbahce in the playoffs as Arsenal cruised to victory, and also netted in the 2-1 win away to Marseille, while providing a superb assist for Mesut Ozil's strike against Napoli.

    His main role is to create and operate as a box-to-box midfielder, but Ramsey has been playing with a sense of freedom this season, and it seems to have had the desired effect.

    Some may question his ability to stay fit for the entire season, but if he can keep clear of injuries, the Wales captain has a chance to help his side challenge for honours this season, including the Champions League.

4. Isco (Real Madrid)

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    The whole transfer saga involving Gareth Bale was a blessing in disguise for Spanish starlet Isco, whose £27 million transfer from Malaga largely went unnoticed.

    It gave the former Malaga playmaker the chance to settle into his new surroundings after leaving his hometown club, and any pressure that came with his move appears to have diminished.

    Isco is only 21 but it's easy to forget that.

    He operates in a free role behind the main striker Karim Benzema, but is often seen dropping into pockets of space and floating out wide.

    One aspect of his game he has improved is his goalscoring, with five goals in his first 10 Real Madrid games. Bearing in mind he managed just nine in 82 games for Malaga, it's fair to say he's made an improvement.

    And so while Bale has been out injured, Isco's excellent start to his career has gone down with the Madridstas, who will be happy to have found their new homegrown hero. 

3. Lionel Messi

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    Anything Cristiano Ronaldo can do, Lionel Messi can achieve in an equal to or greater measure. That's how the top two footballers in the world operate at present.

    If Ronaldo scores a brace, Messi will match it or better yet, score a hat-trick. Regardless of whether it's simply that the Argentinian has an unbelievable level of motivation or it's merely a coincidenceor just a combination of boththere's no denying that the 26-year-old is one of the best players to ever walk the earth, if not the best. 

    The Argentinian star has already scored 11 goals in just nine games this season, and hit a marvelous hat-trick as Barcelona tore apart Ajax 4-0 at the Camp Nou. And after finishing with over 10 goals in each of his last three campaigns, it seems inevitable he will achieve it once more.

    Messi is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury but will soon return to action, and while many dream of coming up against him, within 90 minutes, it's likely the world-class forward would have quickly eradicated that sense of joy. 



2. Franck Ribery

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    Calls to have Franck Ribery named as the Ballon d'Or winner for 2013 have increased to the extent that people are genuinely believing the Frenchman may win it. And why not?

    Ribery has endured something of a controversial career to date, becoming the disruptive winger that wanted out at Galatasaray and Marseille before settling down at Bayern Munich.

    And the 30-year-old has come on leaps and bounds in the past year or so, playing a vital part in helping the German club win their first European title in over a decade against rivals Borussia Dortmund.

    Under Pep Guardiola, he has continued to flourish, with six goals in 12 games this season, and a superb performance against Manchester City to go with it.

    Already named the UEFA Best Player for last season, it would come as no shock if Ribery was named as the world's best player for 2013.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

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    They call him the 'most complete player' in the world, and when you see him in the flesh, you can understand why.

    Not only is Cristiano Ronaldo an incredible footballer, his athleticism in unrivaled. His muscular frame means he is able to shrug people off the ball with consummate ease, and his ability to spring his body into the air allows him to rise higher than his opponent.

    Headed goals, long-range efforts, free-kicks or penalties. You name it, Ronaldo's probably scored it. But if you don't believe us, check out his scoring record: 213 goals in 209 games for Real Madrid since his £80 million move from Manchester United four years ago.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is out of this world.

    He already has five goals in just two games so far in the Champions League showing how important he is to the side. Under Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid have a great chance of winning this season's competition, and with Ronaldo in the side, it's certainly feasible.