When a club leaves the comfort of their domestic league behind in order to compete within Europe’s most valued and historic competition, certain individuals may freeze under the harsh and glaring spotlight of expectation.
The anticipation and scrutiny of excited fans in amphitheatres that have witnessed the greatest names in football can be a daunting prospect for experienced professionals and untested youngsters alike.
However, ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League Group B clash between Real Madrid and Juventus, I’ve handpicked two players (one for each team) who have maintained their outstanding domestic form throughout this season’s most prestigious European competition. They're both exceptional players who need to be subdued if either team is to have any chance of winning.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid's Ronaldo is their best player in the Champions League this season by some distance, having achieved a Squawka Performance Score of 257 in the space of two matches—Angel di Maria trails in second place with a Performance Score of 161.
Portugal’s captain continues to dazzle and amaze fans around the world with his direct running and eye for goal, in what often looks like a race to break as many records as possible, shoulder-to-shoulder with rival, and Barcelona’s own magician, Lionel Messi.
During Real Madrid’s opening two fixtures against Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen, Ronaldo managed to find the back of the net five times, highlighting how dangerous he can be in front of goal if given the slightest space to pull the trigger.
To further emphasise his importance to Los Blancos, the explosive attacker can claim to be their most creative player in this season’s Champions League, with six key passes and one assist.
Cristiano Ronaldo has achieved the greatest Performance Score of any Real Madrid player in La Liga (526), scoring a phenomenal eight goals from 57 shots, in nine appearances.
The Portuguese international’s willingness to shoot could perhaps be seen as a hindrance to patient build-up. But this is Ronaldo, and his record for finding the back of the net is incredible, as is his aerial ability. The tricky schemer has won 20 of an attempted 30 headers in La Liga this season, emphasising what an assertive force he can be throughout the air and on the deck.
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
According to reports by La Gazzetta dello Sport this summer (h/t Football-Espana), Real Madrid were contemplating a bid in the region of €20-€22million for Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini, amid rumours that Pepe could have departed. And it just so happens that Juventus’ 29-year-old defender faces Los Blancos Wednesday in an attempt to quell the attacking threat of Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, according to Football-Italia, Chiellini was dismissive when asked to single out individuals.
“Just talking about Bale and Ronaldo is reductive, because all of Real Madrid’s individuals are very talented, the former Fiorentina defender said. “We respect Real, but want to prove we can do well in this stadium where everyone suffers. A game like this can get the best out of Juventus and provide a positive turning point.”
Leaving Serie A to one side, let’s focus on his qualities during the Champions League this season.
Giorgio Chiellini has achieved an impressive Squawka Performance Score of 134 throughout two appearances, due in no small part to a passing accuracy of 90 percent, and a defensive contribution that has seen him average eight defensive actions per game—no Juventus player has averaged more.
Within Italy’s domestic league, Chiellini has been a dominant force as well, marshalling the back line with an air of authority, experience and reliable leadership.
The hard-tackling centre-back is Juventus’ best player in Serie A this season, based on Performance Score (323). Throughout seven appearances, his remarkable average passing total is once again on show (89 percent), and his ability to win the majority of headers (71 percent success) and tackles (71 percent success) further emphasises his importance throughout the defensive third.
Giorgio Chiellini may not be in the mood to single out individuals, but he knows as well as anyone that he needs to maintain his outstanding form if Juventus are to get anything out of their Wednesday trip to the imposing Santiago Bernabeu.