Luis Suarez & 20 Top Players We'd Love to See Playing in the Champions League

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 13, 2014

Luis Suarez & 20 Top Players We'd Love to See Playing in the Champions League

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    Clint Hughes/Associated Press

    With UEFA Champions League knockout football firmly entrenched on our screens in recent days, the mind begins to wonder how players outside the competition would fare.

    Top players in lesser teams are always angling for that "Champions League move," so we've drawn up 20 players we'd simply love to see strutting their stuff on the continent's biggest stage.

    Enjoy the piece, and if there's a name or two you'd add, slam it in the comments below!

     

    All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.

Luis Suarez, Liverpool

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    Clint Hughes/Associated Press

    For years we've yearned to see Luis Suarez on the biggest European stage, and for years he's yearned for that too.

    Heavy transfer speculation has dominated the Uruguayan's future throughout his time in England, as it became immediately obvious we were dealing with a world-class player.

    We may just get our wish sooner than previously expected.

Borja Valero, Fiorentina

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    Fabrizio Giovannozzi/Associated Press

    Borja Valero has stunned Premier League fans by going from West Bromwich Albion flop under Tony Mowbray to Spanish international-calibre playmaker with Fiorentina.

    The Iberian schemer manages games superbly, controls tempo and never loses the ball in midfield. He's even been touted as Spain World Cup squad-worthy this summer.

     

Roberto Firmino, Hoffenheim

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    Michael Probst/Associated Press

    Roberto Firmino scores and creates an absolutely absurd amount of goals; He's a valuable jewel in Hoffenheim's goal-hungry crown.

    When they strike lucky with a Brazilian—a la Carlos Eduardo—they charge big on the next sale, but one Champions League club should be looking to poach his extraordinary talents.

    He's an absolute joy to watch and creates chances out of nowhere.

Keylor Navas, Levante

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Keylor Navas, like Brad Guzan or Guillermo Ochoa, is one of those rare goalkeepers you just love watching.

    He's got the agility of a cat, leaping from post to post to keep out numerous shots from different angles. 

    The Costa Rica international could use the 2014 World Cup, where his nation will take on Italy, England and Uruguay, to launch himself away from Levante.

Miralem Pjanic, Roma

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    Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press

    Miralem Pjanic is adored in Bosnia & Herzegovina and is touted as the playmaking saviour of their footballing nation.

    They'd love nothing more than to see him strutting his stuff in the Champions League too, and Roma look locks to finish second or third in Serie A this season.

    Like Luis Suarez, this seems a dream close to fruition.

Christian Benteke, Aston Villa

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    Tony Marshall/Getty Images

    Christian Benteke bullies defenders in the Premier League with pace, power and deadly finishing skill. Aston Villa will fight tooth and nail to keep him, but it feels like a matter of time before he's poached.

    Among those defenders he's given nightmares are ones already playing in the Champions League, with perhaps Chris Smalling the ultimate recipient of the Belgian's full force and strength.

    He's destined for Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Simon Kjaer, Lille

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    Michel Spingler/Associated Press

    Simon Kjaer was once rated as a potential superstar central defender, but his career went off the rails after leaving Palermo.

    Now, at Lille, he's found his mojo again and looks superb on a weekly basis. His performance alongside Daniel Agger at Wembley against England was titanic.

    He's ready for the big stage again, and LOSC should expect interest this summer.

Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla

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    Miguel Angel Morenatti/Associated Press

    Ivan Rakitic has been one of the top three La Liga central midfielders this season, and his new buyout clause of around €25 million should look very attractive to Champions League clubs.

    He's an energetic, box-to-box presence who can contribute in every area and truly galvanise a team. He and Luka Modric, as a Croatian duo, have enthralled Liga viewers this season.

Adam Lallana, Southampton

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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    When their club was stuck in League One, Southampton fans were saying Rickie Lambert was Premier League quality and Adam Lallana could play in the Champions League.

    They were right about Lambert, no doubt, and it seems like they could well be right about Lallana too.

    The winger has the first touch and close control of a demigod, wonderful awareness and trickery and has the quick feet to engineer scoring chances for himself and others.

Leighton Baines, Everton

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    The Leighton Baines vs. Ashley Cole debate is still rife, and with Luke Shaw now added in as a third option when it comes to picking England's World Cup left-backs, the issue clouds further.

    One thing that would set a lot of people's minds straight is seeing Baines in Champions League action, but unfortunately that doesn't look like happening any time soon given that he signed a new, long-term deal with Everton this year.

Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Ever since Luis Suarez was suspended at the tail end of last season, Daniel Sturridge has been on fire.

    His amazing form helped the Reds navigate the first portion of the 2013-14 campaign in first place without their beloved Uruguayan, and since his return, the pair have grown stronger together.

    Now, Sturridge is a key player for England's World Cup hopes and a definite Champions League-quality starter.

Mehdi Benatia, Roma

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    Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

    Mehdi Benatia swapped Udinese for Roma in a move some doubted last summer, but he's fast become the leader of one of Europe's best defensive lines.

    The Moroccan stalwart has proven himself to be one of the finest centre-backs in a centre-back-heavy Serie A competition, and with Roma set to secure Champions League football, it won't be long before the hipster's favourite is playing prime-time calcio.

Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Fiorentina

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    Marco Vasini/Associated Press

    There are some players you just can't take your eyes off when they're on the ball. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado is one of those.

    He's an electric wide player, capable of playing wing-back, midfield or as a right forward, and dazzles with the ball at his feet taking players on.

    He's a fearless outlet, and he needs to ply his trade at the utmost level.

Alberto Moreno, Sevilla

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    Toni Rodriguez/Associated Press

    Alberto Moreno is Spain's finest young left-back prospect, and after starring for his country at the U-21 European Championships last summer, he's had a magnificent season with Sevilla to date.

    He's energetic, great on the ball and industrious with his running. He doesn't shirk his defensive responsibilities but attacks with intent too, with three goals to his name this year already.

Rodrigo Palacio, Internazionale

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    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    At times, Rodrigo Palacio looks a cut above his team-mates at Internazionale.

    He's a phenomenal little forward who dips in and out of the front line, has pace to burn over the top and a clear understanding of how midfield linkup play works.

    He can score spectacular goals and simple goals, and it'd be nice to see a few more of those on the Champions League stage before the 32-year-old starts to decline.

Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao

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    Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

    Aymeric Laporte has turned into one of the classiest young defenders in the game.

    He's kept Mikel San Jose and Borja Ekiza out of the Athletic Bilbao side all season, partnering Carlos Gurpegi in the centre of defence in a real beauty-brawn combination.

    He's a good ballplayer, great in the air and a perfectionist in the tackle.

Romelu Lukaku, Everton (Chelsea)

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    Bogdan Maran/Associated Press

    Astonishingly, we haven't seen Romelu Lukaku in UEFA Champions League action yet despite the fact he's been on Chelsea's books since 2011.

    He was left out of the first squad by Andre Villas-Boas despite landing with Genk in the group, and has since been loaned out to West Bromwich Albion and Everton.

    The 2014-15 season should, finally, be his chance to strut his stuff.

Dede, Cruzeiro

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    Bruno Magalhaes/Associated Press

    For Dede, see Simon Kjaer: promising young centre-back with bags of power, but career hits the ropes and he struggles to recover.

    He was constantly linked to Premier League clubs but a drastic drop in form ended all hopes, with the 2012 Brasileiro Serie A season a complete write-off.

    But a big move to Cruzeiro has rekindled his form, and his 2013 season was akin to his 2011 one. He's on the fringes of Luiz Felipe Scolari's World Cup squad, and we're back to questioning whether or not he'd be a similar force in Europe once again.

Elkeson, Guangzhou Evergrande

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Elkeson starred in last season's Asian Champions League, winning the tournament with Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande.

    He managed 24 goals and 10 assists from just 28 Chinese Super League appearances over the course of 2013, and at the age of 24 appears to be entering his prime.

    Could he repeat the feat in Europe's version?

Layvin Kurzawa, Monaco

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    Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press

    Barring an unforeseeable collapse, Monaco should waltz to second place in Ligue 1 and contest in the Champions League next season.

    That means we get to see James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao on the biggest of stages once again, but the player we're looking forward to seeing most is the free-scoring left-back Layvin Kurzawa.

    Amazingly, he's a youth product of the principality club.