Andre Schurrle and 20 Underappreciated Champions League Figures This Season

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

Andre Schurrle and 20 Underappreciated Champions League Figures This Season

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    Andre Schurrle stepped off the bench to help Chelsea overcome a two-goal deficit in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday night, taking the acclaim for a positive performance that helped send his side into the last four.

    The German forward hasn't always been given due credit this term, mainly as a result of the even bigger exploits by some of those around him who wear the same shirt, but he has performed well when called upon for Chelsea.

    Here are 20 men who haven't always gotten the praise they might have deserved in this season's Champions League.

Andre Schurrle, Chelsea

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    Schurrle hasn't started every game but has played eight times in the Champions League for the Blues.

    Whether from the start or off the bench, he has been able to have a good impact on the team—none more so than his goalscoring appearance in the second leg on Tuesday.

    The German international's ability to play in a variety of roles naturally aids him in being selected, but despite not being an absolute standout, he still shows good form and flashes of his talent to beat men and be a threat in the final third.

Raul Garcia, Atletico Madrid

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    How Raul Garcia doesn't get more praise or attention is anyone's guess.

    Utilised mainly as a central attacking midfielder this season and encouraged to get forward far more than previously, he has been in excellent form for most of the campaign.

    He has scored four times and claimed four assists for Atletico, helping them to the verge of the last four so far.

Luka Modric, Real Madrid

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    In amongst all the chatter about BBC—Bale, Benzema, Cristianonaturally one or two in Real Madrid's setup get overlooked.

    Luka Modric has had the season of his career this year, excelling from a slightly deeper, more controlling role in midfield where he has licence to roam, get on the ball and create for those ahead of him.

    The Croatian has been one of his team's best players of the season, linking attacking moves and working hard off the ball.

Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid

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    If Modric is enjoying the form of his life, Angel Di Maria has gotten right back to his very best.

    A switch from the right flank to the left side of a three-man central midfield has rejuvenated the Argentine, as his boundless energy, willingness to combine with Ronaldo down the left channel and his devastating speed on the counter bring so much to the Real team.

    Forget his penalty miss; Di Maria has been excellent this term, scoring three and claiming five assists (tied for the top in that statistic) along the way in the Champions League.

Gregory Van Der Wiel, PSG

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    Paris Saint-Germain were without their regular right-back Gregory van der Wiel for their two-legged quarter-final against Chelsea, and it unfortunately showed.

    The Dutchman's ability to raid forward down the right flank was sorely missed, as Christophe Jallet was nowhere near as effective as an outlet or with his end product.

    Van der Wiel might not be the strongest defensively, but his combination play and pace are big parts of how PSG function going forward.

Kostas Manolas, Olympiakos

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    Francois Mori

    Greek central defender Kostas Manolas has enjoyed a superb all-round season, with his Champions League displays giving further proof of his talent.

    He added a couple of goals to his tally for Olympiakos, but of course his defensive solidity and impressive reliability have gotten him noticed.

    On the verge of being a regular starter for the national team too, it would be a surprise if he didn't pick up a big move this summer.

Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea

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    While Schurrle might have had the big impact for Chelsea against PSG, Cesar Azpilicueta simply had the latest in a long list of impressive performances.

    Why he isn't getting more column inches and rave reviews is a mystery; he's been almost entirely faultless for the entire season, switching over from right- to left-back early on and keeping his place in the side.

    A steady and calm influence on the ball, he's rarely beaten one-on-one and provides good support to those ahead of him.

Thiago Motta, PSG

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    Francois Mori

    PSG's big-money signings in attack can perhaps take the attention off their less glamorous players, but they really couldn't do without Thiago Motta.

    The Italian holds everything together in the centre of the park, covering for those less experienced and more impetuous in possession in front of him and protecting the defence behind.

    He doesn't waste possession and is aggressive and efficient in his winning back of the ball. He's a real winner.

Kevin Grosskreutz, Borussia Dortmund

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    Kevin Grosskreutz might not be every Dortmund fan's first choice to start most games—perhaps not even his manager'sbut in a season where BVB have been stretched to their limits by injuries, he has consistently shown his reliability and versatility.

    The German has played in both defence and midfield, on the right and on the left, and along with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he has been the only player for his team to feature in all 10 Champions League games.

    Despite all those injuries, Dortmund went close to a last-four place; Grosskreutz was most assuredly a big part of that relative success.

Danny Welbeck, Manchester United

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    Danny Welbeck comes in for his share of stick from fans and the press, but he has had an impressive impact on Manchester United in the Champions League.

    His only group-stage appearance came in Ukraine, where he scored United's goal in a 1-1 draw.

    From there on he reappeared off the bench in Greece to coincide with United's best spell in the defeat to Olympiakos, played well in the much-improved second-leg comeback and did his part in the first leg against Bayern Munich. He's been one of a handful of United players to have performed well in Europe's elite competition this season.

Kaka, AC Milan

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    AC Milan are having a domestic season to forget, but they did manage to make the Champions League knockout phase before Atletico Madrid eliminated them.

    Their standout player, both in the groups and over the two legs against Atletico, was Kaka by some considerable distance.

    He might not be at his peak anymore, but that seems to have led people to assume he's entirely finished. He's not—far from itand has shown genuine top-class ability in some of his performances in this season's competition.

Maxwell, PSG

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    What van der Wiel does down the right for PSG, Maxwell does even more of down the left.

    In addition to getting forward and linking well with those ahead of him, he is a solid defender who has given plenty of wide attackers difficulty in having an impact this season.

    The Brazilian is keeping young French defender Lucas Digne firmly out of the scene with his ability to retain possession and contribute significantly to PSG's buildup play.

Gabi, Atletico Madrid

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    Another Atletico Madrid star who is not getting enough credit this season is central midfielder Gabi.

    He has started every game in the holding midfield double pivot, putting himself about nonstop to win back the ball and get his team progressing up the field as quickly as possible.

    He isn't just a ball-winner, though; he's also a player with great vision and passing ability from deep. He leads his team in tackles made in the Champions League and also in key passes per game.

Fernando Llorente, Juventus

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    Juventus had a disappointing time in the Champions League after failing to win more than one group-stage game and crashing out late on, but Fernando Llorente had a comparatively successful time of things.

    Still working his way back to full sharpness and fitness after a season of underuse at Athletic Bilbao, he scored twice in two games against Real Madrid and was one of only three Juve players to score in the Champions League this term.

    More has come from him since then, but even in the early stages of the competition, he was a main threat for the Italian side to look toward.

Gary Cahill, Chelsea

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    Gary Cahill has been one of the top defenders of the season in his domestic league, and in Europe he isn't too far behind either.

    The English centre-back has been a monumental player for Chelsea in the Champions League, showing improvement with his reading of play and ability to intercept danger before forwards can get a shot away.

    He is certainly the quicker of the centre-back pairing, and his agility, determination and willingness to put his body on the line make him a good foil for the combative but aging John Terry.

Aurelien Chedjou, Galatasaray

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    Galatasaray as a whole were somewhat overlooked by many, partly because most onlookers expected Juventus to progress and partly because Galatasaray put up far too little of a fight in the knockout stages.

    Defender Aurelien Chedjou was one of their more impressive performers, however, showing good solidity and consistency as the group stage wore on.

    The Cameroonian ranks in the top 10 of the Champions League players for interceptions made this season with 3.6 per game.

Jose Callejon, Napoli

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    Napoli had a very strong group-stage campaign, which, in most years, would have been cause to celebrate passage to the knockouts. Four wins and two defeats, though, saw them exit in third place on a three-way head-to-head tie.

    Arguably the biggest threat the Italian side produced in the groups came from wide forward Jose Callejon, whose pace and directness caused both Arsenal and Dortmund problems at times.

    He might not have the big name of team-mates such as Gonzalo Higuain or Marek Hamsik, but he was a tool that Napoli utilised to great advantage—just not quite enough to go through.

David De Gea, Manchester United

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    One of Manchester United's best two players for the season as a whole, David de Gea has been a little overlooked on account of United's poor campaign in general and the fact they have conceded more goals than usual.

    The Spanish keeper, though, has been exceptional.

    There have been several games where he has performed well enough to keep them in the tie, such as making more than one vital save against Olympiakos in the quarter-final stage.

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal

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    And we'll finish up with two managers, rather than players, because those on the sidelines too go underappreciated at times.

    Arsene Wenger has had a difficult final third of the season after his team fell out of two trophy races, but he took his side through that incredibly tough group with Marseille, Dortmund and Napoli with just two defeats.

    Arsenal were soundly beaten over the two legs by Bayern Munich—but most teams are, in fairness. Wenger did as well as might have been expected of him in this competition.

Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid

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    And finally one manager who does get plaudits but nowhere near enough.

    What Diego Simeone has done with Atletico Madrid is nothing short of incredible; domestic and European trophies have been followed up with a genuine, lasting title challenge in Spain this season, while in the Champions League he has not seen his side lose a single match.

    Five wins and a draw in the groups saw Atletico finish top of Group G, while AC Milan were dispatched 1-0 and 4-1 in the round of 16. Even a quarter-final away to Barcelona hasn't seen Simeone beaten, as Atletico held their domestic rivals to a 1-1 draw.

    This team is the real deal, Simeone is the real deal, and it's about time he was acknowledged as such.