25 Best Strikers to Watch in the Champions League This Season

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

25 Best Strikers to Watch in the Champions League This Season

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    It's back, and it's got some new additions.

    The draw for the Champions League group stages has thrown up some interesting ties in Europe's premier competition, matches in which some of the world's best forwards will go head-to-head and look to fire their teams to glory.

    Who'll be the best and most entertaining forwards to watch, though?

    In no particular order, here's 25 of them:

Lionel Messi, Barcelona

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    Well, we say "in no particular order" but it makes sense to start as we mean to go on, and with a forward who still gets people worldwide off their seats.

    Last season was a disappointing one for Barcelona's three-time Champions League winner Lionel Messi as he "only" scored 41 goals in 46 games, following on from totals of 60, 73, 53 and 47 goals in his previous four campaigns.

    Barca were knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stages by eventual finalists and La Liga winners Atletico Madrid, and after starting his La Liga season with two goals in a win over Elche, he'll now be desperate to make his mark in Europe again.

Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool

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    Daniel Sturridge has been involved in the Champions League before, and indeed he got his hands on the trophy as an unused substitute in Chelsea's 2012 final victory over Bayern Munich, but he'll quite rightly feel as though this is his first real attempt at shining in it.

    As Liverpool's premier forward following the departure of Luis Suarez, Sturridge will spearhead the Reds' attack on their first return to the competition for five years, and he'll bring his trademark confidence and coolness in front of goal with him as he does.

    Thirty-six goals in 51 Reds appearances mean that that confidence is well-placed.

Mario Mandzukic, Atletico Madrid

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    Can you replace the irreplaceable? Atletico Madrid have made a pretty good attempt at it.

    Diego Costa's 36 goals in 52 games fired Atletico to both La Liga glory and the Champions League final last season, but now he's gone he's been replaced by Croatian Mario Mandzukic, who scored for Bayern Munich in their 2013 Champions League final victory over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.

    That was one of six goals he's scored in Europe's premier competition, but he'll be looking to double that total this season. 

Lima, Benfica

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    Although he's never been capped by his native Brazil—and they could have done with him in the summer—forward Lima has proved to be a crucial member of the Benfica side that lost in the final of the last two Europa League competitions.

    Now 31, Lima has scored 51 goals in his two seasons with the Lisbon giants, who he helped lead to the Portuguese league title last season.

    That has earned them another crack at the Champions League, and Lima will be crucial to that.

Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

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    France's Karim Benzema scored five goals as Real Madrid swept to Champions League glory last season, with one of those strikes the only goal of the game in the first leg of the semi-final win over Bayern Munich.

    Per UEFA.com, with 24 goals in the competition for Real and 12 for his previous club Lyon, Benzema's total of 36 strikes in the tournament's history is bettered only by 10 players, of whom just four—Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic—will play in the 2014/15 edition. 

Stevan Jovetic, Manchester City

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    After an injury-hit first campaign at Manchester City, Stevan Jovetic has exploded into this season with good performances in City's friendly games and then most notably two goals against Liverpool in the Premier League.

    The Montenegrin starred for Fiorentina in the 2009/10 Champions League season—again scoring twice against Liverpool—and he looks to be desperate to make up for lost time at the Etihad Stadium, something that will only benefit Manuel Pellegrini's men.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anderlecht

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    One of the most exciting teenage forwards in Europe, Serbian Aleksandar Mitrovic has excelled since swapping Partizan Belgrade for Anderlecht in 2013.

    His 16 goals helped Anderlecht to win the Belgian Pro League last season, while his three strikes in five league games in the current campaign hint that an even more prolific season is on the way.

    Playing in the Champions League will be a huge step up in class for the 19-year-old, but he's shown that he can handle everything he's been confronted with in his career so far.

Jackson Martinez, Porto

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    Colombia's Jackson Martinez was on the mark as Porto qualified for this season's Champions League proper with a 3-0 aggregate victory over Lille in the play-offs, and now he's there he'll once again look to prove himself as one of South America's premier forwards.

    Now 27, you do wonder if the time has come for Martinez to make the traditional leap from Porto to one of the even bigger European clubs, and a good Champions League season would only accelerate that process.

Radamel Falcao, Monaco

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    Whether or not Radamel Falcao starts this Champions League campaign with Monaco remains to be seen, but wherever he goes he's certain to be playing in it.

    Now back to full fitness after the knee injury that kept him out of the World Cup, Falcao is remembered in European competition for scoring 18 goals in 16 appearances as Porto won the Europa League in 2011, before hitting 12 in 15 for Atletico Madrid as they won the same competition the following season.

    The Champions League now waits for the same impact.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

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    Manchester City's leading man ever since they first qualified for the Champions League in 2011, Sergio Aguero has scored nine goals for the club in the competition to go with his five for previous club Atletico Madrid.

    Aguero grabbed six in six in last season's Champions League, where City were eliminated in the second round by Barcelona as the Argentinean suffered fitness problems.

    That was the first time that the current English champions had escaped the group stages, but they look perfectly set up to go further in the competition this time around, and Aguero will lead their charge.

Luis Suarez, Barcelona

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    What will he do? How many goals will he score? Who will he bite?

    The questions are stacking up ahead of Luis Suarez's debut season in the Champions League with Barcelona, who signed him from Liverpool in one of the major deals of this summer.

    We're all well aware of the controversy that comes with a Uruguayan forward who demonstrated the good and bad of his game at the World Cup in Brazil, and while his current ban will keep him out of the first three matchdays of this season's competition, you just know he'll have a say somewhere down the line.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain

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    He'll tell you that there simply is no Champions League without him, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic again looks set to light up the competition with Paris Saint-Germain.

    The Swedish superstar scored 10 times in last season's tournament to take his tally to 41 Champions League goals—six for Ajax, three at Juventus, six for Inter Milan, four for Barcelona, nine for AC Milan and now 13 for PSG, per UEFA.com.

    Only eight players past and present have ever scored more, and if Zlatan repeats performances like the one in which he scored four goals in a game at Anderlecht last October, it won't be long before he rises even higher in that list. 

Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

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    In one of the most eagerly-awaited free transfers of recent times, Robert Lewandowski swapped Borussia Dortmund for Bayern Munich this summer as he made the leap from the second best team in Germany to the best.

    The Pole hit 10 goals in 13 games as Dortmund reached the Champions League final in 2013, with the striker playing in every match, before he managed six strikes in eight matches in the continent's premier competition last season.

    At Bayern, such goalscoring feats will be expected, but if anyone can deliver then it will be Lewandowski.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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    Somewhat typically, Cristiano Ronaldo will start this Champions League season having scored 67 goals in the competition—exactly the same number as Lionel Messi.

    A record 17 goals in Real Madrid's victorious campaign last season took Ronaldo to within four strikes of the 71-goal haul achieved by fellow Real icon Raul, and while he seems certain to pass that mark, an interesting battle with Messi for that record now looks certain to take place.

    Real's victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid in the Lisbon final in May gave Ronaldo his second Champions League winners' medal, and he will not want to stop there.

Ciro Immobile, Borussia Dortmund

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    Replacing Robert Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund isn't going to be an easy task, but recruiting the top scorer from last season's Serie A campaign is a pretty decent attempt at it.

    Ciro Immobile scored 22 goals in 33 games for Torino in last season's top division in his homeland, and he'll take that form into a Dortmund side who'll undoubtedly make chances for him as they bid to improve on their 2013 appearance in the Champions League final.

    They might not reach those heights again, but the 24-year-old should slot into Lewandowski's shoes pretty nicely.

     

Mario Balotelli, Liverpool

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    Back in the Premier League with Liverpool, Mario Balotelli's return to England has been widely welcomed by regular watchers of the division, but he can make an impact for the Reds on their return to the Champions League stage, too.

    The eccentric Italian international managed three strikes for AC Milan in the Champions League last season, and while filling the void left by Luis Suarez might be a task that is beyond 99.9 percent of the footballers in the world, it's certainly going to be fun watching "Super Mario" try.

Carlos Tevez, Juventus

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    Their disappointing exit from the group stages of last season's competition will doubtless be weighing on the minds of Juventus' players as they enter the Champions League again this time around, and so Carlos Tevez will have a lot of pressure thrust upon him.

    The Argentinean scored 21 goals in his first season at Juve last year, but disappointingly only one of them was in European competition.

    He'll be bidding to put that record right in 2014/15, and he's definitely got the talent to do so.

Salomon Rondon, Zenit Saint Petersburg

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    Venezuelan forward Salomon Rondon has excelled since joining Zenit Saint Petersburg from Rubin Kazan in January, so much so that he even takes top billing in his team ahead of the Brazilian international Hulk.

    Rondon has scored 13 goals in his 19 Zenit appearances so far, and although Russian clubs don't exactly benefit from the way their league calendar works when it comes to European competition, there won't be many defenders who'll look forward to coming up against the 24-year-old this season.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Schalke

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    Seen coming off the bench to good effect for the Netherlands at the World Cup, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is much more of a threat from the beginning of matches for Bundesliga club Schalke, and he's got a rich goalscoring history in European competition, too.

    Huntelaar has netted 22 times in 29 matches in continental competition for the Bundesliga side, where he finally appears to have found a home after previous moves to Real Madrid and AC Milan when he left his native Netherlands.

    Now 31, he remains a deadly finisher in front of goal, as Champions League defences are about to find out.

     

Luiz Adriano, Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Playing for perennial Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, Brazilian-born forward Luiz Adriano has made his name as a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League, scoring 11 goals for the club in the competition.

    The recent unrest in the area has led many to question Shakhtar's presence in the tournament this season, but they will once again present a tough task for all of their opponents, largely because of the presence of Adriano.

Alvaro Morata, Juventus

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    The addition of some more big names at Real Madrid this summer has led to some high-profile departures, and while Angel Di Maria's Manchester United won't be seen in the Champions League this season, Alvaro Morata and Juventus will be.

    The 21-year-old Morata could have counted himself as a lucky charm in Real's Champions League final victory over Atletico Madrid last season, as he came on as a substitute when his team were 1-0 down only to end up with a winners' medal around his neck as his side won 4-1 after extra time.

    He'll be targeting an impact over a longer period this time around. 

Seydou Doumbia, CSKA Moscow

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    Now in his fifth season at CSKA Moscow, Ivorian forward Seydou Doumbia has long since established himself as one of the deadliest forwards in Russia, and he's capable of showing that form on the European stage for the Russian champions.

    Doumbia scored twice in a 5-2 group-stage defeat at Manchester City last season, and while his team might not be expected to go too far in the competition, he'll be a lively source of entertainment and goals for them.

Diego Costa, Chelsea

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    It was a huge gamble, and it ultimately proved to be a flawed one. 

    After scoring eight goals to help get Atletico Madrid to last season's Champions League final, Diego Costa lasted just nine minutes of it as he limped off in Lisbon and left his team with a huge hole to fill.

    Now at Chelsea following a huge £32 million move, Costa has settled in immediately at Stamford Bridge and scored in his opening two Premier League matches against Burnley and Leicester.

    The Champions League awaits next. 

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

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    A broken leg for Olivier Giroud which, according to the BBC, rules the Frenchman out until the end of December ensures that new Arsenal signing Alexis Sanchez is likely to be thrust into action as a centre-forward on plenty of occasions in the Champions League.

    Sanchez scored the goal against Besiktas that took Arsenal through a tough play-off match 1-0 on aggregate as they reached the group stages for the 17th successive season, and in the absence of any other top-class replacements for Giroud—at least until Theo Walcott recovers some fitness—then this could be a very crucial debut season in English football for the Chilean.

    There will be no "bedding-in" period allowed. 

Neymar, Barcelona

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    He's not really a centre-forward as such, but Neymar certainly retains the ability to shine in the Champions League and form a deadly attacking trio with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez when the latter returns from his latest suspension.

    No doubt desperate to put the nightmares of the summer behind him, the Brazilian ace will be key as Barca bid to recover from last season's disappointing quarter-final exit.

    With their brilliant No. 11 in the side, they've got every chance to do so.