After a long wait the UEFA Champions League is finally back. The tournament now moves from the group stages to the knockout rounds, beginning with the round of 16.
Each tie in the knockout rounds is a two legged affair, with the team scoring the most aggregate goals moving on to the next round.
When the knockout rounds begin, goals become even more important. After-all, you can't go to the next round if you don't score goals. While managers are looking for goals, they also must be very careful to ensure they don't concede any goals, especially the coveted away goal.
When you need goals, you look for your striker to pick them up. A manager who knows he has a great striker can afford to employ more defensive tactics, knowing that his striker alone may have enough ability to score without as much help.
For opposing managers, there are some strikers that cause a manager to lose sleep at night thinking about how he will stop them. While you need to score goals, you can't let up for even a minute against some players, for that may be enough to knock you out of the tournament.
Having a top striker in your team is a huge advantage in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Here are the top 10 strikers that remain in the competition.
These strikers have big names, but their performances this season has been anything but fearful.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Rooney's struggles have been well documented this season. After scoring a career high 34 goals in all competitions for United last season, Rooney has netted just five times this season. Of those five goals, only one has come in the Champions League and that came from the penalty spot. If Rooney can find the goalscoring form that he possessed just one year ago, his name would appear very close to the top of this list. Unfortunately, we have been saying that all season, but Rooney has barely shown any signs of being able to consistently regain that form. Rooney's magnificent strike against Manchester City may be a sign of him turning things around, but he needs to find that consistency in order to really be a threat.
Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Didier Drogba is a name that no fan is ever happy to see in the starting XI when Chelsea are playing your team. But Drogba's form this season has taken a very big dip, especially in Europe where he has bagged just one goal this season. Drogba was suffering from Malaria early in the season, but his form has arguably never recovered. Drogba has scored just two goals over Chelsea's last nine Premier League matches. The news just gets worse for Drogba, in Chelsea's last match against Fulham, Drogba was left on the bench, in favor of an attacking partnership of Torres and Anelka.
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
The most expensive player of the January transfer window has already sparked several debates over whether he was a great buy for Chelsea, or if he is not worth the amount of money Chelsea paid for him. The bottom line is right now Fernando Torres does not give you many reasons to fear him. His season has been marred by bad form and injuries. Now he is faced with the challenge of moving to a new club and forming a new partnership with new strikers. The early return on that move has been incredibly underwhelming. Torres has been subbed off after two ineffective displays in his first two matches with Chelsea. If Torres and Drogba can't learn to play with each other soon, teams will have no problems controlling them. However if they do learn to play with each other, they will become the most feared strike partnership in the world.
When you look at the individual numbers over the full season for Tottenham's goal scorers there really doesn't seem like there is anything to fear. If you take it a step farther, when you look at Tottenham's defensive record this season, there REALLY is nothing to fear about the North London club.
But if you don't fear these Champions League rookies then you are making a mistake, as Tottenham have proved one thing during the group stages. Regardless of how much they struggle for offense in the Premier League, this team can score in the Champions League, and their quartet of goal scorers have already been racking up the goals.
Do not let the individual form of Tottenham's strikers fool you. Peter Crouch has scored just two premier goals this season. Roman Pavlyuchenko has five in 17 appearances. Gareth Bale has been a bit better with seven. Only Rafael Van Der Vaart has double digit goals, with 10.
But in Europe it is a whole different story. Including the team's two-leg qualifying match against Young Boys of Bern, Tottenham's big guns have been firing on all cylinders.
Gareth Bale has four goals in just seven European appearances, including a hat-trick against Inter at the San Siro, the site of Spurs' next match against AC Milan.
Van Der Vaart has been limited in Europe this season, making just three appearances, but he has still scored twice.
The big enigma's are the big strikers. Despite only two goals in 24 Premier League appearances, Peter Crouch has scored seven goals in just SIX Champions League appearances this season.
Despite consistent Premier League struggles for Roman Pavlyuchenko, the Russian has also managed to consistently score non-league goals at an alarming rate for Spurs. Pavlyuchenko has four goals in four Champions League appearances this season.
AC Milan will score over their two legs against Spurs. What they should really be worried about is defending, as Tottenham have several players that have been firing in European competition this season.
Boriello has bounced around from club to club during a 10 year career. He spent the last three seasons with AC Milan, where he struggled to find form, and therefore struggled to make regular appearances. He is relatively inexperienced in the Champions League, having made just 13 appearances prior to this season.
However at the start of the 2010/11 campaign Boriello was loaned to AS Roma, giving the striker new life. Boriello has become an important goal scorer for Roma scoring nine goal in 17 league appearances.
However, playing for Roma has given Boriello a chance to feature in almost all of Roma's Champions League matches, and Boriello has been far from a let down.
Boriello made five appearances during the group stages of the Champions League and has scored three goals.
While Boriello is relatively inexperienced in European football, if he keeps up his from from the group stages, he could be a very valuable asset for Roma going forward.
Another wonderful case of a player being loaned out to a new club and thriving. Ibrahimovic spent one year at Barcelona before Barcelona went out and signed Spanish striker David Villa, immediately prompting questions over where Ibrahimovic would fit into the team.
Rather then stick around and find out, Ibrahimovic returned to Italy on a loan deal with AC Milan. With Milan, Ibrahimovic is back to his dominant ways, scoring 12 goals in 20 league appearances.
Ibrahimovic has also added four goals during the group stages of the Champions League.
It is not just what Ibrahimovic is doing for AC Milan this season that makes him so great, it's what he has done over his whole career.
Ibrahimovic is no stranger to European football. He has made 82 career Champions League appearances. He has scored 26 goals in the tournament.
Ibrahimovic continues to score goals on the biggest stage, making him on the best strikers remaining in the tournament.
Karim Benzema's Real Madrid career has been nothing short of a roller coaster. He seems to not have the trust of manager Jose Mourinho, who prefers Gonzalo Higuain ahead of him. When Higuain got hurt, the reigns were not immediately handed to Benzema, instead Madrid brought in Emanuel Adebayor on loan to compete for the first choice striker spot.
Despite the lack of faith from his manager Benzema is still scoring goals, and it is because of his tremendous play in the Champions League that he is even at Real Madrid in the first place.
Benzema's great run of form during the 2007/8 and 2008/9 Champions League campaigns with French club Lyon began attracting the attention of the bigger clubs in Europe. Despite strong links to Manchester United, Real Madrid swooped in and signed the striker during the summer of 2009.
Despite only two league goals this season, Benzema has scored four goals in the Champions League for Madrid this season. Over his career Benzema has picked up 17 goals in just 29 Champions League appearances, a little more then one every two matches.
Despite not having the complete faith of his manager one thing is for sure, when Karim Benzema plays in the Champions League, he scores a lot of goals.
Roberto Soldado is essentially a newcomer to the Champions League. Having started his career with Real Madrid's reserve team, Soldado made his Champions League debut with Real Madrid in 2005. Soldado came on in the 80th minute and just six minutes later scored his first Champions League goal, the winner in a 2-1 win over Olympiakos FC.
After failing to catch on at Real Madrid Soldado moved on to several different clubs before arriving back at his hometown club Valencia this season to replace the departed David Villa. With his return to Valencia, Soldado has also returned to the Champions League.
Having made just two Champions League appearances prior to this season Soldado was relatively unknown to most European clubs this season. However, after the group stages it is hard to have not have heard of his name anymore.
Soldado made five appearances in the group stages for Valencia, scoring five goals. He has become a valuable striker Valencia can count on to get important goals, even in the tough style of play of the Champions League.
Soldado is quickly becoming a player Valencia can depend on to score them important goals in the knockout rounds of this competition.
Surely the joint-top all time goal scorer for the Spanish National team has to have a place on this list, even though he isn't even the best striker on his own team. Last summer David Villa moved from Valencia to Barcelona in a 40 million Euro move.
Since arriving at Barcelona Villa has helped turn the Catalans into one of the most explosive attacking sides in the history of football. Villa has done nothing but score goals for Barcelona, striking 14 league goals in just 19 appearances.
In fact, it seems that wherever Villa is playing he has scored goals. Villa has been scoring goals at every stop in his career. His career started with the Sporting Gijon, where he scored 25 goals in 65 appearances for their "B" team. He then made 85 appearances with the senior side, scoring 20 goals in each of his two seasons with the club.
Villa's next stop came with Real Zarazoga, where he made 92 appearances in all competitions in two years at the club. Villa scored 41 goals over those 92 appearances and added 14 assists to go with them.
Villa would spend the next five years of his career with Valencia, the club where he would make the biggest name for himself. During his five years at Valencia Villa scored 129 goals in 212 appearances in all competitions. Included in that were 17 goals in 35 European appearances.
Sprinkled in with all of that, Villa has made 70 appearances with the Spanish National team, scoring 44 goals, tied with Raul Gonzalez for the most all time.
Over his entire club career Villa has scored 252 goals, with 22 of them coming in Europe (over 50 appearances). No matter what shirt he is wearing, David Villa has scored goals.
It doesn't matter who his teammates are, if I were a manager in the Champions League right now, I would not want to be drawn against a team featuring David Villa.
You tear up your domestic league all you want, but the world won't take notice until they see you play in Europe. Like many other young players, Mario Gomez is using the Champions League to announce his arrival to the world.
Gomez began his career with VfB Stuttgart in the Bundesliga. Over his first five seasons with Stuttgart, Gomez scored 39 goals in 89 league appearances. 19 of those came during his 5th season with the club, putting the rest of the country on alert about the German and Spanish striker.
The following season Gomez caught fire, scoring 24 goals in 32 league appearances. In addition he also scored eight times in 10 UEFA Cup appearances. The breakout year for Gomez led to Bayern Munich making him the most expansive transfer in Bundesliga history, reportedly paying between 30-35 million Euro for the striker.
After attracting the attention of all of Germany, Gomez struggled in his first season with Munich, scoring just 10 league goals and only one in the Champions League.
However Gomez has seemed to have settled in well in his second season and he is now attracting the attention of all of Europe. Gomez has appeared in all six of Bayern's group stage matches, scoring six goals in the group stages, including his first European hat-trick in a match against CFR Cluj-Napoca. In addition Gomez also bagged a brace in Bayern's 3-2 loss to AS Roma.
Gomez has also settled in well in the Bundesliga. He has already scored 16 league goals, in just 19 appearances.
Mario Gomez is starting to prove he is worth every Euro Bayern spent on him. In addition, he is forcing the other European clubs to take notice of him going forward.
After scoring 130 goals in five years with Barcelona Samuel Eto, the most decorated African player ever, moved to Inter Milan prior to the start of the 2009/10 season. Eto is one of the most successful strikers in Champions League history, winning the Champions League four times with three different clubs.
In addition Eto is one of four players to have won the Champions League two years in a row with two different clubs. He accomplished the feat when he won it in 2009 with Barcelona and in 2010 with Inter. Eto is also the second player to have scored in two different Champions League finals, accomplishing the feat by scoring in the 2006 and 2009 finals for Barcelona.
Despite moving up in years, switching teams and leagues Eto just continues to score goals. Eto suffered a drop in production in his first season with the Serie A club, scoring just 12 league goals and only two in the Champions League.
This season has seen Eto return to form. Eto has already eclipsed his league goals from last season, scoring 15 in just 20 appearances. Eto has also been on fire in the group stages, scoring seven goals in Inter's six group games.
Eto's career numbers put him this high on the list, the striker from Cameroon has scored 34 goals in 78 career Champions League appearances.
Eto's incredible Champions League career, and the fact that he is still firing in the goals today make him one of the top strikers left in the Champions League.
The top two strikers on this list are in a league of their own. Unfortunately for Ronaldo, he falls just short of the no. 1 spot. Since moving to Manchester United in 2003 Ronaldo has become one of the best players in the world, and has picked up many trophies along the way.
Ronaldo began breaking out in 2006/7, when he scored 23 goals in all competitions, including three in the Champions League. Ronaldo also finished as the runner-up to Kaka for the Ballon D'Or trophy and finished third for the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
The world now knew of Cristiano Ronaldo, but no one could have seen what was coming next.
Ronaldo went on an absolute tear during the 2007-2008 season. Ronaldo scored 31 times in the Premier League. In the Champions League Ronaldo scored eight goals in 11 appearances, including a goal in the final against Chelsea. In total, Ronaldo scored 42 goals in just 49 appearances in all competitions. He led United to the Premier League and Champions League titles, and would finish the year as the Ballon D'Or winner.
The following season, after a slow start Ronaldo picked up the goal scoring once again. He finished the year with 18 league goals. Ronaldo would only score four goals in the Champions League that season, but he made them count. In the quarterfinal round, United were even on aggregate with FC Porto 2-2 but Porto were ahead having scored two away goals. In the second leg, Ronaldo scored on a 40-yard strike, to give United the 1-0 win and 3-2 win on aggregate. The goal would receive the first ever FIFA Puskas Award, given to the best goal of the season.
Ronaldo would also score in the semi-finals against Arsenal, helping United advance to their second straight Champions League final. Unfortunately, Ronaldo's quest to lead United to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues ended there as the Red Devils were beaten by Barcelona.
The following season Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid, where he scored 26 league goals in 29 appearances. Ronaldo made just six Champions League appearances for Madrid, but scored seven goals. Unfortunately for Ronaldo, madrid were knocked out of the competition in the round of 16, falling to Lyon.
Over his career Ronaldo 27 goals in 70 Champions League appearances. Despite the tremendous success Ronaldo has had, there is still one player who has been just slightly better.
It is scary to think that despite all the goals he's scored that David Villa is not even the best striker on his own team. But that is what happens when you play alongside Lionel Messi.
Over the past few years Messi has been involved in a worldwide debate among football pundits, asking simply, who's better, Messi or Ronaldo?
There are arguments made on both sides, but in the end, Messi's career has been shorter but he has more goals and has had far more success then the Real Madrid forward.
To make what Messi does even more incredible is his size. Ronaldo is big, he has a powerful shot and he could get up for headers. Messi is about as small as they come, he is often the smallest player on the pitch.
Despite his size, or lack thereof, Messi continues to score at an incredible rate. In seven and a half years at the Nou Camp Messi has already totaled 112 league goals and 31 Champions League goals. What is even more incredible is that Messi is currently having the best season of his life.
This season alone Messi has 24 league goals, in just 20 league appearances. It is only February and he has yet to play a single game in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, yet Messi already has scored 40 goals in all competitions this season. He has made just 34 appearances. If your still not impressed Messi hasn't stopped there. When he's not scoring goals he is busy setting them up. During those 34 appearances this season, Messi has compiled 19 assists, making him responsible for 59 goals for Barcelona this season.
In just seven full seasons, Messi already needs a second house just to hold all of the individual awards he's compiled in his career. Those awards include two Ballon d'Or trophies, several FIFA Player of the Year awards, La Liga player of the year awards, Golden Boot's for La Liga and Europe, a Golden ball for the FIFA Club World Cup, a FIFA Young Player of the Year and FIFA Special Young Player of the year awards among many others.
Messi continues to score goals, and he will undoubtedly add to his already vast trophy collection as he continues to improve during his still young career, making him the best striker remaining in the Champions League.