After last night’s round of fixtures, four of the sides who will contest the 2011 UEFA Champions League quarterfinals are now known. Schalke and Tottenham joined Barcelona and Shakhtar Donetsk in the draw, while next week eight more teams will hope to move one step closer to Wembley on May 28th.
The Champions League so often throws up great individual performances being, as it is, the platform for Europe’s best to compete. But which players have impressed the most in this season’s competition?
While many of the top performances so far have come from familiar sources, some surprise packages have also caught the eye. The likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich are so packed full of individual talent that they always provide some of the competition’s shining lights. However, Shakhtar, for instance, have also been excellent and fully deserve their place in the final eight, due in no small part to their multitude of brilliant Brazilian attackers.
One issue to note is that only one defender makes the list (if you discount a marauding fullback who has been used almost exclusively in midfield this season). This is to be expected, as defenders have less chance to impress in the early rounds, with weaker opponents to face. The best defensive record belongs to Manchester United who rotate their back four regularly and increasingly, and as the top sides defend more as a team, it is defensive units who stand out rather than individuals.
The criteria have been to select players who have either performed way above expectations or those who have been so brilliant it would be foolish to exclude them. It has also been an aim to select mainly from players still in the tournament, although there are one or two exceptions.
What follows, then, is a list of the 10 stars who have shined brightest in the first half of this tournament and as the latter stages approach, perhaps a guide as to who might lead their team to glory.