UEFA Champions League: 8 Players to Watch in the Quarterfinals

Craig Hutchinson@@CragHutchinsonContributor IIIMarch 17, 2011

UEFA Champions League: 8 Players to Watch in the Quarterfinals

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    Tuesday saw  Chelsea and Real Madrid become the final two teams to join Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk, Tottenham Hotspur, Schalke, Manchester United and Internazionale in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

    In a tournament that has seen exquisite play by some of the world's greatest players, we take a look at each of the remaining teams' most important players.

    These eight footballers are the ones to watch in the quarterfinals and could make the difference between a place in the semifinals or elimination and the thought of what might have been.

    In a tournament full of stars, these are the ones that should shine the brightest.

Lionel Messi: Barcelona

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    In a team full of superstars, you could almost pick anyone out to be the player to watch from Barcelona.

    One man does stand slightly above everyone else, remarkable despite his 5ft 7" frame. Forward Lionel Messi.

    It seams boringly obvious to pick the FIFA Ballon d'Or winner, but just when you start taking Messi's incredible skills for granted, he manages to amaze you yet again.

    Even when Messi is not at his best, his mere presence attracts additional defensive attention which in turn creates space for the likes of David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

    He has already notched up eight goals in his eight Champions League appearances so far this season, including a sublime goal against Arsenal in the last 16 to put Barcelona into the final eight.

    It's not just fans who should be keeping an eye on Messi in the quarterfinals, his opposition will be also.

    A very close eye.

Nicolas Anelka: Chelsea

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    John Terry may be the undisputed talisman of the team.

    Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda may be the engines in midfield that makes this team tick.

    Forwards Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba may have been signed by the club for nearly $120m.

    Yet despite Roman Abramovich's millions putting together a fantasy football team in West London, one player still proves to be the difference maker in the Champions League this season.

    Frenchman Nicolas Anelka.

    Since the signing of Torres, many thought it would affect Anelka the most.

    He responded with both goals in Chelsea's 2-0 aggregate victory over FC Kobenhavn which takes his Champions League tally to seven goals in seven games this season.

    It's probably no coincidence that the only game Chelsea have lost in this years competition was the only game Anelka missed.

Gareth Bale: Tottenham Hotspur

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    This season, the Welshman Gareth Bale has taken that final step from "promising youngster" to superstar and established the left wing as his elite position.

    His performances in the English Premier League at the beginning of the season were electrifying, and they were carried over into Europe also, specifically with his hat trick against Inter Milan in the group stages.

    In total, he has amassed four goals and six assists in his nine Champions League appearances so far this season.

    He missed all but 24 minutes in the last 16 games against AC Milan due to injury, yet Spurs were able to make it through thanks to excellent play by the likes of Van Der Vaart, Lennon, Crouch and Dawson.

    But with a return from his injury and full fitness, he will be looking to pick up exactly where he left off and be a dominant force on the left side of the Spurs midfield.

Javier Hernandez: Manchester United

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    Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes, Nani, Rio Ferdinand....Javier Hernandez?

    While "Chicharito" may not be the most obvious player to watch from Manchester United's star studded squad, those who have followed the team closely this season will testify that the Mexican is quietly becoming an essential member of this squad.

    Berbatov may have to start looking over his shoulder a little more nervously as Hernandez is not only grabbing goals, but also complimenting himself very well with fellow striker Wayne Rooney.

    His two goals against Marseille which sent United into the last eight are a testiment to that.

    Some sports writers are even mentioning Hernandez in the same breath as the "Baby Faced Assassin" Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    Followers of Manchester United would struggle to give a much higher compliment to the 22-year-old.

Samuel Eto'o: Internazionale

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    The reigning UEFA Champions League winners may be a little fortunate to find themselves this far in the competition.

    It took a come from behind victory and a late late winner from Goran Pandev to defeat Bayern Munich on away goals in the rematch of last year's final.

    Pandev's late winner, may I add, was assisted by Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o who had also opened the scoring  in the game.

    Indeed, that is now eight goals in eight games for Eto'o in this year's competition (not to mention four assists), which makes him the one to watch for Inter Milan as they attempt to defend their title of Champions of Europe.

Darijo Srna: Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Shakhtar Donetsk may be the surprise team of the Champions League this season, making it to the quarterfinals while they had never previously made it into the knockout stages of the competition.

    Croation Eduardo has scored the most goals for the club in this competition and Shakhtar's eight-man Brazilian contingent have certainly made their presence felt.

    Yet the man that really make this team a winner is its captain, Croatian international Darijo Srna.

    The wing back has not missed a minute of play in the Champions League this season, and it is his leadership, as well has his play down the right side of the field, that will be critical for Shakhtar in the next round of the competition.

Raúl: Schalke

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    Another surprising team to make it into the final eight, but one thing that is not a coincidence here is the presence of Spanish striker Raúl.

    Raúl is arguably the most decorated player in Champions League history.

    A three-time winner with the club he was synonymous with, Real Madrid, and the competition's all-time lead scorer with 71 goals.

    At the age of 33, he has already hit double-digit goals for his new club Schalke, including three in the Champions League so far this year.

    A veteran of well over a hundred Champions League games, Raúl's experience of winning big games in Europe will be vital in assisting his teammates into the semifinals.

Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid

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    Brazilian superstar Kaka's return from his long term injury should see him take part in his first Champions League game of the season in the next round which is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

    In his absence, Karim Benzema has carried Madrid's goalscoring duties excellently, scoring six goals in his seven Champions League appearances this season, making him another noteworthy performer.

    That said, whenever Christiano Ronaldo is on the pitch, all eyes are on him.

    At Manchester United he was phenominal.

    At Real Madrid his strike rate of 72 goals in 75 game in all competitions is unbelievable, preposterous almost.

    With Kaka's return renovating the shape of Real's attack, Ronaldo's versatility and ability to pop up anywhere on the field will be even more important. It was no surprise that it was Ronaldo that assisted Kaka for his first goal since his return from injury.

    With the eight players listed here, not to mention the other great players surrounding them on the pitch, the Quarter Finals of this seasons Champions League will be essential viewing for sports fans.

    Let the games begin!