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Champions League: Top 10 Players so Far

Tony MabertContributor IMay 22, 2016

Champions League: Top 10 Players so Far

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    The final round of Champions League group matches is less than a fortnight away, and there are still plenty of issues to be settled.

    The Premier League sides are usually so dominant at this stage of the competition, but Arsenal are the only one of the four English sides to confirm their place in the last 16. 

    In APOEL Nicosia we have a genuine surprise package, an unfashionable side that has exceeded expectations by qualifying where so many other smaller sides have been cannon fodder in the other groups.

    Here are 10 of the top performing players in the competition thus far. 

    No doubt you will disagree with some of them. If so, feel free to post your own 10 below.

Kevin-Prince Boateng

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    All the talk ahead of the five-goal thriller between Barcelona and Milan earlier this week was about former Barca striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    The big Sweden striker scored (In a big match? Never!) on his return to the Camp Nou, but it was his teammate Boateng who eclipsed him.

    The Ghana midfielder's outrageous effort—pulling down a high ball perfectly, backheeling it away from Barcelona's Eric Abidal and thumping a shot past Victor Valdes—was the goal of the round and his second in four appearances, underlying just what a star performer he has been for the Rossoneri this season.

Karim Benzema

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    And to think, there was a time when some declared the France was a flop at Real Madrid, a big waste of money.

    Four goals and three assists so far in the group stage—including a well-taken brace in the 6-2 mauling of Dinamo Zagreb—would suggest something very different.

    With Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo all firing this season, could this be the year that they knock Barcelona off their perch?

Steve Mandanda

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    The Marseille goalkeeper has seen his stock rise exponentially this season following a series of excellent performances in Europe for his team.

    L'OM have only conceded two goals in the group stage, a joint-low with Real Madrid, and Mandanda is due plenty of the credit for that.

    At 26 years of age, the Kinshasa-born keeper has been Marseille's No.1 for more than four seasons, and he has been attracting plenty of interest from elsewhere.

Ailton

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    What a joy it is whenever a small club from outside the major leagues overcomes the odds to succeed among the big boys.

    This season, it is Cypriot champions APOEL who have secured their place in the last 16 ahead of two-time winners and reigning Europa League champions Porto, and who will do well to avoid dropping back into that competition this season.

    A major reason for that is Ailton. The Brazilian striker signed from FC Copenhagen (pictured) in the summer, and has added to the four goals he scored for his new club in qualifying for the group stage with another three in it, half of APOEL's total. 

Lionel Messi

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    An obvious entrant on this list, but it's for a reason. Messi has already scored six goals in five appearances, including a hat-trick in the 4-0 win at Viktoria Plzen.

    In addition to those six strikes he has also set up another three goals, and is the outfield player to have played every minute of every match for Barca.

    Messi has been top scorer of the competition for three seasons in a row. Would anyone bet against him making it four?

Robin Van Persie

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    The Arsenal captain proved just how valuable he is to the Gunners yet again against Borussia Dortmund, when his two goals proved to be the ones which earned his team a 2-1 win that confirmed them as group winners.

    That means that Arsenal, for all their early season travails, are the only Premier League side through already, and they have also avoided the fate which befell them last season of landing in the bottom half of the draw for the last 16, something which saw them paired with Barcelona last season. 

    As for Van Persie, that's now 21 goals in 22 games for club and country this season. Yikes.

Fabian Frei

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    The young Basel midfielder scored one and set up another in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, and Manchester United will be keeping a close eye on him when they travel to Switzerland for their winner-take-all fixture.

    He also netted in each of the two wins over Otelul Galati, which were each by the odd goal. 

    The 22-year-old just pips veteran teammate and namesake Alexander to a place in the team.

Aaron Ramsey

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    Van Persie clearly deserves all of the plaudits coming his way this season, but it is easy to forget that some of his teammates have been exemplary in supporting him.

    One of those men is Ramsey, who has really stepped up to the plate this season following the departures of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

    The Welshman's late winner at Marseille was crucial, not just in terms of their position in the group but in turning their whole season around.

Sergio Ramos

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    Only Xabi Alonso has clocked in with as many Champions League minutes for Real as the Spain right-back this season. 

    Not even Iker Casillas has started every match for Los Merengues this term.

    Ramos was part of a Real defence which had not conceded a two in Europe until they played Dinamo earlier this week, when reserve keeper Adan shipped two after Real had gone 6-0 up. 

Mario Gomez

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    Sure, this list may be a little striker-heavy, but it would be foolish not to include Gomez.

    The big goal poacher has been much-maligned in the past, but this season he has taken his scoring exploits up several notches.

    In addition to the 13 he has scored in 12 Bundesliga appearances and the six in as many games for Germany in Euro 2012 qualifiers this year, he has struck another six in just five games in Europe, at a rate of one every 65 minutes.

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