Champions League Last 16: One Player to Watch from Each Team

Vijay MuraliAnalyst IDecember 15, 2011

Champions League Last 16: One Player to Watch from Each Team

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    The Champions League is one of the most prestigious competitions in the world, and every team performs to the best of their abilities in order to win the big prize.

    In this edition of the Champions League, some of the biggest clubs in the world, like Manchester United and Manchester City, have been knocked out, while there are some surprise teams like Apoel Nicosia in the Round of 16 phase in the tournament.

    There are plenty of quality players still playing in Europe's elite competition, and these players will look to produce their best in order to help their team progress a long way in the tournament.

    There are many teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, where it is very difficult to pick any single player as the most important player to watch in their team. However, with some reasoning, this article tries to pick out one player to watch from each team left in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Bayern Munich: Bastian Schweinsteiger

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    Bayern Munich are one of the strongest teams in the competition and have plenty of quality players like Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos. They have done well this season, but the injury to Bastian Schweinsteiger again proved his value to the team, as they clearly did miss his presence in central midfield.

    The Germany international is one of the best midfielders in the world and helps them both defensively and offensively from his position in central midfield.

    He is likely to be fit for the Round of 16 games and is an automatic selection in the current Bayern team. The presence of Schweinsteiger is very important for the German giants as they look to win the Champions League this season.

Napoli: Edinson Cavani

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    Edinson Cavani has established himself as one of the most-feared strikers in the world in the last couple of seasons, as he has been extremely prolific for Napoli. The Serie A side was in a very tough group, but managed to qualify by knocking out Manchester City mainly due to Cavani's goals.

    The Uruguay international is a natural goal scorer, and if presented with opportunities, he has the ability to finish clinically.

    Napoli do have some exciting players like Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi to support the striker, and if the trio are all in good form, then they could progress further in the tournament. They will be extremely difficult to defeat at home, which is why they have be considered as the "dark horses" of the tournament.

Inter Milan: Wesley Sneijder

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    Inter Milan had a bad start to their season, which saw manager Gasperini sacked after the first few games. However, under the new manager Claudio Ranieri, Inter have done decently and are currently sixth in the table. Though they are no longer the dominant force in Italian football like they were under Jose Mourinho, they do have some quality players in their team and could still go a long way in the Champions League.

    Though Wesley Sneijder has not been at his best this season, he is one of the few genuine world class players in the current Inter Milan side. The Dutch midfielder is capable of leading the side to victories in the knockout stages, and Inter could go a long way in the Champions League if the Dutchman finds his form.

CSKA Moscow: Alan Dzagoev

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    CSKA Moscow had to negotiate a tricky group consisting of Inter Milan, Lille and Trabzonspor, but did manage to qualify for the next phase.

    In the knockout phase, it will be tricky for the Russian team because they could have a difficult draw against the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona, but they will hope for a favorable draw, which could help them go further in the tournament.

    Youngster Alan Dzagoev is one of the key players for the club, but the playmaker is one of the most talented youngsters in the world and can be dynamic when he is in form. He will be a threat for all opposition, and he will need to be at his best if CSKA Moscow are to progress a long way in this tournament.

Benfica: Nicolas Gaitan

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    In the group which contained Manchester United, Benfica and FC Basel, almost everyone thought that it would be a fight between Benfica and Basel for the second spot in the group. But the Champions League is a competition where every result does matter, and in the end, it was Manchester United who were knocked out of the tournament.

    Benfica finished as the table toppers, and deservedly so, considering that they played some good, consistent football in all their group games.

    Their success in the group stage can be attributed to their collective team performance, and many players did catch the eye with their performances. Nicolas Gaitan, the winger from Argentina, was particularly impressive in the games against Manchester United, and he will be the key player for the Portuguese side as they look to go a long way in this prestigious tournament.

FC Basel: Xherdan Shaqiri

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    FC Basel caused arguably the biggest upset of the tournament by knocking out Manchester United from the tournament by defeating them, 2-1, in the last round of games in the Group stage. Though the Red Devils were undoubtedly upset after the game, it can be argued that Basel did deserve their victory considering that they worked extremely hard for their success in this stage of the competition.

    It will be difficult for Basel if they do get a difficult draw, but they have shown that they are not afraid of any big teams in the tournament. Basel's young midfielder, Xherdan Shaqiri, will be watched by several clubs following his superb performance against United, and he is regarded as one of the best youngsters in the world. He can score fantastic goals and will be a major threat for any opposition they face in this tournament.

Real Madrid: Xabi Alonso

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    Real Madrid have some fantastic attacking players in their team, and it is difficult to name any one of them as the man to watch for Madrid. However, the selection of Xabi Alonso is because he is the rock of the team who helps in both defense and attack, and his passing range helps start many of Madrid's quick counter-attacks.

    Alonso can be considered to be one of the more under-rated footballers, but he is very important to Jose Mourinho's side and can be the key player for Madrid in the Champions League.

Lyon: Hugo Lloris

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    WIth Real Madrid comfortably qualifying for the next stages of the tournament, it was a straight fight between Ajax and Lyon for the second place in the tournament. In the end, it was Lyon who managed to go through to the next phase thanks to their 7-1 victory against Dinamo Zagreb which sealed the spot for the French side.

    They do have a number of talented players in their team, but Hugo Lloris will be the man to watch for Lyon, as he is a world-class keeper and can thwart some of the best teams in the competition. He has amazing reflexes, and if Lyon do draw one of the big guns in the tournament, then they will need Lloris to be at his best and produce some fantastic saves.

Chelsea: John Terry

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    Chelsea have had some bad results this season, which has put their manager, Andre Villas-Boas, under high pressure, but they have had some good results in the past few weeks, beating Valencia and then Manchester City within a week.

    Chelsea captain John Terry is the key for the Blues because he provides them the solidity that they lack when he is absent. Also, it is not yet certain as to who is his regular defensive partner, and Terry's organization and leadership skills at the back are very vital to the side.

    Chelsea have never won the Champions League, which will only be an added motivation for captain Terry as he looks to captain them to the elusive title. However, it will be hard for them considering that they are in a period of transition and it will be tough for the Blues in the Champions League.

Bayer Leverkusen: Michael Ballack

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    Bayer Leverkusen will have only themselves to blame if they draw one of the favorites in the tournament like Real Madrid or FC Barcelona in the round of 16 because they had an excellent chance to finish at the top of the group. However, they could only manage a draw against Genk, which allowed Chelsea to finish top of the group.

    Bayer Leverkusen have some excellent players like Andre Schurrle, but there is no substitute for experience, and Michael Ballack will be a key player for the team.

    The central midfielder has endured a difficult spell on the sidelines due to various injuries, but he is back to full fitness and could be important to their hopes in the Champions League. The former Germany captain has played in several major tournaments for both club and country and understands what it does take to win a major tournament.

    It will be difficult for Bayer Leverkusen in this edition of the Champions League, but they will hope that they can go a long way in this tournament.

Arsenal: Robin Van Persie

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    There cannot be many arguments about this one considering that the Arsenal captain is in amazing goalscoring form and is arguably the most important player in the current team. Though he has some experienced players alongside him, the Dutch striker has been in scintillating form and has been a major factor in Arsenal's revival up the table after a horrendous start to the season.

    With already 19 goals in this season, he is on course to break several records, and the Gunners fans will hope that they can keep him fit for the entire season.

    He has been supported well by Gervinho and Theo Walcott on the flanks, but with Arsenal having no other quality centre forward, Arsene Wenger could look for a striker in the January transfer window. Van Persie is arguably the best striker in the league on current form, and they will hope that he can keep his form to guide them to reach a long way in the Champions League.

Olymique Marseille: Mathieu Valbuena

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    Marseille did not have a great start to the season, and their manager, Didier Deschamps, and players came under a lot of pressure. However, they have managed to get better as the season has progressed and even managed to qualify for the Round of 16 of the Champions League after a dramatic game against Borussia Dortmund.

    Mathieu Valbuena will be one of the players to watch in the team, along with Andre Ayew and Loic Remy, because the dynamic central midfielder has the ability to produce moments of brilliance which can change games.

Apoel Nicosia: Costas Charalambides

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    Apoel Nicosia have been one of the biggest surprises of this edition of the Champions League, and in a group consisting of Apoel, Zenit St. Petersburg, Porto and Shakhtar, most would have expected Apoel to be the team to be knocked out. However, they finished as the group toppers to the ecstasy of their fans and will continue to march on to face tougher tests in the Champions League.

    Winger Costas Charalambides was one of the most important players for them, as he provided three assists and will be one to watch in the next stage of the Champions League.

Zenit St. Petersburg: Alexander Kerzhakov

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    Zenit St. Petersburg are a team which will not be underestimated by the bigger teams in the Champions League, and though they did finish second in their group, they do have a chance to go a long way in the tournament.

    One of the most important players for Zenit in the tournament would be striker Alexander Kerzhakov, who has been in superb form this season scoring plenty of goals. The Russian international is capable of scoring in important games and will be a threat to the opposition defenders.

FC Barcelona: Xavi Hernandez

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    FC Barcelona, the defending European champions, will be one of the favorites in the tournament, and they have too many individually exceptional players to select only one player as the man to watch.

    In Lionel Messi, they have arguably the world's best attacking player, and a midfield consisting of the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta has to be considered as among the best as well.

    Xavi is selected here because the midfielder is the player who runs the show in midfield, and his distribution, vision and creativity helps Barcelona create plenty of chances. Also, it is extremely difficult to mark him because of his movement, and he is one of the main reasons why Barcelona dominate possession in every single game.

AC Milan: Thiago Silva

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    Thiago Silva is one of the best defenders in the world, and he is one of the most important players for AC Milan. Milan, who were unfortunate to be drawn in the same group as Barcelona, finished second in their group and could face strong opposition in the next stage.

    However, Milan have a very strong squad consisting of the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho and can beat any opposition if they perform to their potential. Silva is one of the key players because his partnership with Nesta is the key to Milan having a strong defense.

    With Nesta past his best, Silva has shown that he has the qualities to be one of the greatest Milan defenders if he continues to progress at Milan.