B/R Champions League 50: Ranking the Best Players in the 2013/14 UCL Group Stage

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 22, 2013

B/R Champions League 50: Ranking the Best Players in the 2013/14 UCL Group Stage

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    Who are the top 50 players in the UEFA Champions League this season?

    B/R's ranking system returns to grade each of the top 100 players participating, whittle the list down to 50 and place them accordingly.

    We've got heavy showings from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund thanks to their deep runs in the competition last year, while the likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid can also boast strong representation.

    Read on to see our Top 50, how we measured the players and who earned an honourable mention.

The Method

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Just like with the World Cup Qualifying 50 and the Premier League 100 before that, we've devised a scoring system to grade player attributes.

    We split the players into 20 different roles or positions, setting different criteria for each one in order to fairly measure each individual.

    Target forwards, deep-lying forwards and poachers are split up; box-to-box midfielders, deep-lying playmakers and traditional No. 10s are also separated.

    We sought to grade each player in the role they would score best in, giving each individual the best possible shot at achieving the highest rank.

    For more information on the method, examples of how the players were split and a full rundown of one of the positions and how it is graded, click here.

How the Players Are Gauged

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    The first question on many readers' minds when taking in these rankings will likely be centered on whether this is decided on form, class or specific competition performances.

    The answer is a bit of everything, but it's important to note that overall class and recent performances in the UEFA Champions League are pivotal in our gradings.

    Performances in domestic tournaments are included to expand the opportunities for each player, but we've been hesitant to jump on the hyperbole train when it comes to players who are bang-in form right now.

    The likes of Aaron Ramsey, despite excelling for seven straight weeks in Premier League and Champions League football, is not in the Top 50. It's simply too early for him.

Honourable Mentions

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    Here are the 10 players cut before we drew the line at 50.

    60Leonardo Bonucci Juventus Ball-playing centre-back 77
    59Pablo Zabaleta Manchester City Full-back  77
    58Stephan Lichtsteiner Juventus Wing-back  77
    57Thibaut Courtois Atletico Madrid Goalkeeper  77.1
    56Michael CarrickManchester United Deep-lying playmaker 77.1
    55Gonzalo Higuain Napoli Poacher  77.4
    54Mario Mandzukic Bayern Munich Target man  77.6
    53Petr Cech Chelsea Goalkeeper  77.7
    52 Luka Modric Real Madrid Deep-lying playmaker  78
    51MarceloReal MadridFull-back 78

    Several high-calibre names failed to crack the Top 50, and when constructing the rankings it became apparent just how many world-class players there are in the UEFA Champions League.

    The pick of the bunch here is Petr Cech, who, despite establishing himself as a world-class goalkeeper, fell just shy of our elite set.

50. Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus

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    Position: Centre-back

    Score: 78.2

    Juventus run an efficient 3-5-2 formation built on a solid, steely defence, and Giorgio Chiellini is a key part of its intimidation factor.

    The aggressive centre-back plays football in a typically Italian, no-nonsense fashion, crunching into challenges and hauling himself into the air for headers.

    He's tactically astute, and having made a cameo at left-back for periods of his Bianconeri career, he is comfortable sliding out into the wide areas and covering the gaps left by his wing-backs.

    Juventus boast the perfect triple-dose of hard man (Chiellini), intelligence (Andrea Barzagli) and ball-player (Leonardo Bonucci).

49. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

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    Position: Inverted winger

    Score: 78.5

    Eden Hazard probably hasn't progressed as Chelsea would have expected him to over the past 13 months, and he looks very much a similar player to the one we admired at Lille.

    He enjoyed a purple patch halfway through the 2012-13 season but tailed off toward the end, and those inconsistencies will be ironed out as he gets older, wiser and more experienced.

    Jose Mourinho is the perfect manager to unlock the best in his game, and he can do with Hazard what he did for Angel Di Maria at Real Madrid.

    Mou's fast, counterattacking system relies on lethal inverted wingers with pace in abundance. Juan Mata has suffered; Hazard will prosper.

48. Andrea Barzagli, Juventus

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    Position: Centre-back

    Score: 80

    Andrea Barzagli remains an underrated presence in Juventus' defensive line and will go down as one of Beppe Marotta's best-ever buys.

    In 2011, he was drafted in for just €300,000 from Wolfsburg, branded a flop after tailing off alarmingly in the Bundesliga. Juve's director general saw a low-risk gamble and took it, and his presence in Turin coincides with the steely defence Antonio Conte has trained over the past two seasons.

    By some distance, Barzagli is the cleverest centre-back in the Bianconeri squad, and perhaps playing in a three-man line rejuvenated his defensive spark.

47. Diego Costa, Atletico Madrid

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    Position: Complete forward

    Score: 80.1

    Diego Costa is at the centre of every news item and every controversy under the sun right now as his international future enters the spotlight ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

    For Atletico Madrid, though, he's been perfect, curbing his infamous aggressive streak ever so slightly to ensure he remains competitive but avoids silly red cards.

    Over the past 12 months, the Brazilian has emerged as one of the finest strikers in world football. His prosperity is a direct result of Radamel Falcao departing the Spanish capital in favour of French shores.

    He's a complete striker capable of running a game, bullying defenders and involving himself in the buildup play.

46. Gareth Bale, Real Madrid

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    Position: Inverted winger

    Score: 80.2

    It's been a nightmare start to life at Real Madrid for Gareth Bale, with failed keepie-uppies, alleged ailments and agent-press squabbles clouding his tenure at the club so far.

    His representation had to deny a Marca report suggesting the Welshman had a slipped disc last week, and that increased attention is simply something he'll have to get used to now he's the world's most expensive footballer.

    He had no preseason whatsoever, held out of matches due to Tottenham's fear he could get injured and scupper his transfer to Los Blancos, and he's now playing catch-up as he attempts to make some sort of impact under Carlo Ancelotti.

    It wasn't the most popular transfer; his arrival resulted in one of the Bernabeu's favourite figures, Mesut Ozil, leaving. But Bale is an excellent player, a top-five Premier League standout in 2012-13, and he has the chance to make a huge impact and remind people why he cost £86 million this side of Christmas.

    Bale has roadrunner speed, immense dribbling ability and one hell of a long shot, but he needs to work on the efficiency of his deliveries and his decision-making at full speed.

45. Lukasz Piszczek, Borussia Dortmund

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    Position: Full-back

    Score: 80.2

    Lukasz Piszczek has been injured since the 2013 UEFA Champions League final, but it's important to note the focus of the rankings: not solely on form, but based largely on overall class.

    He's one of the finest right-backs in the game right now, and when he returns from hip surgery he'll set about reminding many of that fact.

    Borussia Dortmund don't quite seem the same without him, and with their right-sided Polish trio a man short, they haven't enjoyed the overlapping success they've come to include as a staple in their game.

    He'll return to the pitch in time for the business end of the season, and he could be a major factor in a successful late run by BVB.

44. Isco, Real Madrid

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    Position: No. 10

    Score: 80.3

    The rise of Isco is a remarkable story: In the space of 24 months, he has found his way from Valencia B, via Malaga, to the lofty heights of Real Madrid.

    He was the star man in a strong, oil-rich Boquerones side that reached the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals in 2012, and were it not for some questionable refereeing, their magical journey could well have continued into the semis and beyond.

    His performances for the Andalusian club, in addition to his stellar showings at the U21 European Championship this summer, convinced both Manchester City and Los Blancos to tussle for his signature, and Isco opted to further his career in the Spanish capital.

    It's proving to be a wise decision thus far, as he's on the team sheet every week, firmly in Carlo Ancelotti's thoughts and scoring for fun early on.

43. Dani Alves, Barcelona

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    Position: Full-back

    Score: 80.3

    Dani Alves is experiencing something of a role change late in his career.

    Known as a flying wing-back capable of rinsing markers and dominating a touchline single-handedly, he's now settling into a more reserved role that will see him temper his attacking mentality.

    For Brazil in particular, he's reining in his attacking prowess in order to provide Luiz Felipe Scolari's side some balance at the full-back position. At Barcelona, he is beginning to afford Jordi Alba the same freedom on the left.

    He's always been a physical specimen and a true worry for wingers and full-backs marking him, but as Alves enters the latter years of his career, there remains a feeling that he never polished his end product enough to truly separate himself from the pack.

42. Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid

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    Position: Inverted winger

    Score: 80.5

    With Real Madrid's extremely public and lengthy pursuit of Gareth Bale occurring this summer, you'd be forgiven for thinking the club lacked quality at the right-wing position.

    But that's simply not the case, and to forget about Angel Di Maria does a disservice to his efforts for Los Blancos since signing. He has provided a reliable, energetic goal threat opposite main man Cristiano Ronaldo.

    The Argentine works hard, dribbles well, worries defenders and offers a consistent outlet in the wider areas, stretching the pitch and opening space for the central players to weave their magic.

    He's very adaptable, as he's capable of playing either side at different tempos.

41. Jakub Blaszczykowski, Borussia Dortmund

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    Position: Traditional winger

    Score: 80.9

    Jakub Blaszczykowski has been one of Borussia Dortmund's less-sung heroes since the day he joined in 2007.

    He fights tooth and nail in every match, provides genuine width and balance to the side from his right-sided midfield position and works extremely hard for the cause.

    Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski grab—in Goetze's case, grabbed—all the attention, the plaudits and the respect, but did you notice "Kuba" running tirelessly for the full 90 minutes in order to help his side achieve victory?

    You may have, but many have failed to. A real shame.

40. Ilkay Gundogan, Borussia Dortmund

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    Position: Deep-lying playmaker

    Score: 81.2

    Ilkay Gundogan left the hipster fanbase in awe last season as he played an integral part in Borussia Dortmund's UEFA Champions League final run.

    As a result, many have overrated him in their minds. It's important to draw the distinction that, while he has transitioned from a No. 10 (at Nurnberg) to a deep-lying playmaker at BVB extremely efficiently, there's a lot more to come in his game.

    Injuries have seen him thrust back into that forward role on occasion under Juergen Klopp, and he's responded magnificently, making him a versatile, understanding outlet that many other teams crave.

    Over the next few years, Gundogan will develop into one of the very finest passing midfielders in the game.

39. Carlos Tevez, Juventus

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    Position: Deep-lying forward

    Score: 81.3

    Carlos Tevez went a little stale at Manchester City despite his obvious brilliance, and when the opportunity arose to sign him, Juventus couldn't resist.

    Antonio Conte risked the happiness of his five strikers to bring the Argentine in, and his arrival has led to the sale of Alessandro Matri and the unhappiness of Fernando Llorente.

    But it's all been worth it, with Tevez and Mirko Vucinic forming one of the finest striking partnerships Serie A has seen in a while, and the former has brought all the spark and ingenuity he boasts to Turin on a consistent basis.

    He's a live wire; he's dangerous from anywhere on the pitch and possesses one of the purest strikes in the game.

38. David Alaba, Bayern Munich

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    Position: Full-back

    Score: 81.7

    David Alaba is now the best left-back in world football, surpassing Jordi Alba, Ashley Cole and everyone else in the space of 12 months.

    It caps a glorious transition for the Austrian, who in 2011 took in a loan spell at Hoffenheim in his original position of central midfield. At Bayern he's slotted in where possible, but he took over as the starting left-back from Holger Badstuber/Diego Contento at the start of the 2012-13 season.

    With the help of Franck Ribery and through his own deep understanding of the game, he's completed an astonishingly fast transition and now stands atop the summit.

    He's a physical beast, boasting pace, power and an incredible passing range (derived from playing central midfield). His crosses are more accurate than the vast majority of full-backs—or wingers—in the game, and Alaba is major factor in Bayern preferring the left to the right.

37. Edinson Cavani, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Position: Target forward

    Score: 81.7

    Edinson Cavani is undergoing a bit of a culture shock. Not only is he swapping Naples for Paris, but he also appears to have swapped his centre-forward role for the right wing.

    It's the way Laurent Blanc has decided he can fit in alongside talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the dynamic Ezequiel Lavezzi, and to be fair to the Uruguayan, he's adapted quickly.

    During his time at Napoli, he showed himself capable of moving across the front line and into deeper areas, adapting to each and every tactical shift Walter Mazzarri made.

    Far from the pure poacher many believe him to be, Cavani actually represents one of the more complete, multi-talented forwards in the game.

36. Robert Lewandowski, Borussia Dortmund

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    Position: Target forward

    Score: 81.7

    Robert Lewandowski's four-goal performance that slaughtered Real Madrid last season in the UEFA Champions League pushed his stock through the roof.

    He's a gifted forward who perhaps now stands on the verge of being overhyped. With his contract expiring in the summer, he'll attract an insane amount of attention, but try as they might, Premier League clubs will struggle to beat the advances of Bayern Munich.

    A clever striker capable of fulfilling multiple roles, dropping into the midfield, running the channels and beating defenders in the air, he's a wonderful fit—on paper—for Pep Guardiola.

    First, though, he owes Borussia Dortmund another fantastic season in black and yellow.

35. Andrea Pirlo, Juventus

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    Position: Regista

    Score: 82.3

    Juventus' regista extraordinaire, Andrea Pirlo is a unique player—there's no denying it—and while the likes of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard can draw up impressions of the maestro, he is one of a kind.

    Jonathan Wilson explains his distinctiveness in apt fashion: "It’s a mark of Pirlo’s greatness that he can awake nostalgia for a golden age that never existed." No decade or era of football has accommodated such a talent willingly without changing the fabric of its system.

    He captured the hearts of many a football fan at Euro 2012—if not for his regal style, then certainly for his glorious beard—and stands an endangered species as his career draws to a close.

    The Old Lady are phasing him out, his international retirement looms—grab a glance of Pirlo while you can, as the window of opportunity is closing.

34. Neymar, Barcelona

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    Position: Wide forward

    Score: 82.5

    The fervour surrounding Neymar is quite incredible, and since moving to Barcelona, he doesn't appear fazed by the monumental price tag on his shoulders.

    What Barca needed was a second go-to guy if Lionel Messi was out, and in this Brazilian prodigy they've found him.

    He's put the "overrated" argument coming out of South America to bed with ease, and he looks to have formed a wonderful partnership with Cesc Fabregas already. Tricky, fast and always looking for a teammate, there's no denying the former Santos star is already one of Gerardo Martino's favourites.

    Some will still tell you he's average; some believe he's a top-10 player in world football. We say somewhere in between, as despite obvious prowess and technical ability on the ball, he's yet to become consistently lethal in and around the box.

33. Mario Balotelli, AC Milan

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    Position: Target forward

    Score: 82.9

    It's a marker for how far Milan have fallen in recent years that Mario Balotelli is their only world-class player.

    A squad that once boasted a fine Italian spine, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva now relies on a jack-in-the-box prodigy—a man who's just as likely to win you the game as he is lose it.

    Balotelli isn't everyone's favourite individual, and there are those out there who favour his antics over his play, but don't doubt the fact that he is a premier European talent.

    He's done an awful lot of growing up over the past 12 months and looks to have shouldered the responsibility his talent demands of him. That's fantastic news for Massimiliano Allegri and every Rossoneri player around him.

32. Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona

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    Position: No. 10

    Score: 83

    Cesc Fabregas appears to be enjoying a new lease of life under Gerardo Martino.

    The Argentine has brought his vertical tiki-taka scheme to Catalonia and the team are yet to be beaten, with Tata reinvigorating their pressing game and placing an importance on crafting clear-cut chances to great effect.

    Fabregas favours a more direct game, producing cutting through-balls and taking midfielders on, so it's no surprise to see him and Neymar combining early and often this season.

    He started well last season under Tito Vilanova and tailed off, perhaps due to the month-long injury he suffered just before Christmas. As a result, Barca fans are wary of hyping him too much too soon and simply pray he maintains this stellar form.

31. Vincent Kompany, Manchester City

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    Position: Ball-playing centre-back

    Score: 83.6

    Belgian centre-back Vincent Kompany has blossomed into the complete player, the ideal leader and the perfect presence to have on your team.

    As a youngster playing for Hamburg, it was unclear which position he'd end up in; he'd split his time between defensive midfield and central defence. Mark Hughes utilised him in both roles after Kompany signed for the Citizens, but it didn't take him long to settle into a permanent role at the back.

    Commanding, physical, pacey and technical, Kompany can undertake any role, complete any task and lead any line.

30. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

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    Position: Deep-lying forward

    Score: 83.8

    Ever since Sergio Aguero joined Manchester City, he's done nothing but score goals.

    He's written his name into City folklore courtesy of a 93rd-minute winner at the Etihad Stadium in 2012 that secured the Premier League title, and he has started this campaign in formidable form.

    He's creeping up on 10 goals as early as mid-October, and he recently scored his first headed goal in England's top tier away to West Ham United.

    The Argentine is so versatile he could be graded in four different positions, but the deep-lying forward category played heavily to his strengths: linkup ability, use of space and ruthless finishing skills.

29. David Silva, Manchester City

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    Position: No. 10

    Score: 84

    Just as David Silva looks to be putting together a serious run of form, he sustains an injury and drops out of the spotlight for a few weeks.

    It's frustrating for Manchester City fans to endure, as they know a 38-game season from the Spaniard could potentially guarantee some form of silverware each year, and La Liga clubs must be kicking themselves for letting him leave the country.

    He's a genius on the ball, capable of some of the most insane reverse passes you're likely to ever see, and is easily one of the most reliable lock-pickers from outside the box.

28. Mario Goetze, Bayern Munich

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    Position: No. 10

    Score: 84.3

    Due to his troublesome hamstring injury picked up at the back end of the 2012-13 season, we're yet to (fully) see Mario Goetze display his skills in a Bayern Munich shirt.

    Fourteen months ago, the playmaker admitted to Bundesliga.com that he hates sitting on the bench, and in joining Bayern Munich he has slashed his playing opportunities in significant fashion.

    He has to beat Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller for a spot in central midfield—a far cry from the key role he found himself in when donning the Borussia Dortmund shirt.

    Die Bayern's strong start and immense squad depth has enabled Pep Guardiola to bide his time with Goetze and ensure he's fully fit before returning. Once he does, we'll be reminded just how talented he is despite being just 21 years of age.

    Goetze boasts an incredible football brain, makes tight turns look easy and copes well with extra attention. His technical ability is up there with the best, but he has to work through a few more gears to break into the top 25 here.

27. Toni Kroos, Bayern Munich

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    Position: No. 10

    Score: 84.3

    Toni Kroos emerged as Bayern Munich's first-choice No. 10 last season under Jupp Heynckes, effectively marginalising Arjen Robben and sending him to the bench.

    Under Pep Guardiola his role has changed—he's more of a flat central midfielder with enhanced responsibilities—and he's thriving thanks to his diverse skill set and immense physical presence.

    His rasping long shot gives him the edge over many young stars in the game, and he's only going to become more powerful as his grows into his large frame.

    Some footballers grow up in the wrong decades in accordance with their talents, but Kroos is right in the middle of the perfect tactical evolution process.

26. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United

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    Position: Deep-lying forward

    Score: 84.4

    There's a lot to be admired about Wayne Rooney and his approach to football, as no matter how unhappy he is, he gives his all on the pitch and turns in consistently strong showings.

    It's arguable he's been Manchester United's best player this season despite having a transfer request rejected and seeing the manager who sued him installed in the dugout.

    He's played up front, off the striker and in a slightly wider role already, signalling his intent to play anywhere across the forward line—but not in central midfield!

25. Robin van Persie, Manchester United

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    Position: Deep-lying forward

    Score: 84.4

    Robin van Persie was a pivotal factor in Manchester United's Premier League title win last season, but on the UEFA Champions League stage he wasn't as strong.

    The Red Devils exited the competition in dubious yet disappointing fashion to Real Madrid, and the Dutchman missed two gilt-edged chances to haul his side into contention across both legs.

    He'll use that as motivation to set the record straight this year, and David Moyes will be grateful for his every strike in what's shaping up to be a tough campaign.

    After starting well at the Liberty Stadium he's tailed off a little, but expect his form to pick up sooner rather than later.

24. Yaya Toure, Manchester City

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    Position: Surging defensive midfielder

    Score: 84.6

    On his day, Yaya Toure is a top-10 player in world football and sets the standard that all box-to-box midfielders would hope to meet.

    His performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup last season was perhaps his finest to date in a Manchester City shirt. He stormed up and down the pitch with pace, power and purpose.

    Unfortunately, those days are a little rare, and on occasion the Ivorian has been known to ignore his defensive duties for the team. With a fit and capable midfield partner in Fernandinho, though, he could bank another scintillating season with ease.

    He's a player every other fanbase fears, and City fans know just how valuable he is to their setup.

23. Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund

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    Position: Surging centre-back

    Score: 85.1

    Mats Hummels may be prone to the odd lapse in concentration or mistake, but he's one of the finest centre-backs in the world playing at the very top level.

    He's mastered the long pass from defence, hitting it 20 to 30 yards into an attacker's feet with unerring accuracy and ease, and this becomes all the more important in the modern game as deep-lying playmakers become doggedly marked men.

    He's a threat dribbling forward—think Gerard Pique under Pep Guardiola—and represents a real handful in the air when attacking crosses and corners.

    Bayern fans are sick of being reminded that their club sold him in 2009 for just €4 million.

22. Juan Mata, Chelsea

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    Position: No. 10

    Score: 85.3

    In our Premier League 100 this season, B/R ranked Juan Mata the No. 1 overall player on account of his stellar 2012-13 campaign for Chelsea.

    Obviously Jose Mourinho disagrees.

    Mata isn't starting enough games for the Blues despite consistent fan protestations, and it's beginning to test the patience of several who adore both player and manager.

    He's consistently excellent when played in his preferred No. 10 role, creating space and firing in pinpoint passes to play in forwards, but he lacks the all-round defensive steeliness that his coach looks for in a key man. While all the talent is still there, Mata has more to prove.

21. Thomas Mueller, Bayern Munich

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    Position: Wide forward

    Score: 85.5

    Thomas Mueller is a strange footballer, as despite his immense talent, it's tough to pin down exactly what position or role he's best at.

    The truth is he's incredibly clever, knows the game inside out and gets by on intelligence rather than silky skills or immense technical prowess, and he boasts an extremely well-rounded game.

    He settled on a right-wing role last season under Jupp Heynckes but moved central following Toni Kroos' injury, and under Pep Guardiola appears to be favoured as a centre-forward (of sorts).

    He fits anywhere and slots in everywhere, and developing a telepathic connection with his teammates has been key to his rise. Mueller scored highly on our metric for positional awareness, decision-making and shooting ability.

20. Dante, Bayern Munich

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    Position: Centre-back

    Score: 85.9

    At the culmination of the 2011-12 season, Dante had just helped Borussia Monchengladbach to fourth place in the Bundesliga table, good for a UEFA Champions League playoff spot.

    Fast forward 12 months, he's lifting the trophy itself as a Bayern Munich player, having played a key role in Jupp Heynckes' awesome treble-winning campaign.

    He was a late bloomer, no doubt, and after spending five years toiling in the Belgian leagues trying to make a name for himself, a shot at premier European football was the least he deserved.

    The Foals provided a platform for the Brazilian to showcase his talents in a top-five league, and he's now a top-three centre-back in world football.

    His commanding of the defensive line, ability to step out and intercept and overwhelming size and presence makes him a nightmare for any attackers, and Dante was Heynckes' only reliable, top-class centre-half for the entirety of the 2012-13 season.

19. Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich

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    Position: Anchor midfielder

    Score: 86

    When Javi Martinez regains full fitness, Pep Guardiola has one hell of a selection dilemma on his hands.

    In his 4-1-4-1 formation, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thiago Alcantara have all tried out the holding role, with Lahm the current favourite.

    Doubts swirl over Pep's confidence in Martinez, as despite him being a masterful, uncompromising and physical defensive presence, you get the impression he's being lined up for a centre-back role.

    No player was more instrumental in Bayern Munich's 7-0 aggregate victory over Barcelona last season, and watching Martinez nullify Andres Iniesta was absolutely astonishing.

    If Guardiola doesn't fancy him, every other club in the world will.

18. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

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    Position: Central defender

    Score: 86.4

    Love him or hate him, Sergio Ramos is a dominant, powerful central defender who has made the transition back to his old position in style.

    Anyone who caught the Ramos of old—flying up and down the right-hand side as a wing-back, delivering crosses and hammering in shots—will be surprised at his prowess in the centre, but this is a position he played as a youth and knows well.

    He forms the spine of this Madrid side in defence and seems the only true ever-present figure across the back four or five—Pepe and Raphael Varane swap, Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Arbeloa swap, and Marcelo is often injured.

    He surpassed Gerard Pique last season and became Spain's de facto No. 1 centre-back, boasting incredible aerial presence, great recovery pace and stellar ball-playing skills.

17. Xabi Alonso, Real Madrid

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    Position: Deep-lying playmaker

    Score: 86.6

    Real Madrid's struggles in La Liga this year so far have highlighted two irrefutable facts: Xabi Alonso is irreplaceable right now, and Asier Illarramendi has a long way to go to reach the heights this former Liverpool star sets.

    That's fine, as Alonso's style and approach will allow him to continue for three or four more years yet, and he can groom Illarra in the mean time, but Carlo Ancelotti will worry whenever the Basque native is out of the lineup.

    Alonso, alongside his defensive midfield colleague Sami Khedira, forms one of the finest double pivots in world football and rarely receives the credit he deserves when it comes to the defensive side of his game.

    His world-class passing range and pinpoint accuracy, though, are lost on very few.

16. Sergio Busquets, Barcelona

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Position: Anchor midfielder

    Score: 87

    Sergio Busquets: unsung or overhyped? It's becoming rather difficult to tell, but what we can discern without protestation is that the Spaniard performs an incredibly important role in Gerardo Martino's Barcelona side.

    He's a smart defensive midfielder—as clever as they come—and his instincts are among the finest in the game. He sniffs out danger before the opposing striker is even aware he's receiving the ball, yet he never overcommits and sells himself short in space.

    His passing is underrated—it's not just dump-offs to Xavi; he plays plenty between the lines to spark attacks. Having a player like Busquets at the base of your formation gives you the freedom to attack, roam and interchange without worry.

    Busquets graded out higher than every other Spanish midfielder in our system largely because of his awareness, positioning and anticipation of danger.

15. Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund

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    Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

    Position: Inverted winger

    Score: 87.2

    Marco Reus is one of the most exciting players in all of football, and he couldn't ask for a better fit than Juergen Klopp's fast-paced 4-2-3-1 formation. Since signing from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2012 he's lit up Signal Iduna Park, coming in off the left-hand side to great effect.

    BVB play a fast-paced brand of counterattacking football that suits him down to the ground, allowing him to make the most of quick transitions and isolate full-backs to run at.

    In motion he's almost impossible to catch, and he combines that with an accurate eye for goal to make himself his side's most potent, reliable outlet.

14. Iker Casillas, Real Madrid

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Position: Goalkeeper

    Score: 87.4

    After being frozen out of Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid XI and being handed a huge slice of faith by Vicente del Bosque in keeping his Spain spot, things are starting to look up for Iker Casillas.

    Diego Lopez is in fine form, and the former Villarreal 'keeper has kept his La Liga starting spot with Los Blancos despite Casillas returning to fitness and hounding him for his spot.

    But an opportunity has arisen in this year's UEFA Champions League, where San Iker has started both games so far under Carlo Ancelotti.

    His talent is undeniable, obviously, and the FIFA World Cup winner will be angling toward reclaiming his domestic starting spot on the back of a set of seriously impressive European performances.

    Los Blancos fans are happy to wait and see if he can, as not many clubs can boast two shot-stoppers of this calibre doing battle.

13. Mesut Ozil, Arsenal

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Position: No. 10

    Score: 87.4

    The signing of Mesut Ozil has given the Arsenal fanbase fresh hope and allowed them to forget about the paper-thin depth in other areas of the squad.

    The German is a magnificent talent: He's truly at home in the No. 10 role feeding the striker sumptuous through-balls, and he can play on either flank as a narrowed option, too.

    Real Madrid, and more specifically Florentino Perez, took the decision to sell Ozil this summer because he didn't fit the new tactical blueprint and it presented the opportunity to reclaim almost half the Gareth Bale fee.

    Throughout the Welshman's unveiling at the Bernabeu, sections of the crowd chanted, "No se vende Ozil!" (Don't sell Ozil!), making their appreciation for the former Werder Bremen star crystal clear.

12. Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich

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    Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    Position: Sweeper 'Keeper

    Score: 87.5

    If any goalkeeper in world football can be classed as "exciting," it's Manuel Neuer, as barely anything he does is orthodox.

    He's able with his feet—a product of young German goalkeepers consistently developing those skills by playing outfield for portions of training—and this trait was a key factor in negating Barcelona's high-pressing in the UEFA Champions League last season.

    When his team are chasing the game late on, he plays as a sweeper on the halfway line, allowing his central defence to push up and squeeze the space even further. YouTube videos of him executing diving, headed clearances to stop certain goals are common.

    As a shot-stopper he sets the standard, with his massive frame limiting strikers to a very small window to push the ball past him and his communication skills among the best.

    The one negative? Sometimes he appears to get bored of doing nothing during a routine Bayern destruction and takes it upon himself to "spice things up" in his own box.

11. Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Position: Inverted winger

    Score: 87.5

    This time last year, Arjen Robben was sat on the bench as Thomas Mueller settled cosily into his spot on the right wing of Jupp Heynckes' 4-2-3-1 formation.

    The Bayern speedster chanced his way back into the side after Toni Kroos pulled his hamstring in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, though, and after tormenting Juventus, he never looked back.

    It's been a long time coming, but Robben appears to have finally learnt the value of working hard for the team. Much of that could be down to Franck Ribery's similar, earlier transformation, but whatever the reason, Bayern were certainly the benefactors.

    He's back to his formidable best, excelling in unlikely circumstances under Pep Guardiola and presenting a nightmare matchup for full-backs across the globe.

10. Thiago Silva, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Position: Centre-back

    Score: 88

    No centre-back in world football sniffs out danger more efficiently than Thiago Silva, and he rightly holds the mantle of the finest in his position.

    As a technician in tackling, he is among the best this game has ever produced, executing risky challenges inside the penalty area with otherworldly precision and unerring consistency.

    Aerially, he's a mammoth: strong, uncompromising and capable of either stopping or sweeping in a two-man partnership. He also boasts good recovery pace and passes well on the deck.

    It speaks volumes of his technical ability that Barcelona were looking at him this summer, as per Sky Sports, to bolster a flailing defensive line—and you need to be a certain "type" of player to flourish in their system.

9. Xavi, Barcelona

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Position: Deep-lying playmaker

    Score: 88.5

    Xavi is gently being phased out of his pivotal role in Barcelona's 4-3-3, but he still remains one of Europe's premier playmakers and can boss a game on request.

    He, more than any other perhaps, will have been hit hard by the 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich last season, as for many it represented the end of an era for tiki-taka dominance.

    Gerardo Martino oversaw the first game since a 2-1 victory over Getafe three years ago in which Barca failed to accrue more ball possession than their opponents, and in the process Xavi touched the ball just 57 times (around half the usual total).

    Things are changing for him; he's playing less, and La Blaugrana have opted for a more vertical style of attack through Cesc Fabregas and Neymar. But don't underestimate Xavi, not even for a split-second.

8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    Position: Target forward

    Score: 88.6

    To Zlatan (Zlataner, Zlatanera):

    "To dominate on and off the field"

    After putting England's defence to the sword with four goals on international duty, Sweden's natural reaction was to create a word in honour of their acrobatic talisman.

    Ibrahimovic wins trophies wherever he goes, be it Netherlands, Italy or France, and has an unerring record of pulling in the domestic title—one ill-fated season with Milan aside.

    Despite vast sums of money spent on the likes of Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ibra is still PSG's best forward and remains their X-factor, their biggest chance of winning the big games.

7. Arturo Vidal, Juventus

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    Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Position: Box-to-box midfielder

    Score: 89

    The sight of Arturo Vidal on the football pitch strikes fear into many opposing Serie A players, and the Chilean has quickly progressed into an elite midfielder during his time in Turin.

    Bayer Leverkusen foolishly sold him on the cheap to Juventus—as if to spite Bayern Munich somehow—and Vidal has added goals to an already overpowering, dominant style.

    He's as good a ball-winner as there is in world football, combining hard work, excellent timing and positional nous to cover large portions of the field in the Bianconeri's 3-5-2 formation.

    He's the type of player who's required when you're playing a system based on regista Andrea Pirlo, and as Antonio Conte moves away from the Italian maestro and toward Paul Pogba, we could see Vidal's role change somewhat.

    Some may be surprised to see Vidal this high, but the Chilean graded out superbly in every area for a box-to-box midfielder.

6. Franck Ribery, Bayern Munich

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Position: Inverted winger

    Score: 89.3

    Franck Ribery, winner of UEFA's Best Player in Europe award this year, blossomed into an elite talent under Jupp Heynckes' stewardship and has hit the best form of his life.

    He's always been a factor in conversations surrounding the very finest in the game but never a contender, and that was largely down to his individualist attitude and "me first" mantra.

    He's a different prospect altogether now, though, and works incredibly hard for his teammates whilst continuing to shine in the final third.

    Bayern were forced into grooming David Alaba as a new left-back prospect (converting from central midfield), and Ribery's leadership on the flank has been vital to Alaba's rapid growth.

    They now dominate the left in every game together, with no right side capable of shutting them down.

5. Andres Iniesta, Barcelona

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Position: No. 10

    Score: 90.4

    With Neymar joining Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas' rise under Gerardo Martino and the continued fervour surrounding Lionel Messi, some sections of world football have forgotten all about Andres Iniesta.

    That's criminal, as the pale boy from Albacete remains one of the finest players in the game and boasts a first touch for which every other player would kill.

    His technical ability, eye for a pass and astonishing agility have allowed him to carve out a dynamic role in Barcelona's 4-3-3, providing a "breaking" presence from central midfield.

    He has the ability and presence of mind to settle into Xavi's role when his burst disappears, but even at 29 years of age, that doesn't look like happening any time soon.

4. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Position: Box-to-box midfielder

    Score: 90.6

    It's tough to pin down what role Bastian Schweinsteiger should be considered in, as he does so much so well.

    Be it box-to-box, deep-lying playmaker or anchor midfield, he represents the creme de la creme of central enforcers in world football.

    Not only does he have the complete skill set, but he can also play with an astonishing variety of different player types. Partnered with Javi Martinez, Luiz Gustavo or Toni Kroos? No problem, you'll still get a "9/10" performance from "Schweini."

    Louis van Gaal raised a few eyebrows when he moved the Bayern stalwart from winger to central playmaker, but it will go down as one of the Dutchman's finest-ever decisions.

3. Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Position: Full-back

    Score: 90.8

    Our highest-ranked defender is Philipp Lahm, the man Pep Guardiola recently called the most intelligent footballer he's ever coached, as per Goal.com.

    He's currently playing in a (relatively) unfamiliar midfield role, but we've assessed him at full-back—the position he shines in for club and country whenever called upon.

    In defence and attack he's near perfect, makes correct calls, boasts excellent sturdiness in the challenge and opens things up when venturing forward.

    Lahm is the best full-back in the game by some distance, and his infalliable decision-making on the pitch allowed him to score extremely highly on our metric.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Position: Wide forward

    Score: 93.1

    Coming in second place is Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid's left-sided goal machine.

    Unperturbed by the arrival of Gareth Bale, CR7 has continued where he left off last season, with eight goals in nine La Liga games and 13 from 11 overall.

    He boasts incredible pace, a searing long shot, composure in the box and prowess from the penalty spot. He's the perfect player, and had be been born in a different generation, he would have picked up triple the individual awards already collated.

    He's amassed over 100 caps for his nation, Portugal, at just 28 years of age. Without him, they'd be shambolic.

1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Position: False-nine

    Score: 93.5

    We crown Lionel Messi king of our UEFA Champions League rankings after he aced almost every category.

    He has every attribute in the book—you know that by now—and it shouldn't be a surprise to see him standing above his peers in yet another contest.

    As a false-nine, Messi carries his team, combining quickness, pace, mobility, passing range and dribbling skills to deadly effect. His finishing skills in and around the box have come on tenfold in the past 24 months, and he rarely ever leaves a contest without netting at least once.

    After falling short last season, Messi and Barcelona have a lot of work to do this season to curtail Bayern Munich's dynasty as it stands.

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