Champions League Player Rankings: Messi Is King, Monaco & Juventus Impress

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMarch 20, 2015

Champions League Player Rankings: Messi Is King, Monaco & Juventus Impress

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Welcome to the fourth round of our UEFA Champions League knockout-stage player rankings, in which we order the competition's top-20 players so far this season.

    Juventus, Monaco, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona joined Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, FC Porto and Real Madrid in the quarter-finals. We're picking from the cream of the crop—despite the lack of English teams.

    The criteria is simple: We pick the 20 best players on the basis of form in European games only.

    We'll be running the ranking as the games take place, so for those playing on the next matchday, we'll simply note as appropriate. Group-stage form still counts, so strong performances before Christmas are still a factor in our grading.

Dropping out

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Dropping Out

    Ciro Immobile, Borussia Dortmund: Didn't feature during BVB's loss to Juventus, and his team have now exited the competition.

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund: Let down by Jurgen Klopp as he was playing as a striker against Juventus but did not impact at all.

    Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea: Just not himself, and Chelsea leaving the tournament seals his own exit.

    Sergio Aguero, Manchester City: Alone up front as Barcelona dominated and missed a penalty late on to compound the gap in class.

    Honourable Mentions

    Claudio Marchisio, Juventus

    Miranda, Atletico Madrid

    Wendell, Bayer Leverkusen

    Geoffrey Kondogbia, Monaco

    Wallace, Monaco

    Jeremy Toulalan, Monaco

    David Luiz, PSG

    Alvaro Morata, Juventus

    Luis Suarez, Barcelona

20. Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    Differential: -7

    Marco Reus drops severely—it's a competitive ranking!—but his non-performance wasn't exactly his fault. Jurgen Klopp played him as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 against Juventus' midfield diamond; there was never a chance of the German finding success.

    Crowded out by Claudio Marchisio and aggressively hunted by Arturo Vidal, Reus failed to get his foot on the ball in the right areas, and his set-piece deliveries were poor. 

19. Fabinho, Monaco

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Last Week: Unranked

    Differential: New!

    Fabinho reverted back to his regular position of right-back for Monaco's second leg against Arsenal, and like team-mate Aymen Abdennour, he did just enough to scrape by.

    He was magnificent playing out of position in holding midfield in the first leg; he has the defensive aptitude for the role and showed immense discipline in place of the suspended Jeremy Toulalan.

    Europe's scouts will be taking notice.

18. Marco Verratti, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: 20

    Differential: +2

    In the first leg between PSG and Chelsea, Marco Verratti ran rings around the Chelsea midfield and caused them all sorts of issues. He played superbly again in west London, expertly holding the ball at arm's reach and dictating much of the play.

    He has noted aggression issues when it comes to reckless tackling in bigger games, so to see him keep a lid on it until Laurent Blanc made a change was pleasing.

    The Italian is blossoming into a world-class player this season.

17. Thiago Silva, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: 19

    Differential: +2

    Thiago Silva made a bad mistake in extra time against Chelsea, flinging his hands high up in the air in the box and touching a long ball to give away a penalty.

    It looked as though the Brazilian had ruined it for Laurent Blanc's men, consigning them to another early exit. However, renewed determination took hold of the captain, and his epic header to put PSG through with five minutes to go was a just reward for his and his team's efforts.

    In the first leg, Silva was Man of the Match, keeping Diego Costa exceptionally quiet. It was a hell of a two-legged tie for him.

16. Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Last Week: 16

    Differential: None

    We won't see Thibaut Courtois again in the Champions League this season, but he went out with a bang.

    Two particular saves were of an absurdly high quality: first, tipping a long-range David Luiz effort over the bar, and second, somehow keeping out a Thiago Silva header and palming it clear for a corner.

    The Belgian was magnificent across both legs.

15. Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich

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    Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

    Last Week: Unranked

    Differential: New!

    Thomas Muller has been in and around the bottom of our rankings before, but a rogue showing always stops him building momentum and pushing further up.

    Pep Guardiola's intense rotation policy hasn't aided any of the Bayern Munich players with regard to making the grade with us, but it's impossible to ignore Muller's two-goal masterclass against Shakhtar Donetsk.

    The German has five goals and one assist from six Champions League starts this term, per WhoScored.com.

14. Jerome Boateng, Bayern Munich

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    Differential: +4

    Jerome Boateng hasn't received much praise despite bossing a 7-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, scoring a goal and keeping a clean sheet. Defensive partner Holger Badstuber, back after a long, trying absence, dominated the column inches.

    But the game quietly capped an excellent Champions League season so far for Boateng, who has emerged as one of the few truly world-class centre-backs in football. No matter the formation, setup or tactical nuance, Boateng is the first defender on the team sheet for Pep Guardiola.

13. Aymen Abdennour, Monaco

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Last Week: Unranked

    Differential: New!

    Aymen Abdennour: the Tunisian rock that can't be moved. He dominates and bullies in the box, and his rugged, no-nonsense style is perfectly suited to Monaco's big-game strategy.

    He was incredible at the Emirates Stadium in the first leg, did just enough at the Stade Louis II in the return and scored in the crucial win against Zenit Saint Petersburg to help the Monegasques qualify for the knockout stage in the first place.

12. Carlos Tevez, Juventus

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Last Week: Unranked

    Differential: New!

    Carlos Tevez, take a bow!

    The Argentinian legitimised claims that he is the best player on Juventus' books—ahead of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal—by turning in a superb, 9.5/10 performance at Signal Iduna Park.

    He was the outlet for passes out of defence, scored two—one being an absolute cracker—and assisted Alvaro Morata's strike. Passage sealed.

11. Edinson Cavani, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Last Week: 11

    Differential: None

    Edinson Cavani can thank Thiago Silva and David Luiz for bailing him (and Paris Saint-Germain) out at Stamford Bridge. Had the Brazilians not struck, the focus would have fallen on their South American colleague—and for all the wrong reasons.

    The former Napoli man continued his trend of fluffing chance after chance in west London, hitting the post after rounding Thibaut Courtois and messing up several other close-range openings.

    He moved down one last week and floats this time around.

10. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Last Week: 8

    Differential: -2

    Eden Hazard disappointed in Chelsea's draw (and aggregate loss) to Paris Saint-Germain, converting a penalty in extra time but failing to impact over 120 minutes.

    He came alive once the score became 1-1, sparking a number of counters and showing his immense ball-carrying ability, but he ultimately let down an expectant Stamford Bridge when attempting to break down a stubborn defensive setup.

    That's the last we'll see of the Belgian in a European club competition this season.

9. Blaise Matuidi, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: 17

    Differential: +8

    Blaise Matuidi's role in Paris Saint-Germain's aggregate victory over Chelsea seemed to change every 10 minutes, but just as you'd expect from the Frenchman, he obliged and applied himself to Laurent Blanc's instructions at every turn.

    He was responsible for all the forward runs into space until Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off, and then he settled into a hybrid centre-midfield-cum-left-midfield role covering the flank with his energy and relentless pressure.

8. Nemanja Matic, Chelsea

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: 4

    Differential: -4

    Nemanja Matic struggled against a committed, physical Paris Saint-Germain midfield on Wednesday; it was hardly the walk-in-the-park return from injury he'll have wished for when preparing for the fixture.

    Carrying the ball forward out of defence was difficult because there was no space to play in, and the Serbian had trouble keeping track of Javier Pastore's immense movement and silky touches.

    He limped off late on to be replaced by Kurt Zouma, clearly wearing his ailed ankle down to its limit.

7. Jackson Martinez, FC Porto

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    Paulo Duarte/Associated Press

    Last Week: 7

    Differential: None

    Jackson Martinez was a fitness concern ahead of FC Porto's thrashing of FC Basel. Julen Lopetegui remained on the cautious side and opted to rest him.

    He wasn't missed.

6. Yacine Brahimi, FC Porto

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    Paulo Duarte/Associated Press

    Last Week: 14

    Differential: +8

    Pictured is the moment Yacine Brahimi deftly lifted FC Porto into the lead against Basel at the Dragao, beating the wall with ease and dropping the ball into the far corner from a free-kick.

    It was a welcome boost to his flailing stock, as after an electric start to this year's competition, the Algerian has fizzled out ever so slightly. He grabbed an assist later on and was substituted early for a rest.

    He truly stepped up in the place of the absent Jackson Martinez and rises sharply due to a few exits and a few poor performances around him.

5. Juanfran, Atletico Madrid

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    Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    Differential: +1

    Juanfran helped Atletico Madrid keep a clean sheet over 120 minutes against Bayer Leverkusen—an impressive feat, given the attacking talents on display.

    The Spaniard left a little to be desired in the final third, failing to provide too much from an attacking sense and pretty much leaving it all on Antoine Griezmann, but the team did its job and Juanfran, as ever, played his soldier-like part.

4. Koke, Atletico Madrid

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Last Week: 5

    Differential: +1

    Koke missed the first leg of Atletico Madrid's round-of-16 tie with Bayer Leverkusen, and it showed, with Atletico's midfield lacking a little something...Koke-esque, you might say.

    His tactical intuition and astonishing football IQ don't produce the numbers in the goal or assist tallies, but he is one of the finest midfielders in the world, and his performance alongside the excellent Mario Suarez on Tuesday night was strong.

    Clean sheet and an eventual victory. 

3. Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Last Week: 3

    Differential: None

    Karim Benzema has struggled in La Liga lately, but his was a positive showing against Schalke. He held the ball up when necessary, worked hard to find space and scored a rather spectacular goal.

    He dribbled around a seemingly endless stream of defenders in the box before darting wide of the goalkeeper and smashing home from close range in the second half. It put the tie just out of Schalke's reach, sealing Madrid's passage to the quarter-finals.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Last Week: 1

    Differential: -1

    Cristiano Ronaldo: big-game player. 

    His two headers—thumpers, the pair of them—ensured Real Madrid had just enough to overcome a surprisingly stubborn and incisive Schalke challenge.

    He hasn't played well in a while, but he shows up when it matters the most to bail Los Blancos out.

1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Last Week: 2

    Differential: +1

    Lionel Messi reclaimed top spot in our rankings with ease. He's been on a higher plane to every other player—including archnemesis Cristiano Ronaldo—for the last few months, and his performance against Manchester City was, once again, flabbergasting.

    Only Joe Hart's excellence stopped him from scoring six or seven; City's players watched in awe as he dribbled past them all with consummate ease. Messi also provided the assist for the only goal of the game, sweeping a wonderful pass over for Ivan Rakitic to touch home.