It’s been a wonderful and unpredicatable tournament. One that has featured the absence of traditional European sides like Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Valencia. A tournament that has featured sides like Leicester and Legia. There’s been incredible play and the competition is completely in the open. These are the top 11 Champions League performers this season (and 3 honorable mentions).
Steven N’Zonzi of Sevilla. The holding midfielder for Sampoeli’s side has been a rock in the back for Sevilla. He’s converted 91 percent of his passes and he’s been looked at as the man to release Sevilla’s attack. A rock of a defender with wonderful passing, N’Zonzi’s Sevilla will be putting Leicester to bed in Europe shortly.
Kevin Kampl of Bayer Leverkusen. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year to say the least for Leverkusen. Mediocre play in the Bundesliga has Leverkusen at risk to miss European play next season. They did progress from their group though, and had to get by the likes of Tottenham to do so. Their down 4-2 to Atleti going back to the Calderon and Leverkusen probably has no chance to upset Atleti but Kampl’s play has been excellent. A goal with a couple assists and a Man of the Match makes him their most dangerous player.
Sergio Aguero of Manchester City. What a rollercoaster of a year it’s been for Kun Aguero. From the excitement of what he could become under Pep Guardiola to quickly being in Guardiola’s doghouse. Aguero was being shown the door just a week ago before young Gabriel Jesus received his injury and was rendered unavailable for the rest of the year. All of a sudden, Aguero is the new man that Guardiola needs to rely on for domestic and European play. It’s been a wonderful restart for Aguero and he netted two in the leg 1 classic against Monaco.
XI: Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid
This in true is in homage to the entire Atletico backline that is just always so excellent and difficult to break. Filipe Luis has been one of the top leftbacks in the world since returning to Atletico from Chelsea in 2015. Godin and Gimenez have been nothing short of world class but they both pick up nicks and dings every now and then and one of them would often have to replaced by Savic. Filipe Luis never misses a match and is always a rock on the left side. He’s also received a Man of the Match award as recently as late January against Athletic Club.
X: Benjamin Mendy of Monaco
Yes another Left Back. But I gave you Filipe Luis for his durability and his defense, I give you Mendy because he has two assists and two Man of the Matches in only three Champions League appearances so far. He was plugged into his role a little late but he’s been owning it ever since. He even earned two consecutive Man of the Match awards in a week earlier this month against Nice and Montpellier. He’s also garnered seven assists in all competitions this season. From Left Back. That’s the same amount of assists as Mesut Ozil.
IX: Angel Di Maria of PSG
The wonderful Argentine magician has always been a man who’s left defenses in wonder. I’m absolutely convinced that Man United gave up on this brilliant man way too early and the hostility that he was greeted with showed him the door. Since then, he’s found his form in Paris, the same one that made him so lethal at Real Madrid. That’s another thing, Madrid letting him go for James Rodriguez was another mistake. Di Maria would break into this side, James can’t. He’s a top top player and he’ll be a huge key to Paris’ European success if they were to ever achieve it. This year looks very bright after the 4-0 thrashing they gave Barcelona.
VIII: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid
The crowned best player on the planet for 2016, it’s been a much more difficult 2017 thus far. Madrid has already lost more games this year then they did all of last year, and their loss to Valencia has opened up the La Liga race once again with Barcelona only trailing by a point. They were business as usual against Napoli, taking care of business at the Bernabeu 3-1 and having a comfortable margin to work with going back to Naples. Cristiano is still searching for more goals in the Champions League (he’s only got 2 this year), but his 5 Champions League assists is the 2nd best figure you’ll find on this list.
VII: Fabinho of Monaco
Monaco may have lost their shootout with Manchester City earlier this week, but their a hazard to any team that comes across them. They sent a warning to City that goals come a plenty for the French side and the only way to beat them is by outscoring them. Fabinho was integral in Monaco’s play in Manchester earlier this week, providing two of the assists for Monaco’s three goals. He’s also a rock in the Monaco midfield, providing wonderful support for the back line. There’s a reason why Europe’s giants are calling for this man’s signature.
VI: Sergio Escudero of Sevilla
I’ll give you one more left back to ponder on this list, and he certainly left Leicester with plenty to ponder for their 2nd leg. Escudero provided an assist and was Man of the Match in a match where Sevilla should’ve pounded in the goals, and Leicester had no business calling themselves a Champions League participant. Sevilla made things really tough for the English side and Escudero had a huge hand in that, flying down the left wing past an anonymous Riyad Mahrez and challenging Danny Simpson time and time again. Escudero asked plenty of questions to Leicester on Wednesday and Leicester had lots of trouble handling it.
V: Lucas Moura of PSG
Barcelona were able to avoid him in their 4-0 thrashing as he came on as a substitute and played 29 minutes. But Lucas Moura has been running and dribbling all over Europe for PSG in the group stages. Putting on a masterful Man of the Match performance over Arsenal and providing a goal and an assist. Lucas is a budding young talent with the potential to completely take over a match with his pace and skill. Arsenal were ran ragged by this young man and he may be let loose against Barcelona in the 2nd leg.
IV: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal
Arsenal were cannoned straight out of the Allianz Arena in their first match against Bayern Munich. There’s zero chance for Arsenal to progress in the Champions League this year, not if Bayern have anything to say about it. But Alexis Sanchez has been brilliant throughout the Gunners campaign. More often then not, he’s the only one that’s ever brilliant for this Gunners side. Now there’s to ponder where his next destination is because he’s had it in North London. Potentially with Paris or Juventus next season, we may not have to see Alexis’ brilliance be eliminated in the Round of 16 no longer.
III: Neymar of Barcelona
Neymar has received his fair share of criticism this year, but there is no doubt that he’s been one of the top players in the world this season. After Neymar’s wonderful Olympic triumph, he’s been in fantastic form as a playmaker and not so much as a goal scorer. Neymar has only found the net twice in this Champions League campaign but he’s dished out a competition high 7 assists this year. Anonymous like most of his teaamates against PSG, Neymar has been able to provide a goal or an assist in every other Champions League match he’s played this season, including two legs against Manchester City. Neymar has featured in 30 games this season in all comps, and he’s been directly involved in 24 goals throughout those 30 games. Playmaker.
II: Thiago Alcantara of Bayern
Perhaps the most underrated player in Europe this season. Thiago is a prodigy of Pep Guardiola who has been flourishing this season under Carlo Ancelotti. A lot of attention has been put towards the lack of minutes that Thomas Muller has received under Ancelotti but more should be made about Thiago’s incredible play. He’s been the center piece of the Bayern attack, the way Toni Kroos functions for Real Madrid and he’s been masterful. 93 percent pass completion rate, it’s the highest on the list and he also has the 2nd highest player rating in the competition. Class.
I: Lionel Messi of Barcelona
Was there ever really a doubt? Of course the thrashing at the hands of PSG was dreadful and Messi was completely missing in that match, but everyone wearing the Barca patch that night took a beating. Messi still has netted 10 goals this season in the Champions league including hat tricks against Celtic and Manchester City. The Paris game was also the first game that Messi didn’t score a Champions League goal. He’s been world class per usual this season and the Paris game doesn’t change that he’s been the best player in the competition thus far. It’s just a shame that his brilliance may be cut short by the Paris trident.