Sunday, July 3, 2022

Champions League Top 50: Best players from Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Villarreal ranked

There are only four teams remaining in the UEFA Champions League as action returns on Tuesday and Wednesday with the semifinals on CBS and Paramount+. Tuesday will see Manchester City host Real Madrid, while Liverpool welcome Villarreal to Anfield. In total, we will see 44 players named to the starting lineups and several subs for each, but ahead of kickoff, let’s examine and dissect the 50 best players remaining in the competition. Our soccer team voted for our top 50 and accumulated the totals, leaving you our official compiled list below.

Here’s how things finished in terms of representatives per team:

  • Manchester City: 15
  • Liverpool: 15
  • Real Madrid: 11
  • Villarreal: 9

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50. Yéremy Pino, midfielder, Villarreal

One of the best young players in Spain, Pino has already been capped with the Spanish national team and has an insanely bright future ahead if he can stay healthy. The Las Palmas native has instantly produced for the Yellow Submarine, scoring seven goals last season and matching it this season. He’s got technical ability, pace and plays wise beyond his years. While starting against Liverpool may be a bit much to ask, don’t be shocked if he comes off the bench and produces.  Roger Gonzalez

49. Juan Foyth, right back, Villarreal

Possibly the most active defender in Champions League play, Foyth has the second most tackles won at 37 despite only playing in only eight games. Foyth doesn’t back down from a challenge and his grit embodies the way that Villarreal plays. After leaving Tottenham his career could’ve gone a few different ways so the drive to make it to the semifinals of Champions League is impressive. — Chuck Booth

48. Jordan Henderson, midfielder, Liverpool

The Liverpool skipper. He won’t wow you with incredible skill, but he is consistent, works hard and is a reference point in the middle for the Reds. He can do a little bit of everything, keep his teammates in line and is a fan favorite. He has the ability to deliver some stellar passes, though they are usually surpassed by the incredible passing ability of his teammates. But he will have to play a critical role if Liverpool are to win it all.  Roger Gonzalez

47. Raúl Albiol, center back, Villarreal

It has been an exciting season for the former Real Madrid center back who is now a crucial player under Unai Emery’s system. He was able to contain incredible strikers in the past matches such as Dušan Vlahović of Juventus and Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich. His partnership with fellow center back Pau Torres is one of the secrets Villarreal fairy-tail run to the Champions League semifinals. Who knows just how deep they’ll get in this tournament. — Francesco Porzio

46. Joël Matip, center back, Liverpool

Overshadowed by Konaté’s goalscoring Matip has been a steady presence when needed by Jurgen Klopp. Matip’s name isn’t one that is called much when he’s playing but that’s the goal for a center back as they don’t need to make flashy tackles when they’re already in a good position to start things off.  — Chuck Booth

45. Naby Keïta, midfielder, Liverpool

Not as established in the middle for Liverpool as Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara or Jordan Henderson, the Guinea international is a still a midfielder of significant talent and able to step in when Jurgen Klopp requires him. Perhaps lacking the consistency which might enable him to soon usurp the likes of Henderson on a more regular basis, he has the ability and is still only 27. — Jonathan Johnson

44. Ferland Mendy, left back, Real Madrid

Well established ahead of the aging Marcelo on the left side of Real’s defense now, the Frenchman gets forward well and has shown his prowess from range at times too. Not the most defensive of full-backs but very few are these days and it suits Carlo Ancelotti’s men to have such an enterprising presence on that flank. — Jonathan Johnson

43. Gerónimo Rulli, goalkeeper, Villarreal

The Argentine shotstopper was once looked at as the next big goalkeeper to come out of South America, but injuries derailed the career of the former Estudiantes man. But he’s rediscovered his form and has helped his team earn glory, winning the Europa League last year with his big display against Manchester United. To do it again, something out of this world will be needed, because Liverpool will get their chances. He’s good enough to help his side push the Reds to the brink.  Roger Gonzalez

42. John Stones, center back, Manchester City

Not always part of the first choice central pairing for Pep Guardiola, Stones is ready when called upon. He has a tough job when Manchester City holds possession for long periods of matches but Stones is as comfortable on the ball as he is off it. Completing 95 percent of his passes, Stones springs attacks while also protecting Ederson.  — Chuck Booth

41. Giovani Lo Celso, midfielder, Villarreal

The Argentine schemer has been on the move for a while now with PSG, Real Betis, Tottenham Hotspur and now Villarreal. Still only 26, hopefully he can find a home with El Submarino Amarillo the way that Juan Roman Riquelme did with the 2006 vintage. However, despite those ups and downs, Lo Celso has shown glimpses of his quality such as his role in the Spaniards’ decisive goal away at Bayern Munich to get here. — Jonathan Johnson

40. Jack Grealish, winger, Manchester City

It has not been as bad as some might suggest, but it would be fair to say that Grealish has not delivered on the hype that comes with a £100 million transfer fee. Stationed on the left touchline, the England international has not been the same volume shooter and creator he was in an Aston Villa shirt and appears to have lost a spot in Pep Guardiola’s strongest XI in recent weeks. He may not win it back before the season is over. — James Benge

39. Rodrygo, winger, Real Madrid

The Brazilian striker already scored three goals in eight Champions League’s matches including the crucial one against Chelsea in the second leg of the quarter finals after that the English side scored three goals before and led the game to the extra time. Carlo Ancelotti likes to play him especially in the second half when he needs something different that can change the final result of the game. And for now this is working quite well. — Francesco Porzio

38. Gerard Moreno, striker, Villarreal

The Spanish striker is one of the most valuable players on this Villarreal squad with two goals scored. His second came in the clutch as it sparked a 3-0 win at the Allianz Stadium against Juventus for Unai Emery’s side, effectively eliminating the Bianconeri in a historical away win for the Yellow Submarine. He also provided the key assist to Samuel Chukwueze that gave the unexpected qualification to the semifinals after drawing against Bayern Munich away. — Francesco Porzio

37. Gabriel Jesus, winger, Manchester City

Author of four goals over the weekend against Watford, it’s extremely likely that these will be the final few weeks in sky blue for Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian winger is expected to leave Manchester City in the summer after talks over a new contract stalled recently, with the club targeting Erling Haaland to fill the massive void at striker. In his six Champions League appearances this season, Jesus has scored three goals — all of them coming in the group stage. — Francesco Porzio

36. Roberto Firmino, center forward, Liverpool

He may have lost the argument with Diogo Jota over who starts next to Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane (and Luis Diaz also looks like leapfrogging him in the pecking order), but when Firmino gets his chance he tends not to make Jurgen Klopp regret it. His underrated aerial qualities were on full display when he delivered the most significant goal of Liverpool’s Champions League campaign so far, the flicked header to open the scoring in a hard fought round of 16 first leg win over Inter Milan. — James Benge

35. İlkay Gündoğan, midfielder, Manchester City

Gündoğan never seemed entirely comfortable in the spotlight that shone on him last season when his goals fired City to the title. This season, he is still making those late runs into the box, combining them with the steadying work in build up and solid possession play. — James Benge

34. Federico Valverde, midfielder, Real Madrid

The Uruguayan midfielder can do it all, and he is one of the most versatile players remaining. A box-to-box menace with an improving quality in attack, he may not have been making a ton of noise this season, but don’t count him out against Manchester City. He will be needed to rough up the City attackers a bit toslow down the pace.  Roger Gonzalez

33. Éder Militão, center back, Real Madrid

Strong in the air Militão has protected the heart of the Real Madrid defense when they’ve been attacked over and over. He’s also aware enough of his movement to step up to break up oncoming attacks with a timely interception to lead the team. Offering enough of a threat to not be a liability with the ball at his feet, Militão is a good all around center back.  — Chuck Booth

32. Ibrahima Konaté, center back, Liverpool

Heading into the semifinals, we saw the best and worst from the 22-year-old Frenchman with three goals from four games including one each home and away against Benfica but also naive defensive mistakes which he needs to address in time. Far from being the finished article, but his current profile is already impressive and well-suited to Liverpool’s needs. — Jonathan Johnson

31. Toni Kroos, midfielder, Real Madrid

The German veteran may not have the role he once had, and you may get bored with so many of his short, square passes, but he has a lot of responsibility in that Real Madrid midfield. His ability to quickly play to his left or right, the opposite of where he got the ball, is huge. It allows quick movement into space and to potentially catch the defense out of position. – Roger Gonzalez

30. Kyle Walker, right back, Manchester City

Chronically underappreciated by those who do not work alongside him with club and country, Walker is not a player Guardiola would want to do without in big games. If you need proof, just look at the City boss’ ballistic reaction to a foolish red card that saw him miss three Champions League games; Guardiola might still hold a grudge over it. Walker’s pace and composure is vital in ensuring City’s high line is not punctured by runners in behind. — James Benge

29. Dani Parejo, midfielder, Villarreal

The peanut butter to Danjuma’s jelly, Parejo makes Villarreal tick. Creating 19 chances despite the team generally playing without the ball shows just how good the classy Spainard’s vision is on the pitch. With over 400 La Liga appearances to his name, there isn’t much that Parejo hasn’t seen in his career and he uses that experience to lead the Yellow Submarine into battle — Chuck Booth

28. Raheem Sterling, winger, Manchester City

It has been a curious few years for Sterling, no longer quite the 20-plus a season scorer and first name on Pep Guardiola’s team sheet that he was a few years ago. Indeed he seems as plausible a candidate as any to make room for Erling Haaland’s arrival. And yet the England international is scoring at better than a goal every other game this season and is an ever more familiar starter as the season reaches its decisive stage. He will surely have a part to play. — James Benge

27. David Alaba, center back, Real Madrid

Alaba arrived from Bayern Munich as a free agent and immediately became the most important defender on Carlo Ancelotti’s side. It wasn’t easy at all to replace Sergio Ramos as leader of the defensive line but he’s done it well in La Liga and in the Champions League. He’s after his third UCL title, which would effectively give Real their record 14th. — Francesco Porzio

26. Andy Robertson, left back, Liverpool

While he doesn’t get as many accolades as his teammate Alexander-Arnold, Robertson is in the middle of one of the best seasons of his career. Locking down wingers who go up against him while also providing dangerous crosses from corner kicks and open play, Robertson is one of the most complete left backs in the world. — Chuck Booth

25. Luis Díaz, winger, Liverpool

You can make the argument that this was the most impactful signing of the winter transfer window. Since joining Liverpool from Porto in January, Díaz has found the back of the net four times this season, with no goal more important than the one scored against Benfica that brought Liverpool to the semifinals. He also provided an acrobatic assist in the derby against Everton over the weekend to keep their Premier League title hopes afloat. Jurgen Klopp is playing him more and more because he’s proving that he deserves to be a starter of this team. — Francesco Porzio

24. Casemiro, midfielder, Real Madrid

The Brazilian defensive midfielder is something else. Not only can he frustrate the living you know what out of you, but he also is a tad underrated as to what he can offer going forward. Real were able to get past PSG despite him missing the second leg due to suspension, but he has to be on his game to slow down Kevin de Bruyne. – Roger Gonzalez

23. Diogo Jota, center forward, Liverpool

The 1990s poacher is reborn in this relatively diminutive center forward. Once a tricky winger, Jota is now a master of predicting where in the penalty area the ball will land and positioning himself to convert. He is perhaps yet to light up the Champions League, scoring in just three of his 17 appearances so far, but his consistent returns in domestic games suggest it is merely a matter of time. — James Benge

22. Ederson, goalkeeper, Manchester City

Electrifying and on occasion terrifying (who else would attempt to evade a challenge on his own goal line) with the ball, Ederson’s expansive passing range is vital in allowing Manchester City to impose themselves on opponents. On the rare occasions, he is called on to do some goalkeeping as he is reliability personified; for the third time in the last four seasons, he is on course to pick up clean sheets in more than half of his Premier League games. — James Benge

21. Aymeric Laporte, center back, Manchester City

Not always a guaranteed starter at Etihad Stadium, the France-born Spain international has added consistency and maturity to his game to claim his place in Pep Guardiola’s starting XI of choice alongside Ruben Dias and largely at the expense of John Stones. The most prolific of City defenders, he is a useful goal threat to have as well as a defensive stalwart. — Jonathan Johnson

20. Rodri, midfielder, Manchester City

Defensive midfielders have the tendency to fade into the background for some spectators, but not Rodri. He is a master of marshaling traffic into good positions for his center backs, taking care of dangerous attacks and pinging passes around the park when teams give him space to operate. Such an intelligent midfielder, Rodri is critical to making Pep Guardiola’s attack tick and keeping play rolling constantly. — Chuck Booth

19. Arnaut Danjuma, winger, Villarreal

In a team that picks when they attack like Villarreal, it can be hard for forwards to rack up goals from limited opportunities. But that hasn’t hurt Danjuma as his six goals has amounted for a third of Villarreal’s total goalscoring during Champions League play. Always there at critical moments to score a defining goal, the star forward has played a clutch role in the Yellow Submarine’s dream run to the UCL semifinals. — Chuck Booth

18. Bernardo Silva, midfielder, Manchester City

Although not in the same hot form we saw from him earlier in the season, the Portuguese is coming back into a bit of goal scoring fettle of late which could prove timely for Pep Guardiola. The 27-year-old, when combined with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez, often proves deadly and is already into double figures for goals across all competitions this campaign. — Jonathan Johnson

17. Fabinho, midfielder, Liverpool

Like he was for the swashbuckling Monaco side a few years ago, Fabinho has established himself as an underrated piece for Liverpool and a fixture in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield. Versatile and consistent, the 28-year-old is one of the first names on the team sheet and chips in with the occasional useful goal. If Thiago Alcantara is starting to thrive at Anfield, it is definitely partly down to the steadying influence of this Brazilian in the middle of the park. — Jonathan Johnson

16. Pau Torres, center back, Villarreal

Quite simply, Pau Torres is a star. The 25-year-old Spanish international continues to improve year after year, and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He rarely makes a noticeable mistake, he’s good on the ground and in the air, and he has a knack for delivering in the biggest of moments.  — Roger Gonzalez

15. Riyad Mahrez, winger, Manchester City

Although he does not lead the Champions League scoring charts overall, the Algeria international is City’s most prolific figure this campaign with six goals so far. Spurred on by Africa Cup of Nations failure, the 31-year-old is a consistent threat in attack and scored three of four goals against PSG to reach the previous final. — Jonathan Johnson

14. Phil Foden, winger, Manchester City

One of the top five young players in the world, Foden is the future in attack at Manchester City. He’s got incredible pace, a supreme technical ability, and he knows how to deliver in the biggest of moments. So often with young superstar talent, they want to do too much and force it. But he is just as happy as getting an assist as he is with scoring, and that’s quite telling in terms of his desire to see the team succeed over personal achievements. — Roger Gonzalez

13. Alisson, goalkeeper, Liverpool

The Brazilian goalkeeper is part of the heart and soul of this successful Liverpool era and his lengthy absences in years past only reinforced his worth to this squad. He’s definitely in the top-three conversation for best goalkeeper among European clubs and with 10 Champions League matches played until now, he’s given Liverpool three clean sheets. — Francesco Porzio

12. Virgil van Dijk, center back, Liverpool

Defending in 2022 is not supposed to be as easy as Van Dijk makes it look. The ACL injury that ruined his and Liverpool’s season has done nothing to slow him down on his return. Now that he is back, Jurgen Klopp’s side have gone from top four contenders to perhaps the best team in the world again. He certainly was not this low on my ballot! — James Benge

11. Thiago Alcântara, midfielder, Liverpool

Alcântara has overcome a slow start to his Liverpool experience and he’s worked his way into becoming one of the go-to players of this team. This season, in particular, he’s proving the importance of his role in the team with one of the most deft-defying goals you’ll ever see in the Champions League against Porto as his wicked low strike made its way past Diogo Costa to set the tone for the Reds in a tricky group stage that featured AC Milan and Atletico Madrid. The former Bayern Munich player is now fully part of Jurgen Klopp’s blueprint and his performances will be fundamental for a positive end of the season. — Francesco Porzio

10. Vinícius Júnior, winger, Real Madrid

The spark plug for Los Blancos, Vini Jr. is a menace on both ends of the pitch for the team. The Vini to Benzema connection is one of the largest reasons why Real Madrid has made it so far in the competition but his energy is unmatched. Teams have devoted defenders to man marking him and it hasn’t stopped Vini Jr. from creating the most chances and collecting the most assists in Champions League play. Also being a forward who doesn’t shirk their defensive responsibilities, he has done a great job at turning defense into attack. — Chuck Booth

9. Thibaut Courtois, goalkeeper, Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s defense hasn’t been at its best this season leaving Courtois with a ton to do in net and he has risen to the occasion and then some. Boasting the highest save percentage of keepers who have played more than one game in the competition, Courtois has prevented 2.78 goals for Los Blancos in route to keeping their Champions League hopes alive. — Chuck Booth

8. João Cancelo, left back, Manchester City

Cancelo is a player unlike any other out there, and it’s all thanks to the coaching done by Pep Guardiola who has deployed the Portugal international as his Swiss Army knife. He’ll terrorize you on left or right, and sometimes as a pseudo-winger for Manchester City’s tactical system. Even if he plays in the defensive side of the pitch, he can be considered as an offensive player in many parts of the games. — Francesco Porzio

7. Sadio Mané, winger, Liverpool

What a year 2022 has been for the Senegalese superstar so far. Africa Cup of Nations success was followed by qualification for the World Cup while a hot streak in front of goal now has him on five goals from his last six appearances. Although Mo Salah leads Liverpool for goals in this season’s edition, the 30-year-old remains an equally important component in Jurgen Klopp’s attack. — Jonathan Johnson

6. Rúben Dias, center back, Manchester City

For many he’s the best centerback in the world. He has the size and strength, but it is that composure that sets him apart. He’s so cool and calm on the ball, his positioning is unmatched, and he’s the foundation of that Man City backline. The team’s backline used to leave plenty to be desired, but with the former Benfica man leading the way, they may just win it all. — Roger Gonzalez

5. Trent Alexander-Arnold, right back, Liverpool

For all the world-class talent on this list, there is no one who challenges the sport’s preconceptions of what a player in their position should do quite like Trent Alexander-Arnold does. He is a better defender than he gets credit for, but it is as a devastating creator where he shines. Across Europe’s top-five leagues and continental competitions, he leads the continent in expected assists by a sizeable margin, his arsenal of crossing, through balls and runs to the byline making for a challenge few opponents can deal with. — James Benge

4. Luka Modrić, midfielder, Real Madrid

The heart of Real Madrid’s midfield, Modrić continues to age like a fine wine. His assist to Benzema during Real’s comeback win over Chelsea was one of the best passes in the Champions League this season. His vision is unmatched. When it comes to setting up teammates, few do it better than Modrić as shown by his 14 chances created in the tournament so far. — Chuck Booth

3. Kevin De Bruyne, midfielder, Manchester City

At the start of this season, it looked like De Bruyne might be entering his post-prime stage, with injuries becoming a more frequent occurrence for the Belgian while Bernardo seemed to be relishing primary playmaking duties. Yet in recent weeks, he has hit his peak yet again, devastating on the biggest occasions and with new wrinkles to his game as a more progressive, ball-carrying creator. It is yet another way in which he can beat teams. — James Benge

2. Mohamed Salah, winger, Liverpool

This might be one of, if not, Salah’s best Champions League campaign as he’s reached eight goals in 10 matches thus far, with a 0.98 goals per 90 rate. His 2017-18 season saw him reach 10 goals (and four assists) in 13 matches for a 0.97 goals per 90 rate. He’s marching toward a second UCL crown but his future with the Reds seems a little murky considering that his current contract will expire in the summer 2023 and so far negotiations for a renewal have not been successful. — Francesco Porzio

1. Karim Benzema, center forward, Real Madrid

At the absolute peak of his powers at present, the France international is arguably the leading candidate for the next Ballon d’Or in his current form. Consecutive hat-tricks against PSG and then Chelsea have helped to move him to within a goal of Robert Lewandowski’s tally of 13 which he cannot add to this season so the Real Madrid man may well fancy finishing top scorer in this edition. Los Blancos’ hopes of a record-extending 14th Champions League title rest heavily on the 34-year-old’s shoulders. — Jonathan Johnson

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