By Robin Bairner
The beginning of another star-studded edition of the Champions League is just around the corner, with the world's finest footballers jousting to win Europe's most coveted club competition. Bearing in mind the ability of their respective teams to go deep in the tournament, Goal brings you the XI players who will set the measure of excellence on the road to Lisbon.
Thibaut Courtois - Atletico Madrid
Drawn in a generous group, there can be few doubts that Atletico Madrid have what it takes to progress through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. While David Villa will be key for them offensively, it is their young Belgian goalkeeper who is set to catch the eye once more. The 21-year-old has never previously played at this level but is a custodian of undoubted class and is ready to make his big-time breakthrough as Diego Simeone's men show there is more than just one great team in the Spanish capital.
Stephan Lichtsteiner - Juventus
The Swiss right-back has long been one of the most underrated defenders in the European game but should come into his own this season in a Juventus side capable of going deep in the competition. A reliable presence defensively, he is also capable of operating in several other roles. His multi-talented attributes and consistent level of performance should see him recognised as one of the best players in his position this term.
Dante - Bayern Munich
A lynchpin of the defending champions, the 29-year-old truly came of age under Jupp Heynckes at the Allianz Arena last season and is now seen as one of the best players in his role. With the Bavarians set to excel again, this time under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, it is Dante who will play the key role in the rearguard.
Thiago Silva - Paris Saint-Germain
Considered by many to be the best defender in the world, the Brazil international will be vital for PSG as they attempt to progress beyond the quarter-final berth they managed last season. With a relatively straightforward group, the former AC Milan centre-back should not be overly stretched in the initial stages of the competition but is likely to come into his own in the knockout stages. He will show the kind of exemplary form he did as PSG ran Barcelona so close before going out on away goals.
Ashley Cole - Chelsea
The dynamic Englishman continues to be seen as an outstanding left-back and should flourish further under Jose Mourinho's system at Chelsea. While Cole is adept at getting forward and supporting his attack, he does so in a measured manner that means his defensive duties are rarely compromised. Even at 32, Cole remains a model for the modern, more attacking, full-back.
Ilkay Gundogan - Borussia Dortmund
Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund side will not have it easy in a difficult group alongside Arsenal, Napoli and Marseille, but energetic holding midfielder Gundogan should help ensure they negotiate this tricky task and reach the post-Christmas stages of the competition. A hugely energetic midfielder, he typifies Dortmund's approach to the game, which won them so many friends as they reached last season's final. While the club may struggle to replicate that form, the 22-year-old remains a player very much on the up.
Paul Pogba - Juventus
Perhaps the outstanding young midfielder in the world, Pogba has started to make real waves with Juventus, who prize the Frenchman so highly. The 20-year-old certainly does not lack confidence and is firmly establishing himself already in one of the outstanding sides on the planet. With the Italian champions set to enjoy a strong competition, the former Manchester United youth will surely remind the English club they were wrong to undervalue his talents.
Franck Ribery - Bayern Munich
A hero in Bavaria because of his consistently excellent performances for Bayern Munich, that the Frenchman is considered, along with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the outstanding candidates for the Ballon d'Or shows just what a terrific year he has had. Voted the competition's Best Player last season, expect the Frenchman to dazzle just as readily on the wing this term.
Oscar - Chelsea
Jose Mourinho has several exciting young offensive midfielders at his disposal this season, with the likes of Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle both making waves, but it was Oscar who showed the greatest maturity last term and who is set to shine brightest this term. His work ethic means that he will likely feature ahead of Juan Mata in Mourinho's side, while his technical abilities mean that he will be a vital offensive weapon as Chelsea enjoy another fine run in the competition.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Real Madrid
Ronaldo may have been eclipsed as the world's most expensive player by Gareth Bale, yet his new contract shows that he is still top dog at Real Madrid. The Portuguese's phenomenal all-round game make him a certainty to be one of the outstanding players in the Champions League this season as Carlo Ancelotti's side go hunting the elusive Decima.
Lionel Messi - Barcelona
While Tata Martino's Barca side are not yet looking quite as fluent as teams of the recent past, their Argentine star remains the planet's best player. The 26-year-old has scored at a rate of more than one goal a game over the course of the past five years at club level and it is difficult to see him slowing down any this term. In tandem with Neymar, he will again be a massive force in this competition.
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