From Lionel Messi to Wojciech Szczesny - the top 20 players of the Champions League group stage

With the help of Goal.com's player ratings system, we take a look at the most impressive performers from the group stage of Europe's elite club competition this season
ANALYSIS
By Danny Hart

Manchester City and Manchester United have been the two most high-profile casualties from the Champions League so far this season, with the competition losing two representatives from the Premier League at the group stage for the first time ever.

While both Manchester sides dropped into the Europa League, the continent's other superpowers such as AC Milan, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Inter, Real Madrid, as well as some surprise packages APOEL, Basel and Zenit St. Petersburg are among 16 clubs preparing for Friday's draw for the first knockout stage in Nyon.

But how did European football's stars fare during the group stage? Using Goal.com's player ratings system, we take a look at the top 20 players from the first phase of this season's competition.

Lionel MESSI
Read more on Messi
Club: Barcelona
Average rating:
8.30

Having topped the goalscoring charts in each of the last three Champions League campaigns, Messi - along with Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez - already leads the way in the competition this season after scoring six goals in just five appearances in Group H, including a hat-trick away to Plzen and a penalty in the crucial 3-2 win against AC Milan at San Siro.

2  Franck RIBERY
Read more on Ribery
Club: Bayern Munich
Average rating:
7.58

Ribery was instrumental as Bayern Munich comfortably progressed from this season's 'Group of Death'. The France international's most impressive performance came in the 2-0 victory against Manchester City on matchday two, while he also scored twice in the 3-1 win over Villarreal which secured top spot and a place in the last 16 for Jupp Heynckes' men.
GROUP AGROUP A
XAVI
Read more on Xavi
Club: Barcelona
Average rating:
7.50

The heartbeat of Barcelona's midfield, Xavi showed just why he has been nominated for the Fifa Ballon d'Or for the second year running with four excellent displays as Pep Guardiola's men topped Group H. His biggest contribution came in the victory over AC Milan on matchday five, scoring the winning goal to seal Barca's place in the knockout stages.

4  Oriol ROMEU
Club: Chelsea
Average rating:
7.50

After being used as a bit-part player by Andre Villas-Boas at the start of the season, Romeu now looks to have firmly cemented his place in his manager's plans following three consistent performances in the centre of midfield in the Champions League group stage. So impressive have the Spaniard's European displays been, he has even become a regular in the Premier League in recent weeks.

5  Tolga ZENGIN

Read more on Zengin
Club: Trabzonspor
Average rating:
7.33

The Turkey international was at his very best to keep out Inter as Trabzonspor recorded a memorable 1-0 win over the Serie A giants at San Siro on matchday one. He also produced a number of fine saves to keep his third clean sheet of the group stage in the goalless draw away to Lille which saw his side crash out of the competition.
GROUP A
6  KAKA
Read more on Kaka
Club: Real Madrid
Average rating:
7.33

Despite playing less than 200 minutes in the group stage, Kaka boasts the highest average rating of any Real Madrid player in the Champions League this season. The Brazilian started just two matches as Jose Mourinho's men eased through Group D, but he had a major part to play in the 3-0 victory over Ajax at home, featuring in all three of his side's goals.

7  Bastian SCHWEINSTEIGER
Read more on Schweinsteiger
Club: Bayern Munich
Average rating:
7.30

Schweinsteiger was a key figure in the centre of midfield for Bayern Munich throughout the group stage, starting his side's first four matches before being forced to sit out the final two with a dislocated shoulder. The German's finest display came when he bossed the game from the middle of the park in the 2-0 win against Manchester City in September.

8  Philipp LAHM
Read more on Lahm
Club: Bayern Munich
Average rating:
7.25

A rock at the back and an outlet going forward down the left, Lahm - apart from one nervy performance against Napoli - was one of Bayern's stars of the Champions League group stage. The full-back produced a number of excellent defensive displays, conceding just four goals in his five appearances, while combining superbly at times with Ribery.

9  Karim BENZEMA
Read more on Benzema
Club: Real Madrid
Average rating:
7.25

Although Benzema has completed 90 minutes just once in the Champions League this season, the striker's role in helping Real Madrid seal progression to the last 16 was pivotal. The Frenchman scored four goals, including a brace against Dinamo Zagreb, and recorded four assists as Mourinho's side topped Group D with a 100 per cent record.
GROUP A
10  Steve MANDANDA
Read more on Mandanda
Club: Marseille
Average rating:
7.25

Mandanda played a key role to help his side qualify for the knockout stages of this season's Champions League. The Marseille goalkeeper's most impressive performance came in the 1-0 defeat to Olympiakos, though, where he made two superb saves to keep his side in the game until late on. He also pulled off two brilliant stops to deny Mario Gotze in the 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.
RO
11  Zlatan IBRAHIMOVIC
Read more on Ibrahimovic
Club: AC Milan
Average rating:
7.25

Ibrahimovic netted four of the seven goals that were scored by AC Milan in the four games he played in during the group stage, including the opener in the 1-1 draw away to BATE Borisov which saw Massimiliano Allegri's men reach the last 16. And despite scoring against Barcelona, he was unable to get one over on Pep Guardiola and his former club, who pipped the Italian side to first place in Group H.
UP A
12  Florent BALMONT
Read more on Balmont
Club: Lille
Average rating:
7.25

Balmont was consistent throughout in what turned out to be a disappointing campaign back in the competition for Ligue 1 champions Lille, with the midfielder even shining above the likes of Eden Hazard, Joe Cole and Moussa Sow. The 31-year-old played in five of his side's six matches, only missing the 2-1 loss away to Inter in November.

13  Toni KROOS
Read more on Kroos
Club: Bayern Munich
Average rating:
7.25

The Germany international has become even more of a key figure in the Bayern Munich midfield since the arrival of Heynckes. Featuring in five of the club's six group-stage fixtures in the Champions League this season, Kroos added to his glowing reputation by scoring the winner away to Villarreal and the opener in the 1-1 draw with Napoli.

14  Gustavo COLMAN
Read more on Colman
Club: Trabzonspor
Average rating:
7.17

Colman saved his very best performances in the Champions League this season for the clashes against Inter. After helping his side to a shock 1-0 victory at San Siro, the Argentine was the stand-out player on the pitch as he put in a terrific display against Claudio Ranieri's men to earn a 1-1 draw in Turkey.
GROUP A
15  Jose CALLEJON

Club: Real Madrid
Average rating:
7.17

Callejon has found his chances limited since his summer move to Real Madrid from Espanyol, but the 24-year-old has been able to make an impression in the Champions League. He played in each of the club's last three fixtures in the group stage, following up a seven-minute cameo away to Lyon with braces against Dinamo Zagreb and Ajax.
GROUP AGROUP A
16  Ezequiel LAVEZZI
Read more on Lavezzi
Club: Napoli
Average rating:
7.08

Although the goals of Edinson Cavani guided Napoli past Manchester City and Villarreal to the last 16, Lavezzi has arguably been the Serie A side's most consistent forward in the Champions League. The Argentina international provided a constant threat to opposition defences throughout the group stage, setting up three goals in the process.
GROUP A
17  Alex SONG
Read more on Song
Club: Arsenal
Average rating:
7.07

Other than a shaky defensive performance in an unfamiliar centre-back position at home to Olympiakos, Song has been excellent for Arsenal in Europe this term. An outstanding dribble past three players and cross to set up Robin van Persie's opener at home to Borussia Dortmund - a match which saw the Gunners seal progression to the last 16 - capped a fine group stage for the midfielder.
GROUP A
18  Wojciech SZCZESNY
Read more on Szczesny
Club: Arsenal
Average rating:
7.00

In his first full Champions League campaign since cementing his place as Arsenal's No.1, Szczesny made a string of superb saves as Arsene Wenger's side quickly took control of Group F with a 2-1 win at home to Olympiakos on matchday two. The Pole made five appearances in total for the Gunners, conceding just three goals.
GROUP A
19  Balazs MEGYERI
Read more on Megyeri
Club: Olympiakos
Average rating:
7.00

After an impressive start to life in the Champions League saw Megyeri produce a fantastic save to deny Ivan Perisic what seemed a certain goal in Olympiakos' 1-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund on matchday four, the goalkeeper was rarely troubled as his side recorded back-to-back victories in their final two fixtures to progress to the knockout stages.

20  Kenneth VERMEER
Read more on Vermeer
Club: Ajax
Average rating:
7.00

Undoubtedly Ajax's most consistent player in the Champions League this season, Vermeer shrugged off critics of his domestic performances with some terrific displays in Group D. The Dutchman kept four clean sheets in six matches and could do little about any of the six goals he conceded over the two games against Real Madrid.

Highest average ratings by position:

GOALKEEPERS
Player
Club
Average rating
Tolga Zengin Trabzonspor
7.33
Steve Mandanda
Marseille
7.25
Wojciech Szczesny
Arsenal
7.00
Balazs Megyeri
Olympiakos
7.00
Kenneth Vermeer
Ajax
7.00

DEFENDERS
Player Club Average rating
Philipp Lahm
Bayern Munich
7.25
Aly Cissokho
Lyon
7.00
Jerome Boateng
Bayern Munich
6.93
Thomas Vermaelen
Arsenal
6.90
Raphael Varane
Real Madrid
6.83

MIDFIELDERS
Player Club Average rating
Franck Ribery
Bayern Munich
7.58
Xavi
Barcelona
7.50
Oriol Romeu
Chelsea
7.50
Kaka
Real Madrid
7.33
Bastian Schweinsteiger
Bayern Munich
7.30

STRIKERS
Player Club Average rating
Lionel Messi
Barcelona
8.30
Karim Benzema Real Madrid
7.25
Zlatan Ibrahimovic AC Milan
7.25
Jose Callejon
Real Madrid
7.17
Ezequiel Lavezzi
Napoli
7.08


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