With the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League kicking off this week, here’s a look at 10 players to watch as the knockout stage begins.
Lionel Messi – Barcelona: The defending champs were without Messi for the final three group matches, but the Argentinian superstar still managed a trio of goals and an assist. Barcelona is loaded with talent up and down their starting lineup, but Messi remains their most important player.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid: The tournament’s leading scorer had 11 goals in Madrid’s undefeated group stage run and has been far-and-away the most dominant player in Europe this season. Real Madrid’s fate rests largely in Ronaldo’s hands.
Paul Pogba – Juventus: The powerful French midfielder has played every minute of every Champions League game for Juventus this campaign, and is instrumental both offensively and defensively for the reigning Italian champions.
Sergio Aguero – Manchester City: The Argentinian striker played in just three group stage games, scoring just once, but is now healthy as the knockout round kicks off. With Kevin De Bruyne out, Aguero’s nose for goals becomes that much more crucial.
Angel Di Maria – PSG: Added from Manchester United in the summer, Di Maria provided 25 percent of PSG’s offence in the group stage. Chelsea will be no easy out for the Ligue 1 leaders, so the Argentinian winger will be key in the Round of 16.
Petr Cech – Arsenal: Arsenal made it out of the group stage by the skin of their teeth, and it gets no easier in the Round of 16 against Barcelona. There’s going to be goals in this matchup, but stopping Barca’s big three is key for the Gunners and that starts with their 33-year-old goalkeeper.
David Alaba – Bayern Munich: The 23-year-old Austrian player of the year operates as a left fullback for Munich, but what makes Alaba so dangerous is his versatility. He’s a threat from all over the field.
Willian – Chelsea: Chelsea have had a tough go of it domestically, but still have life on the biggest stage. With five goals in the group stage, Willian has been the key to the Blues’ Champions League success. His scoring will be needed against a PSG squad that has surrendered just one goal all tournament.