The first round of the 2013/14 Champions League is now history and not without its share of surprises.
Juventus, one of the candidates to win the whole thing, was dismissed early and will now compete for the Europe League, and Napoli finds itself in a pretty similar situation.
The team coached by Rafa Benitez has lost some gas with regards to their great performances in the first months of the competition, and after beating Arsenal 2-0, a late goal by Borussia Dortmund in the other game of the group, got them kicked off the competition in the cruelest way possible.
Meanwhile, teams like Olympiakos and Galatasaray made it through against all odds and will have another chance to shine at the highest level.
But it’s time to go over the best performers of the six first game days in the best competition in the old continent. While there were some surprises in the teams that made it through and those who didn’t to the second round, probably there won’t be many surprise on the five players chosen as the top 5 in the first round.
Top 5 players of the Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo: The Portuguese “beast” has broken every record in sight and has become the only player in the history of the Champions League to ever score 9 goals in the first round of the tournament.
Strikers like Van Nistelrooy, Inzaghi and Crespo, in their prime, all managed to score 8 in 6 games, but Ronaldo took that mark to the next level and scored 9 in 5.
The winger missed the Galatasaray match at Santiago Bernabeu due to injury, a game in which he could have scored a few goals, and he also missed a penalty kick in the last minute of the match against Copenhagen, so needless to say, his numbers could have been exponentially better.
Ronaldo has become the true leader of the squad, his speeding full-throttle to the FIFA Player of the Year award, and has made it his personal goal to win the Champions League with Real Madrid this year. Knowing him, this may not be as far-fetched as it seems.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Ibra-cadabra is living his best season yet. At 32, the Swedish striker has become a full-fleshed captain at PSG, leading the team, pulling them when things get tough and being the ultimate star of the squad.
In the first round of the UEFA Champions League, Ibrahimovic scored 8 goals, and played all but the last match of the group, when the team was already qualified to the next round.
His game against Anderlecht in Belgium will forever be remembered by Paris Saint Germain’s fans, not only because of the four goals Ibra scored, but mostly because of the beautiful finishes he managed to knock in.
His run in the tournament pushed him up in the FIFA Player of the year stands, although ultimately, he didn’t make the last three. Whatever PSG manages to do in Champions League this year –much like last year– will be determined by how effective Zlatan Ibrahimovic can be in the decisive rounds.
Franck Ribery: The other man. Bayern Munich’s most piercing weapon, and the footballer who stands between Ronaldo and his second FIFA Player of the year.
The Frenchman has had a wonderful first round in the toughest tournament in Europe, and has lead the almost-perfect machine that Pep Guardiola has started to design in Baviera during these first five matches.
Without being a consummate goal-scorer, Ribery has managed to score 3 goals in 5 games, and pushed through in these last months in his personal race for the Ballon D’Or against Ronaldo. “Scarface” has become one of the most important players for his team in Europe, and after a great season last year, he is ready to make Bayern Munich the first club to win the Champions League back-to-back for the first time in history.
Diego Costa: The sensation of this beginning of the season has shined like no other in the very little playing time he’s gotten in Champions League. In 196 minutes, Costa has netted 4 goals, but his presence at Atletico Madrid transcends the cold statistics.
The Brazilian-born striker is the heart and soul of a team that always needs to gravitate towards a flesh-and-bone superhero, and where once Futre, Torres, Agüero or Falcao were the talents to be reckoned with at Calderon, now Diego Costa reigns supreme as the end-all-be-all idol for the Colchonero fans.
Costa has been in the eye of the hurricane since he decided to defend the Spanish National Team in the upcoming World Cup instead of doing so with his home country. Seeing the way he’s been playing lately, whatever happens to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and to Spain in the World Cup will depend heavily on whether or not Diego Costa can sustain the impressive level shown in this first few months of the season.
Neymar: Although he hadn’t scored until the last game of the first round against Celtic Glasgow, FC Barcelona’s Neymar did two things in that match: first, he confirmed he has what it takes to lead a team missing Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, and secondly, he shot down all criticism against him because of his lack of scoring prowess netting a hat-trick in 14 minutes against the Scottish side.
Neymar had already been key in the game played at Celtic Park, and also had good performances against AC Milan, but he needed to make a stand. The last game of the round was his time to do so, and he took full advantage of it. If he is able to keep up that pace, Neymar will surely be one of the stars of the final rounds of the UEFA Champions League.