Champions League 2013/14: B/R's Ranking of the Top 250 Players from This Season
The 2013/14 UEFA Champions League was an enthralling, exciting competition to watch, with the two Madrid clubs—Atletico and Real—doing battle in the final in Lisbon, Portugal. In that match, Gareth Bale's extra-time header helped Los Blancos clinch La Decima.
Beyond just those two entertaining us, though, 32 clubs have taken part from the group stage onwards, with a whole host of players putting in top performances throughout.
We've looked back over the whole campaign and assessed who fared best—and with that, here's our huge top 250 from this season's biggest cup competition.
Criteria and Notes
Form and achievements are considered only for the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League campaign. Domestic success or form from players is not taken into account.
By way of acknowledging players' contributions to the team collective, additional credit will be given to players whose teams progressed past the group stage into the knockouts, supposing they contribute in some way to both sections of the tournament.
Players must also have made a minimum of four appearances in total during this season's Champions League—not including qualifying-stage games—to be considered for a place in the top 250.
|249||Alberto de la Bella||Real Sociedad|
|246||Stanislav Tecl||Viktoria Plzen|
|242||Cristian Rodriguez||Atletico Madrid|
|240||Ricardo van Rhijn||Ajax|
|238||Daniel Kolar||Viktoria Plzen|
|234||Ignazio Abate||AC Milan|
|232||Philipp Hosiner||Austria Wien|
|228||Nemanja Vidic||Manchester United|
|224||David Villa||Atletico Madrid|
|222||Asier Illarramendi||Real Madrid|
|220||Riccardo Montolivo||AC Milan|
|217||Inigo Martinez||Real Sociedad|
|209||Shinji Kagawa||Manchester United|
|206||Edin Dzeko||Manchester City|
|199||Michael Carrick||Manchester United|
|183||Rafael Varane||Real Madrid|
|181||Ryan Giggs||Manchester United|
|171||Antonio Valencia||Manchester United|
|167||Matias Suarez||Atletico Madrid|
|166||James Milner||Manchester City|
|165||Sami Khedira||Real Madrid|
|163||Javi Martinez||Bayern Munich|
|162||Joe Hart||Manchester City|
|159||Jese Rodriguez||Real Madrid|
|154||Mario Balotelli||AC Milan|
|152||Antoine Griezmann||Real Sociedad|
|151||Thiago Alcantara||Bayern Munich|
|150||Gregory van der Wiel||PSG|
|139||Carlos Martinez||Real Sociedad|
|138||Phil Jones||Manchester United|
|135||Martin Demichelis||Manchester City|
|128||Vincent Kompany||Manchester City|
|125||Jesus Navas||Manchester City|
|122||Fabio Coentrao||Real Madrid|
|114||Mario Mandzukic||Bayern Munich|
|112||Jerome Boateng||Bayern Munich|
|111||Dani Carvajal||Real Madrid|
|110||Filipe Luis||Atletico Madrid|
|109||Mario Goetze||Bayern Munich|
|103||Pablo Zabaleta||Manchester City|
|101||Xabi Alonso||Real Madrid|
100. Nigel De Jong, AC Milan
Nigel de Jong was one of Milan's few impressive performers during their Champions League campaign, holding together the midfield with his customary ferocity and no-nonsense approach to defending.
Never the most inventive player, De Jong's role has been to win the ball, distribute it simply and help his team stay positionally strong. And in those three key areas, he has been immense.
A poor setup around him didn't help the team progress too far, but De Jong's quality remains visible.
99. Yann Sommer, Basel
FC Basel goalkeeper Yann Sommer impressed in this season's Champions League to the extent that he is to be the new Borussia Moenchengladbach stopper, replacing Barcelona-bound Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The Swiss national team No. 2 kept a clean sheet against Chelsea in the victory over the English side and conceded only six goals in six group-stage games.
It wasn't quite enough to help his side through to the knockouts—they finished third—but Sommer and several of his team-mates improved their reputations as a result of their impressive performances.
98. Jefferson Farfan, Schalke
Schalke wide attacker Jefferson Farfan enjoyed a productive season and played a big part in Schalke's progression through the Champions League group stages.
His direct running and great pace down the right flank was a constant feature of their play, with his willingness to race past defenders one-on-one always capable of causing problems for the opposition's defence.
Farfan managed two assists during the campaign, though he created a total of 12 chances in just five appearances.
97. Nicolas Lombaerts, Zenit
Zenit weren't at their best in the Champions League, but they had a small handful of individuals who showed great leadership to pull them past the group stages.
At the back, Nicolas Lombaerts was one such player, holding together the centre of defence to help his side progress them despite winning only once. Two clean sheets during the groups proved critical, with Lombaerts making almost three tackles and more than six clearances per match in his eight appearances.
The Belgian defender was one of two ever-presents during the Champions League campaign for his team.
96. Lukasz Szukala, Steaua
Polish centre-back Lukasz Szukala might not have a fashionable—or even memorable—name, but he was impressively consistent in Steaua Bucharest's disappointing group campaign this season.
The defender was naturally kept busy against far superior opposition, with Steaua not managing a single victory in their six group-stage matches, though a clean sheet and 0-0 draw against Schalke was probably a highlight.
Szukala repelled an awful lot of balls into the box against Chelsea and the German side, dealing with aerial crosses, low passes and everything in between. He can count himself merely unfortunate to be a decent player in a poor side at that level.
95. Carlos Vela, Real Sociedad
Real Sociedad had a dreadful start to the season—at home and in Europe—as they struggled to adjust to playing twice a week.
Carlos Vela was one of the very few impressive performers for the club at Champions League level, showing his ingenuity, close control and eye for goal even as his team-mates struggled to hit the ground running in 2013/14.
Vela scored La Real's only goal of the group stage.
94. Danny Welbeck, Manchester United
Danny Welbeck only played in five Champions League games this season, but it is perhaps telling of his team's performances and Welbeck's own improvement that he had a hand in the better displays of Manchester United.
The forward scored once but was involved in the games away to Shakhtar, at home in the knockout comeback to Olympiacos and at home to Bayern Munich, where he almost put his side ahead.
Welbeck also made an appearance off the bench to coincide with United's best spell of the game in the dire first-leg defeat in Greece.
93. Mohamed Salah, Basel
Winger Mohamed Salah impressed enough during this season's Champions League group stage to earn himself a move to Premier League club Chelsea.
They certainly had ample opportunity to take a close look at him. Salah was part of the Basel team which did the double over the Blues in the groups, with Salah hitting the back of the net in both matches.
He was ineligible, therefore, to feature for Chelsea in the knockouts, but he still showed more than enough ability with Basel to warrant a top-100 finish.
92. Heung-Min Son, Bayer Leverkusen
Heung-Min Son created plenty of chances—claiming two assists—for his Bayer Leverkusen side during the group stages of the Champions League. But in truth, he and one or two other team-mates were rare bright spots in what was a poor campaign for the side.
The pacy attacker is always a good outlet for his side on the counter, linking well with his fellow forwards from his left-sided starting role. Although he was heavily involved in his team's better displays, Son alone was not enough to make them serious contenders once past the group stages.
91. Daley Blind, Ajax
Daley Blind impressed this season in a holding midfield role for Ajax, collecting and distributing possession from his deep position ahead of the defence.
The Dutchman also played from left-back earlier on in the groups, but his—and his side's—better displays came when he had the controlling role.
Blind's ball use, capacity to win the ball back and attempts to change the tempo of the game with longer-range passing were all features of his Champions League campaign, as Ajax just failed to make the knock-outs.
90. Fernando Muslera, Galatasaray
Uruguay national team goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had a difficult start to the group stage when Real Madrid put six past him on the opening matchday, but he and his side showed good resilience to qualify thereafter.
Muslera is a fantastic shot-stopper who displayed his talents to great effect during the remainder of the campaign, never more so than in the last group game, when he made a number of saves to keep Juventus at bay.
89. Gokhan Inler, Napoli
Gokhan Inler was one of several impressive Napoli performers in a side who would have expected to have done enough to pass through the group stage—only for the head-to-head ruling to see them knocked out.
Four victories from six would almost always guarantee progression to the last 16, and Inler was key in Napoli's wins over Dortmund and Marseille, scoring once to help claim three points over the latter.
As well as his usual combative and aggressive performances in the middle, Inler was assured in possession and set the platform for the more offensive members of his team to attack freely.
88. Federico Fernandez, Napoli
Sticking with Napoli, Federico Fernandez was a mainstay of their defence throughout most of the group campaign after missing the opening game.
An excellent reader of the game, Fernandez's positional sense and ability to react to reach the ball first was evident time and time again against tough opponents.
It wasn't quite enough to see Napoli through, but Fernandez was certainly an impressive performer in their unlucky bid to qualify.
87. Roberto, Olympiacos
Olympiacos surprised some by making their way through the group stages, and they had a number of their key defensive players to thank for that.
Goalkeeper Roberto was one of those who excelled, showing good all-round command of his penalty area to direct and organise his defenders, whilst also making some big saves of his own.
The Spanish stopper, initially on loan from Atletico Madrid, played in all eight of Olympiacos' Champions League fixtures.
86. Patrice Evra, Manchester United
He's perhaps no longer at his best, but Patrice Evra was still one of Manchester United's stand-out performers during their Champions League campaign.
The left-back featured in eight of United's games, racking up the defensive points as usual with his aggressive tackling and quick tracking back, but he also contributed going forward.
Evra claimed one assist in the Champions League and scored a goal against Bayern Munich, which briefly looked as though it could help his side cause an upset.
85. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund struggled terribly with injuries during the first half of the season, causing a number of squad players to take on a vital role in the first team.
Central defender Sokratis was one of those, playing a vital part in the crucial victories over Marseille and Napoli, as well as in both legs against Zenit in the round of 16.
Though more renowned for being a tough and uncompromising defender, he also showed composure on the ball and good consistency to be deserving of his place in the team.
84. Kostas Mitroglou, Olympiacos
Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou had a terrific first half of the campaign with his old side Olympiacos, netting three goals in five group-stage matches in the Champions League.
As the main attacking outlet for his side, it was seen as a blow to the side when he departed in the January transfer window.
A poor 2014, however, saw him play only around 150 minutes of game time for Fulham in the Premier League due to injury—and he had two different managers in as many months before the English side were relegated.
Perhaps he now wishes he had remained with the Greek side to face Manchester United in the round of 16, as he could have made all the difference.
83. Pepe, Real Madrid
Real Madrid's Portuguese defender Pepe enjoyed another successful campaign, featuring in 11 Champions League games.
A committed and aggressive centre-back who toes the line with referees' patience on occasion, he averaged more than two successful tackles per game and was an organiser, a disciplinarian with his team-mates and his manager's voice on the field.
He somehow also managed to only get booked once!
82. Marco Verratti, PSG
Paris Saint-Germain's run to the latter stages was due in no small part to an immensely talented midfield, a trio who both protect the defence well and utilise the ball cleverly in midfield.
Marco Verratti performed both roles well. He was ferocious at times in his ball-winning job and was also one of the main distributors once his side had possession, keeping the tempo up and looking to find his attacking team-mates in space with regularity.
The one downside to his campaign, which perhaps sees him ranked lower than he otherwise might have been, was his poor performance against Chelsea when he was largely overrun.
81. David Alaba, Bayern Munich
Only two outfield players started all 12 of Bayern Munich's Champions League games in 2013-14, with David Alaba being one of them, such is his reliability and his importance to the side.
Formerly a midfielder, of course, his comfort in possession perfectly matches the requirements of his manager Pep Guardiola, but the left-back has such great athleticism and technical ability that he offers impeccable service both in defence and attack.
He scored twice and claimed one assist for Bayern.
80. Javier Mascherano, Barcelona
Javier Mascherano played exclusively at centre-back for Barcelona this season. He was a regular performer in an underperforming side (relatively speaking), yet he somehow failed to get the credit he should be due.
In a constantly changing back line due to injuries and with shifting tactics ahead of him, his side did not dominate games the way they were accustomed to, thus putting more pressure on the defence.
Mascherano stood up to the task well and was comfortably Barca's top defender of the campaign, and he made more tackles and interceptions than anybody in the entire squad in this season's Champions League.
79. Kaka, AC Milan
Kaka might not be the force he was in his first spell at AC Milan, but the Brazilian attacking midfielder has rediscovered form and fitness in Italy to the extent of being comfortably the stand-out player in what was, at times, an extremely mediocre side.
Capable still of moments of great final-third approach play, Kaka’s best moments often came when he played almost alongside a striker in a two-man attack. In that role, he was able to be a real goal threat himself.
Over the two legs of the knockout tie against Atletico Madrid, Kaka was the main outlet, creative force and penalty-box figurehead for Milan.
78. Eliaquim Mangala, Porto
Porto's in-demand central defender Eliaquim Mangala enjoyed a good campaign in the Champions League, but it wasn't quite enough to send his side through to the knockout stages.
The powerful centre-back played in all six group-stage matches, helping to keep a clean sheet in the opening game away in Austria, but it was his all-round contribution and anticipation of play that ensured flocks of scouts headed to see his games.
77. Fabian Schar, Basel
Basel's Fabian Schar is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best young centre-backs in Europe, with the 22-year-old playing all six group-stage matches for the Swiss side.
An excellent reader of the game, he is composed and calm when defending and times his interceptions to perfection. Equally cool on the ball, he passes well out of the back, and he even managed an assist in the group games.
His excellent form has led to him being included in the World Cup squad for Switzerland after only recently breaking into the side.
76. Andrea Pirlo, Juventus
Juventus' failure to escape the group stages can perhaps be blamed on their misfiring attack, but the midfield was pretty much still in working order.
Andrea Pirlo wasn't always at his imperious best, but a decent performance from him is still worth two man-of-the-match displays from most mere mortals.
Pirlo made almost three key passes per game in the Champions League, placing him in a tie for third in the competition despite not playing past the groups.
75. Max Meyer, Schalke
One of Schalke's many talented attacking midfielders, Max Meyer had a breakout campaign domestically and in Europe.
The teenager featured in every game except the first group-stage match for the German side, looking entirely comfortable with the level of play until they faced Real Madrid in the round of 16. Even then, early on, he was involved in link-up play and gave the opposition something to think about until they seized control in spectacular fashion.
A huge future lies ahead after a thoroughly promising campaign.
74. Jose Callejon, Napoli
Jose Callejon isn't the most refined or indeed always the most consistent of attackers, but his explosive style of play suited Napoli's forward link as he attacked either flank.
The Spaniard scored two goals and claimed one assist in the six group-stage games, though again, Napoli narrowly missed out on the knockouts on the head-to-head rule.
Callejon provided chances for his team with his direct, off-the-ball running, which grew more intelligent as the campaign wore on, while he was quick to look to get shots away whenever possible.
73. Omer Toprak, Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen central defender Omer Toprak was a busy man, playing every game for his side as they exited at the round of 16 stage.
A solid and capable defender, he probably excelled somewhat during the group stages because his side were rather unimpressive, thereby giving him more work than was necessary. He certainly still proved he was up to the task with his consistent performances.
Toprak netted twice for good measure, including the all-important winner in the last group game against Real Sociedad.
72. Robin Van Persie, Manchester United
A fit and firing Robin van Persie might have made some difference in the knockout tie against Bayern Munich, but inconsistent appearances on the pitch meant the Dutch striker started just four times in the Champions League.
He scored one in the groups—against Leverkusen—but saved his biggest impact for the round of 16 second leg.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, Van Persie hit a hat-trick to send his side through to the next round, showing all his class and quality in the final third. Four goals in four starts and two sub appearances—again, United are left wondering what might have been.
71. Kostas Manolas, Olympiacos
Kostas Manolas showed in his Champions League performances during 2013/14 that he is amongst the top young central defenders in Europe at present.
Resilient, mobile and aggressive, he presents a formidable barrier for teams looking to attack and has proven capable of winning the ball both in the air and on the ground.
On the verge of making himself a regular starter for the Greek national side, Manolas’ displays with Olympiacos in the competition this season also demonstrated that he is assured of featuring in the Champions League for years to come—with the step up in domestic quality likely to come sooner rather than later.
70. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Dortmund
Henrikh Mkhitaryan had an up-and-down first season with Borussia Dortmund, but overall he enjoyed a very good campaign in the Champions League.
He would have wanted more goals—the Armenian managed two in 10 games—but his importance to the Dortmund attack was noticeable in their build-up play. Much of their best work went through him, and nobody in the squad created more chances.
Indeed, there was only one match Dortmund played where he didn't fashion at least one opportunity on goal for a team-mate.
69. Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Mesut Ozil might have struggled domestically at times for Arsenal, but he saved his best form for the Champions League, especially early on in the campaign.
The German playmaker showed great invention and one-touch ability to link play around him at times and was by far Arsenal's most prolific attacker in terms of creating chances. Ozil in fact created almost four times as many chances as anybody else in the squad in the Champions League.
He scored once but couldn't have a big enough impact against Bayern in the knockouts.
68. Yaya Toure, Manchester City
Manchester City's Yaya Toure produced a number of powerful displays in the group stages, though he never quite hit the heights of his domestic form in Europe this season.
Tidy and composed in possession, Toure was frequently asked to hold back somewhat from his usual forward-running, unrestrained attacking impetus. As such, he did not hugely contribute to the City attack in the group stages.
67. Petr Cech, Chelsea
Petr Cech kept three clean sheets in the group stages and another three in the knockout phases—not a bad return for 10 appearances in the Champions League.
The Czech international showed his usual blend of imposing aerial presence, calm distribution and great shot-stopping to ease Chelsea through the groups and initial knockout stages.
They'll be wondering whether they might have fared better in the Champions League semi-final second leg, which he missed through injury.
66. Miranda, Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid centre-back Miranda has been an excellent performer for them all season long, playing every single minute in the Champions League.
More frequently the centre-back of the usual pairing who sweeps up behind, guides attackers out of danger's way down the channels and looks to make interceptions rather than attack the ball full on, he's an accomplished and cultured defender who mixes grace and intelligence with solidity and power.
A real class act.
65. Aleksandar Kolarov, Manchester City
Aleksandar Kolarov established himself as Manchester City's primary left-back this season, playing in all but one of their Champions League fixtures.
He was a solid performer in the back line, but he also impressed going forward. His set-piece deliveries and crosses from the left ensured that only attacking midfielders Samir Nasri and David Silva created more chances for the team. Kolarov also netted a penalty in the win over Bayern Munich.
64. Maxwell, PSG
Brazilian full-back Maxwell was a key component of PSG's side, playing in the first five matches and missing just the last group game—the one PSG lost.
Rarely wasteful on the ball, Maxwell misplaced just 25 general passes throughout PSG's Champions League campaign, playing a careful supporting game to those ahead of him and looking to keep build-up play going in the final third rather than whip crosses in at every opportunity.
63. Marcel Schmelzer, Dortmund
Marcel Schmelzer was one of those who suffered with injuries for Dortmund this season. Despite the admirable efforts of his replacement, BVB will perhaps feel they may have made a better attempt of things in the first leg against Real Madrid if Schmelzer was available.
Even so, he was his usual impressive self in the group-stage matches he featured in, while he was one of his side's top performers over the two legs against Zenit in the round of 16, crucially claiming an assist in the second leg.
He averaged almost seven clearances per game—that's in the top 20 defenders in the Champions League this season and comfortably the best non-central defender.
62. Paul Pogba, Juventus
Juventus' young French midfielder Paul Pogba really burst onto the scene during 2013-14, with some of his Champions League displays giving a real insight into the beastly talent he holds.
He wasn't Juve's stand-out, but you wouldn't bet against him being so next term, such has been the physical and technical level of his performances.
Strong, capable of running at the opposition defence, inclined to shoot on sight at times and a real box-to-box player, Pogba looks set to become one of the biggest names in the game. A run into the knockouts would have helped him considerably.
61. Nemanja Matic, Benfica
Like Mohamed Salah, Nemanja Matic impressed over the first half of the Champions League season before switching to Chelsea and watching from the sidelines as his new side moved through the knockouts.
Matic played in all six group-stage games for Benfica, showing his enormous midfield talents to their fullest extent. He won 16 tackles in just those six appearances, while also making well over 250 passes as he dominated and controlled the centre of the park.
He added a goal for good measure, but Benfica went out at the group stage on head-to-head ruling against Olympiacos.
60. Alex Sandro, Porto
Porto left-back Alex Sandro was one of his side's biggest performers—at both ends of the pitch.
Surprisingly adept in the air for an offensive full-back, he offers a powerful and athletic presence to get past when in place defensively, before breaking forward with confidence in possession and pace off the ball.
Porto's full-backs are both key to their style of attacking, with Alex Sandro a consistently brilliant outlet down the left flank.
59. Simon Rolfes, Bayer Leverkusen
Experience can count for plenty in the Champions League, and it's probably not too outlandish to say that Leverkusen might not have scraped through the group stages if not for captain Simon Rolfes.
Thirty-two years of age now, Rolfes led by example to burst through midfield in his customary fashion during the group stages, using the flow of his team's attack and his own intelligent use of space to arrive in dangerous areas.
He scored three times in the group stage, including in the vital wins over Shakhtar and Sociedad, with perhaps his only really poor moment being a missed penalty against PSG in the round of 16.
58. Didier Drogba, Galatasaray
Didier Drogba isn't the all-battering striker of old, but he was a hugely influential figure in Galatasaray qualifying for the knockout stages.
His hold-up play and work rate were key in allowing others to play off him and join up in the final third. Of the eight goals his side scored in the group stages, Drogba either scored or assisted five of them.
Perhaps his biggest impact came away to Juventus. He scored one and set up a last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw, paving the way for Gala to qualify past Juve by a single point.
57. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Like Van Persie, Wayne Rooney didn't have the best of service this season from midfield, so he had to pull out some individual displays to help his side through.
Rooney scored twice, both on the opening matchweek, but he also created 18 chances for his team-mates, far and away the team's highest total of the Champions League campaign.
His work rate and movement, aside from anything else, made him a stand-out in the side when others were tactically or technically lacking.
56. Per Mertesacker, Arsenal
Per Mertesacker was largely impressive during the Gunners' Champions League campaign, though he did have a bit of a tough time in the defeat to Napoli.
With the German rarely deigning to enter a tackle, preferring to hold his position and force the attacker to make a decision, he is incredibly difficult to beat one-on-one when he drops off to the edge of the penalty box.
With this tactic, Arsenal aim to keep opponents at bay. Mertesacker's ability and composure on the ball then ensures he rarely gifts possession back to the opposition once he invariably wins it himself.
55. Arda Turan, Atletico Madrid
Arda Turan is one of those players who comes in to do a perfect tactical job for his team with class, style and no shortage of spectacular effect. Above all, though, what he has shown this season is an aptitude to do the job with great work ethic.
The Turk rarely plays the full 90 minutes, usually being subbed on or off, but his movement and clever thought in attack sees him heavily involved when on the pitch.
Four goals and 10 chances created in just nine appearances—with only two full 90s—is testament to his brilliance this season.
Injury robbed him of a place in the team for the final, and he was a big miss.
54. Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea
Chelsea full-back Cesar Azpilicueta showed not only hard work and consistency to win himself a place in the team this season, but he also exhibited versatility and real quality to keep ahead of the club's established left-back in Ashley Cole.
The Spaniard was almost unbeatable defensively at times, out-muscling opponents and showing good capacity to keep his position at the back as well as support through the middle third when his side were in possession.
Though he was never going to add hundreds of crosses or dribbles down the left, he allowed those attacking midfielders ahead of him to do so in the knowledge that the flank was well stocked up, therefore playing a huge tactical role for the side.
53. David Silva, Manchester City
After a slow sort of start to the season, David Silva grew in stature and importance to the side as the Champions League went on, ending up by far their best performer over the two legs against Barcelona as Manchester City were knocked out in the round of 16.
Silva showed up for the biggest games in a big way, scoring against Bayern Munich and creating four chances for his team-mates in the two group-stage matches against the same opponent.
52. Thomas Mueller, Bayern Munich
Like some of his team-mates, perhaps Thomas Mueller was a little irked to not have a more sustained and regular role in the team throughout the Champions League campaign—but at least he got to play in all 12 matches.
Mueller was subbed off four times, came on as sub four times and played the full 90 four times, often taking up more than one position in a game for Bayern Munich.
His output was good—he scored five times—though you suspect there was a lot more to come from the German if he was allowed to play consistently this term.
51. Atsuto Uchida, Schalke
Throughout the group stage, Atsuto Uchida just might have been the best right-back in the Champions League. He was certainly in the top three.
His constant raids forward down the left side were impressive to behold, as he both linked up with and overlapped to create space for his winger in front.
The Japanese international played every minute in the groups, helping his side to second and conceding just six goals in six games, before missing out on the round of 16 elimination to Real Madrid entirely. His second half of the season saw him barely feature due to injury.
50. Lars Bender, Bayer Leverkusen
If Rolfes brought the experience and clever driving runs, Lars Bender brought the talent and energy to Bayer Leverkusen's midfield.
Playing in a box-to-box role in the centre of B04's midfield, the German international showed his ability at both ends of the field to protect his defence one moment, before surging forward to support the counter-attack at the other.
He missed the second leg against PSG in the round of 16.
49. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli
Gonzalo Higuain didn't get to reach the knockouts, and for that reason we won't rank him any higher than No. 49, but he certainly had a big say in how the group panned out.
The Argentine forward scored four times in five matches, with two against Marseille and one each in wins over Dortmund and Arsenal. He also claimed two assists, making him involved in six of Napoli's 10 goals in their group games—and he missed the away defeat to Arsenal.
One more goal might have made all the difference, but he certainly showed he was a class above at times as he led the Serie A side's attack.
48. Giannis Maniatis, Olympiacos
Greek midfielder Giannis Maniatis was a key force behind his side, Olympiacos, qualifying through the group stage and troubling Manchester United in the round of 16.
His prowling, protective work in front of the back four was key in the knockout, especially the first leg when his team came under lots of pressure but held out to secure a 2-0 win. Earlier in the groups, he was excellent in the double-header against Benfica when the Greeks took four points from the two games, enabling them to finish above the Portuguese side on the head-to-head ruling.
47. Mats Hummels, Dortmund
Mats Hummels could have been higher but for two reasons: a slip-up against Real Madrid in the knockouts and his fitness, which saw him miss a clutch of games around the middle of the campaign.
In the group-stage wins over Arsenal and Marseille, however, he was immense, leading his defensive line with aggression and relentless, powerful consistency every time the ball came close to his goal area.
Hummels also played particularly well in the second-leg victory over Real—but his side just fell short of pulling back the entire deficit.
46. Samir Nasri, Manchester City
Not always the most appreciated of Manchester City's attacking talents, Samir Nasri seemed to save up the best of his form this year for the Champions League.
He was the team's best creator of chances, claiming four assists along the way and scoring once before failing to quite hit those heights against Bayern in the last 16.
If he brought that kind of consistency from the groups into the biggest of games in the way David Silva does, he would be an indispensable player for his side. And probably in the French World Cup squad.
45. Thiago Silva, PSG
PSG centre-back Thiago Silva was imperious in his protection of his goalkeeper during the groups, with the French champions conceding only five times—only three teams conceded fewer. Oddly, Silva missed the two games in which they kept clean sheets, but his individual displays were excellent nonetheless.
Against Leverkusen in the round of 16, there was very little to suggest he wouldn't best his rivals entirely, and then in the quarters against Chelsea he defended with vigour and aggression for most of the two legs, just failing to keep them out for long enough at the end of the second.
44. Neymar, Barcelona
Brazilian forward Neymar arrived at Barcelona with a weight of expectation on him, but he certainly showed the capacity to deliver on that expectation initially.
Although he didn't score in the groups until the final game, where he hit a hat-trick, he was a big part of the team, started every match and certainly was a source of chances for his team-mates.
Neymar ended up with four goals and three assists, with a vital-looking goal scored against Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the semi-finals. His all-round game was filled with enough energy and enthusiasm to suggest he still has several levels to rise in this competition.
43. Blaise Matuidi, PSG
Blaise Matuidi's importance to PSG cannot be understated, and there is a good reason why he was one of the few to be withdrawn once games were wrapped up, rested for meaningless or finished ties...and played 90 minutes in every other important Champions League game.
Playing from the left side of PSG's three-man central midfield, the French international is a ball-winner, a protector and a player who can surge forward down the channel quickly to support attacks.
A 92 percent pass accuracy for his nine UCL games shows how well he used the ball, while his 11 chances created—only one PSG player managed more—indicates it was far from a simple keep-ball approach which yielded his high pass success rate.
42. Marcelo, Real Madrid
Marcelo had his work cut out for him at times to remain Real Madrid’s left-back of choice in this season’s Champions League, but some superb displays ensured he was almost always the pick for his side in the games which mattered.
Not just an overlapping outlet, the Brazilian has shown intent and intelligence to move infield and become involved in link-up play at times, dribbling and swapping passes quickly and looking to play passes into the penalty area.
Defensively, he has remained largely solid, happy to be protected by his centre-backs and reliant on his overall athleticism to best opponents one-on-one.
41. Alvaro Negredo, Manchester City
Alvaro Negredo seemed to save his best form and moments for all the cup games this season, with the Champions League seeing some spectacular returns from the striker.
Although he featured in every match, the Manchester City striker only started three times—yet he still scored five and claimed one assist. He was impressive in the groups as he hit his best patch of form of the entire campaign, scoring a hat-trick against CSKA Moscow in particular.
Had he maintained that form into the knockouts, City might have stood a better chance against Barcelona, but he had already begun to dip by then.
40. Julian Draxler, Schalke
Julian Draxler played in each of Schalke's eight Champions League fixtures, proving along the way just how much he has grown from a player with enormous potential into one who now impacts in almost every game.
Playing most frequently from the left side of the attack, Draxler's pace and ability to carry the ball was a common outlet for his side, and he made great use of the ball once in the penalty area. Schalke won each of the three games in which he scored, while his 12 chances created was the best in the team.
Even in the heavy round of 16 defeat to Real Madrid, he still showed plenty of intent and ability to threaten on the counter-attack.
39. Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
French centre-back Laurent Koscielny played every minute of the Champions League campaign for Arsenal and, aside from a poor display against Napoli, was the club's top defender.
His ability to read play and step out of the defensive line to intercept or interrupt attacks has long been one of his strengths, and that seemed to be of increased importance in the Champions League against the skilful, intelligent attackers his side came up against in the groups.
Good in possession, strong in the air and consistent throughout, Koscielny had a very good campaign, all told.
38. Gary Cahill, Chelsea
Gary Cahill had a great Champions League campaign in terms of his personal performances, with his consistently impressive prowess inside his own penalty box marking him out as Chelsea’s best defender of the European season.
Calm on the ball and in possession, he distributes the ball well from the back line and often provides the first intelligent pass into midfield.
However, he has also been excellent in covering behind his fellow defenders, making vital blocks and clearances and, notably, winning aerial duels with impressive regularity.
37. Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid
Thibaut Courtois has been a fantastic loan servant for Atletico Madrid over the past three years, with 2013/14 seeing him show increased maturity and consistency in European football.
The odd error of judgement aside in the group stages, he has been excellent both in commanding the space between his goal line and the penalty spot and in shot-stopping, one of his biggest strengths.
As he continues to improve and give confidence to those in front, so has Atleti’s defensive resilience improved as a whole. They will find it extremely difficult to replace him in the summer if his parent club calls for a return.
36. David De Gea, Manchester United
David de Gea was one of the few stand-out performers for Manchester United during their Champions League campaign, with the goalkeeper showing once more that he continues to improve and mature and should be judged as one of the game’s top two or three young stoppers.
Largely unprotected to the level one might expect in the competition, he certainly didn’t let himself or his team down with a number of top quality saves, commanding displays against aerial threats and composed, intelligent distribution.
United’s relatively early exit was down to many factors, but their goalkeeper wasn’t one of them.
35. Hulk, Zenit
Zenit's general poor performance, their out-of-the-way location and perhaps their lack of ability to compete in the latter stages of the Champions League has seemed to overshadow what a good season Hulk had this year.
The powerful forward top scored, created most chances and had a better shots-on-target rate than any of his attacking team-mates, while he was also one of just five players in the entire competition to average more than four successful dribbles per game.
As well as his usual right-sided role, Hulk featured more prominently through the centre of Zenit's attack earlier this season. He scored four in eight games in the Champions League.
34. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid
Sergio Ramos is one of the most complete defenders in the world, with his aggressive style of defending being levelled out by a composure and offensive mentality in possession.
The Real Madrid man is consistent, able to cover behind team-mates, vocal and more encouraging of his team to push on, with all those traits combined making him a phenomenal dressing-room force.
He contributed three goals in his 11 games, too, including the injury-time leveller which set Real on their way to victory in the final.
33. Franck Ribery, Bayern Munich
Franck Ribery's Bayern Munich side were pulled apart by Real Madrid in the semi-finals, leaving Ribery and Co. to have little impact in attack, but that shouldn't detract from what was a great campaign from the Frenchman.
The wide forward scored three goals in 10 games but also created a huge 33 chances for his team-mates, giving him a tally of 3.3 key passes per game—the best in the entire Champions League.
32. Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich
Manuel Neuer played every minute of Bayern's campaign in Europe, keeping four clean sheets along the way.
As much as he's a top goalkeeper with regards to his handling, reflexes and ability to dominate his area, his real strengths lie in his personality and confidence. Those latter attributes show in how he organises his defence, makes forwards believe they have little chance of beating him and plays as big a part in the side as any outfielder.
The second leg against Real Madrid saw four goals put past him, but he was left hopelessly exposed by his side at that point.
31. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern Munich
Key midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was excellent at the beginning of Bayern's group campaign, dominating midfield and pressing his team forward whenever possible. He was always at the centre of their play in retaining the ball.
The German midfielder scored two goals in the knockouts to add to his one from the group stage.
However, he was left on the bench for the victory over Arsenal in the round of 16 and was suspended for the second leg of the quarter-finals, limiting what could have been an even higher ranking.
30. Arturo Vidal, Juventus
Only Juventus' failure to progress past the group stage prevented Arturo Vidal from being ranked higher after a stunning individual set of performances in the first six games.
He was key to Juve's game plan, with his breaks forward from midfield being seemingly impossible to track, while he was Edgar Davids-esque in his terrier-like ability to win back the ball in midfield and aid transitions.
Vidal smacked in five goals in just six games from midfield, including a hat-trick against Kobenhavn. Only six players managed to score more than the Chilean in the Champions League, even though he only played six games.
29. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal
Aaron Ramsey was an excellent performer early on in the campaign for Arsenal, scoring twice and claiming one assist in the group stages, including the vital strike in a 1-0 win in Dortmund.
It's not just the numbers which make him a vital player to the Gunners; he's the one player who, driving from midfield, will run beyond the striker and give defences something completely different to deal with, taking the game to the opposition and forcing them to react.
Had he been fit for the last-16 tie with Bayern, he might not have swung the tie in Arsenal's favour entirely, but they certainly would have had more of a chance with Ramsey in the side.
28. David Luiz, Chelsea
David Luiz has had his critics, but he proved a vital component of Chelsea’s Champions League plan from his hybrid defensive midfield role.
Depending on whom he has partnered with n his side’s double pivot, Luiz has shown his usual instinctive willingness to range forward, spray unexpected passes around and make breaks from deep into the final third.
However, he also displayed an extremely fine, disciplined and dominant defensive midfield shield performance against Paris Saint-Germain, showing that he can be a complete and consistent player in the right setup.
27. Juanfran, Atletico Madrid
Juanfran was a mainstay of the Atletico defence this season, performing to a very high level throughout their run to the final.
He only missed one game—the last group game against Porto, after qualification was already assured.
The right-back does everything well: He stops crosses, challenges aerially, supports into midfield and even delivers once he gets into the final third. Only two team-mates have created more than his 15 chances this season.
26. Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea
Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic produced another campaign of solid, thunderous service down the flank, defending like a hero when it mattered and supporting from deep—certainly not as far upfield as he previously ventured—in attack.
He covered at centre-back at times, too, but most of his time was spent in the full-back role, providing strength and resilience to the Chelsea back line.
Ivanovic did claim one assist, but his most impressive statistics show up at the other end: He won 70 percent of his tackles and 71 percent of his aerial duels.
25. Koke, Atletico Madrid
Koke has come to the attentions of the general football public thanks to his remarkable displays in the Champions League this season. He mixes his technical qualities with a tenacity and drive which embodies Atletico Madrid’s approach under Diego Simeone.
Playing from either side of midfield more often than not, the young Spanish international can play as a playmaker, a wide forward or a protector of the defensive channels all at once.
With a great future still ahead of him, he has perhaps raised his game rather more for the Champions League this season than his domestic form. He certainly showed more consistency in European fixtures, contributing to his high ranking here.
24. Fernandinho, Manchester City
Manchester City's star midfielder of the Champions League campaign was undoubtedly Fernandinho.
He played in every game for the Premier League side, most frequently operating in his holding midfield role but on occasion being released to rampage forward as the more offensive central of the duo—something which takes his game up another level.
Even as the more disciplined midfield player, though, he presses and works so hard up the pitch that he acts as the catalyst for many of the team's attacking movements. Fernandinho is the player City find it hardest to adequately replace.
23. Dani Alves, Barcelona
Barcelona right-back Dani Alves is another who saved his best performances of the season for the Champions League.
There are few players who can affect the game from full-back as well as this Brazilian, with his natural position almost as far forward as the front line of attack—yet he still makes up ground to do his defensive work.
Alves was the difference in the round of 16, with his performances and goals putting Barca past Manchester City, while he also created 12 chances throughout.
22. Gareth Bale, Real Madrid
Gareth Bale started out the season as an impact player in the Champions League, but once form and fitness—and the tactical shape of the team—fell into place, he became one of Real Madrid's most important starters.
He scored his first goal against Juventus in the fourth group game before making it six goals in 12 games, including one in extra time of the final, with four assists in that time to boot.
Pace, direct running, a comfort within his role in the team and deadly team-mates feeding him the ball at every opportunity—Bale has eased into the team and become a great fit. He was a big part of their run to glory.
21. Iker Casillas, Real Madrid
Iker Casillas might not have been the Real Madrid No. 1 goalkeeper in league play for the past 18 months, but he remained their Champions League choice and fully justified that decision. Indeed, his excellent form in continental play has led to arguments that he should be reinstalled domestically.
The Spanish captain was consistent, professional and impressive in his performances in Europe, displaying that determination of old to make improbable saves at times. This was perhaps never more important than against Schalke when the scoreline was still tight, a defining moment in Real’s run to the final.
20. Toni Kroos, Bayern Munich
Toni Kroos made more successful passes than any player in the Champions League during 2013/14, with a phenomenal total of 1,059. He achieved the ridiculous success rate of 94 percent in doing so.
Such consistency and invention is to be admired, as long as it is with purpose and to the benefit of the team. In creating 21 chances for his team, Kroos can certainly argue that he did exactly that.
He only added one goal, against Arsenal, but his link-up play, creativity and movement off the ball to find space ensured it was with good reason that Guardiola opted to field him in every single Champions League game, with 11 starts and one sub appearance.
19. Robert Lewandowski, Dortmund
Robert Lewandowski only hit 20 shots in nine Champions League games for Dortmund this season, but he still ended up with six goals, finishing as the team's highest scorer and joint-fifth in the competition overall.
The Polish striker hovers on the edges of games, leaves himself out of much of the build-up...and then clicks into gear as soon as the ball approaches the penalty area. Laying the ball off, turning quickly or getting shots off with any part of his body—Lewandowski does it brilliantly and is an excellent final-third striker who occupies defenders and punishes them if they ignore him.
18. Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Eden Hazard was exciting, if individualistic, during Chelsea's Champions League campaign.
Not the most creative in terms of the team's attacking midfielders by chance creation, he nevertheless troubled defenders and opened up spaces for others with his relentless habit of running directly at the opposition, often dragging defenders out of shape as a result.
He completed an incredible 35 of his 39 attempted take-ons. A couple of goals were added via the penalty spot, though him missing the semi-final first leg through injury may have been pivotal.
17. Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid
Diego Godin was the bedrock on which Atletico Madrid’s incredible Champions League season was founded.
His all-encompassing ability to win back the ball for his side prevented crosses, set pieces, through-balls or dribbling opponents from making headway toward the Atleti goal.
Consistent, strong and dominant, Godin was not only a leader for his side but the man who embodied their entire style of play. With the Uruguayan at the heart of their back four, it’s little wonder that Atletico had one of the finest defences the competition saw this season.
Godin's goal in the final had Atletico dreaming of glory—before Real Madrid snatched that away from them at the death.
16. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
Sergio Aguero's importance to Manchester City cannot be emphasised enough. If he had been fit for the round of 16 tie against Barcelona, it could have been a different story—but he only played 45 minutes of the 180.
Fitness was his big issue all season, as he only completed 90 minutes in the Champions League twice, but even so, he was an absolute star when he did feature.
Aguero scored six goals in five games in the groups, including both in the 2-1 win over CSKA and goals in both games against Viktoria. The message for next term is clear: keep him fit.
15. Thiago Motta, PSG
Verratti and Matuidi might bring their own talents to the PSG midfield party, but the absolute king in the centre of the park is without doubt Thiago Motta.
He protects the defence with vigour and venom, with class and caressed passes, giving no time on the ball to the opposition and setting his team-mates away to good effect.
Motta holds everything together for PSG, dictating from deep, yet he still managed three assists and two goals in his nine appearances.
14. Kevin Grosskreutz, Dortmund
Having mentioned earlier how several squad players stepped up for Dortmund as a result of injury, no player showed that ability more than Kevin Grosskreutz.
The versatile, hard-working performer played on both flanks and at full-back as he filled in for Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and the like, not missing a single minute of Dortmund's Champions League campaign in the process.
His endless running, good link play and willingness to work the spaces that others created made him an important member of the attacking plan, while he scored one goal—a priceless late winner over Marseille—and claimed two assists along the way.
13. Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
The departure of Higuain left Karim Benzema as the main striker at Real Madrid, and he has carried that role to perfection.
More than just a goalscorer, Benzema nonetheless hit five goals in 10 Champions League games this season, but the fact he is Madrid's top player by chance creation tells you everything you need to know. He holds the ball up, lets the wide forwards run off him, lays the ball off and finds quick one-touch return passes, racking up 21 chances created en route to the final.
His selfless running improved dramatically this season, and he is a great foil for those around and beside him.
12. Raul Garcia, Atletico Madrid
Raul Garcia played a vital role in Atletico Madrid’s run to the Champions League final, showing the versatility to play a number of different roles as well as the quality to perform brilliantly in each.
Previously more at home as a withdrawn midfielder, he operated just off the striker to great effect during 2013/14, while also providing a wider outlet in certain matches, showing his work-rate, tactical proficiency and belief in his manager’s system as a whole to do whatever job was required of him.
Garcia managed vital goals against Porto and AC Milan and totalled four in the Champions League this season overall.
11. Andres Iniesta, Barcelona
While many of Barcelona's players failed to shine as much as they might have done as a whole during the Champions League campaign, Andres Iniesta was one of those who would not have that accusation levelled at him.
The playmaker continued with his enormous influence on matches, not only dictating passing and movement around him but also driving at defences, running at opponents and demanding that those around him up their game.
10. Arjen Robben, Bayern Munich
Arjen Robben won the Champions League last season with his late goal, and he seemed determined to have a similarly impressive impact this term.
He didn't quite make it that far in the end, but he was still enormously influential in Bayern's side, a real game-changer for them who could up the tempo in an instant and dribble past opponents almost at will.
Robben scored four, claimed another four assists and looked like one of the few in the final third able to operate outside of the retain-ball-at-all-costs approach in the latter stages.
9. Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid
Angel Di Maria’s switch infield to a left-central midfield role has rejuvenated his Real Madrid career and indeed the team’s ability to win the ball and attack at pace from a much more telling position on the field.
Quite simply, he has added energy and aggression to the team in such a way that instead of seeing the front players racing onto counter-attacks from their own half, Real now begin their transitions a good 30 metres higher up the pitch.
Di Maria’s use of the ball, his ability to support play quickly and his end product in the final third have all been excellent during the Champions League campaign, making him one of the most important players in the side.
8. Gabi, Atletico Madrid
Gabi’s remarkable season as Atletico Madrid captain saw him dominate matches with his intelligent on-the-ball play and provide his attacking team-mates with a string of chances all year long.
A complete midfielder with a prodigious work rate, he also brings a solid defensive platform to the team who can sit in front of the back four in a compact double pivot and negate the threat of opposition runners from deep with his positional sense and reading of the game.
A superb performance in the quarter-finals might have been his greatest moment of the competition.
7. Marco Reus, Dortmund
Marco Reus started well and got many, many times better as the season went on.
The forward was Dortmund's most impressive performer over the course of their Champions League run, a real stand-out performer and the difference between them and opponents in some matches.
He scored five goals in nine games, including both strikes against Real Madrid as BVB almost mounted a classic second-leg comeback, and he also managed 16 chances created along the way. Growing into one of the most dangerous attacking players in Europe, he's one of very few players who would improve every side going.
6. Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich
Philipp Lahm seems to have become the focal point for people talking about Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side, considering his tactical and positional switches during the campaign and his all-round quality on the ball.
Whether from a deep midfield role or his usual impressive full-back starting point, Lahm has demonstrated great ability in possession, a willingness to perform as the manager sees fit and, of course, his great personal hallmark of consistency.
That he couldn’t help his side retain the Champions League trophy is surely a disappointment, but it wasn’t for lack of Lahm’s own contribution.
5. Diego Costa, Atletico Madrid
It says much for Atletico Madrid that they managed to get to the final without Diego Costa playing in a third of their Champions League matches. Perhaps it says even more about the striker himself that the team's best displays came with him fit and firing.
A growly, aggressive, determined and narky character, Diego Costa refuses to accept anything other than winning every challenge, loose ball and argument. You'd think he was a central defender except for his incredible close control, great acceleration and career-best goalscoring tally.
The Spanish international had eight goals in eight games, including three against AC Milan and one against Chelsea in the knockouts.
He and the club took a gamble in the final, but it backfired as he lasted a handful of minutes before being withdrawn. That should not tarnish his achievements.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG
A forward who transcends the gap between playmaker and goalscorer is a precious commodity. Zlatan Ibrahimovic brings both of those traits and much more to the PSG party. He created 14 goals for the French side in the Champions League this season...and scored 10 goals in eight games.
The variation in goals from the Swedish forward is ridiculous enough, but being one of only three players who managed better than a goal-per-game ratio (and one of two to hit double figures) is extremely impressive.
His all-round game—dropping into channels, allowing runners off him and working hard for the team—means it is probable, rather than merely possible, that his absence in the quarter-final second leg cost PSG a semi-final spot.
Oh, and next time someone mentions to you he "only" scored four against Anderlecht, take them outside and challenge them to repeat goals two, three or four.
3. Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Have we dispelled the "Messi's poor season" myth yet? No, the Argentine wasn't at his stunning, world-beating best, because of injuries or the changes in the team.
But yes, he absolutely did remain one of the world's top players, a pivotal figure in the Champions League for Barcelona and an individual capable of helping his team step up a level when needed.
Messi scored a hat-trick on the opening group day and went on to net eight in just seven games, despite only playing half the group stage. He also created 16 chances for his team, second highest in the squad, and was one of the Barca players probing most for an opening against Atletico in the semi-finals.
Another terrific campaign, albeit a reduced one.
2. Luka Modric, Real Madrid
Luka Modric had the best season of his career, showing a consistency beyond what he previously managed and a far higher ceiling in terms of how much he impacts matches.
Playing in a central midfield role allowed him to dictate the flow of Real Madrid’s play to a far greater extent, with plenty of movement and energy ahead of him to create the spaces the Croatian thrives on, finding the right timing and weight of pass into those gaps.
If he could add a handful more goals to his game from that deeper line, he could well be seen as the most complete creative midfielder in Europe at present. Even so, his involvement in constructing Real’s attacks makes him a formidable opponent.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo is the unsurprising No. 1 name on our list after a completely stunning Champions League campaign.
The Real Madrid man broke the goalscoring record for a single campaign in the competition, was the driving force behind the quality of his side going forward and showed great relentlessness with his consistency. Despite missing two Champions League games, he netted 17 goals—including a penalty in the final.
Whether from the left side or through the centre, Ronaldo’s pace and thrust was once again the key for his side’s success. He led Real through the groups with ease and the knockout stages with increasing intent.