Cristiano Ronaldo set a new standard for goalscoring in Europe’s top competition last season – here, Goal takes a look at the leading candidates to take his crown
The Champions League returns this week, with Europe’s finest aiming to wrestle the trophy from the hands of Real Madrid.
In 2013-14, Cristiano Ronaldo set a new record for goalscoring in the competition, firing home an incredible 17 strikes as he helped Madrid to end their long wait for La Decima – but who could threaten to outdo the Portugal sensation this term? Take a look at Goal‘s leading candidates and have your say in our poll below…
Ronaldo remains the favourite to emerge as top scorer this season, with Madrid’s star-studded attack now boosted by the arrivals of Javier Hernandez and James Rodriguez to complement the 29-year-old, though question marks remain over his injury concerns and whether the holders can be quite as potent following the squad changes this summer.
By his own standards, Lionel Messi had a disappointing tournament last season, despite scoring eight goals in seven games. The Argentina captain was frustrated in the two-legged defeat to Atletico Madrid and endured fitness problems during the campaign, but after a summer of significant change at Camp Nou, he has begun the season in encouraging style.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic took the group stage by storm last season, with only Ronaldo outscoring him in the opening six games, but injury curtailed the rest of his tournament before Chelsea edged out Paris Saint-Germain on away goals in the knockouts. The Sweden star will be 33 in early October but is showing no sign of slowing down, with seven club goals already this season – as well as a new national record of 50 – and he will be more desperate than ever to get his hands on the Champions League trophy in 2015.
Chelsea were undone by Atletico in the semi-finals last season, but having taken hotshot Diego Costa from Diego Simeone’s side, they will be hoping for more this term. Costa managed eight goals in nine games before injury curtailed his involvement in the final in May and, with Jose Mourinho having strengthened his side shrewdly in the summer, the Spain international has looked unstoppable in England so far, with seven goals in just four games this term.
Robert Lewandowski scored six goals for Borussia Dortmund in Europe last season before joining Bayern Munich this summer, and the Pole is primed to better that tally for a Pep Guardiola side bursting with talent. Gareth Bale also hit six in his first season for Madrid – including a vital goal in the final – and already looks sharper and more accustomed to life at Santiago Bernabeu a year on from his world-record transfer, while Sergio Aguero of Manchester City will pose a serious threat to the top-scorer title given his six goals in just six games last term – provided, of course, that he remains fit.
Karim Benzema enjoyed one of his best campaigns in a Madrid shirt to date last season and will be confident of bettering his tally of five in the Champions League, with the added competition of Chicharito an extra incentive. Marco Reus has been beset by ankle problems in recent months but is another strong outside bet to finish top of the scoring pile, while Arturo Vidal – despite Juventus’ group-stage exit – scored five times last season and could well improve on that tally under Massimiliano Allegri in 2014-15.
Elsewhere, Ciro Immobile gets a shot at Champions League football following his summer move to Dortmund, and few would discount the reigning Serie A top scorer from notching a decent tally in Europe. Mario Mandzukic has replaced Costa as Simeone’s No.9 and is a proven, consistent threat at this level, while Carlos Tevez will be desperate to improve upon his modest record in Europe and Bayern’s Thomas Muller continues to prove he is the ultimate forward when it comes to delivery on the biggest stage.
Alexis Sanchez could be Arsenal’s biggest goalscoring threat while Olivier Giroud remains sidelined, while both Neymar and Luis Suarez – despite the latter’s ban until late October – will battle Messi for the Blaugrana’s best marksman. And what of Mario Balotelli? The mercurial Italian will lead the line for Liverpool on their return to Europe’s top table and will be under intense scrutiny as he looks to silence his critics once and for all.