Football Features

The Champions League’s forgotten men: Players you didn’t realise were still in the competition

By Ben Green

The Champions League’s forgotten men: Players you didn’t realise were still in the competition

Published: 16:43, 4 April 2022

The Champions League is home to football’s greatest players, a who’s who of hall-of-famers, Ballon d’Or regulars and household names. 

So, as we approach the quarter-finals of Europe’s blue-riband competition, you’d expect most the continent’s very best to still be tussling it out in these latter stages. Right? Wrong, well half wrong. Only 15 players from the 2021 Ballon d’Or’s 30-man shortlist are still in the Champions League, just 50 per cent!

The likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Neymar have all exited the competition. So, naturally there may be one or two names that you may forgot have were still in the Champions League, with such a cluster of heavyweights crashing out…

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Serge Aurier (Villarreal)

When October rolled around and Serge Aurier was still without a club following the mutual termination of his Tottenham contract, he probably wasn’t expecting to be the starting right-back of a Champions League quarter-finalist come April. But, football often has the capacity to produce stories and narratives of an unfathomable nature. The Ivory Coast international played the full 90 minutes as Villarreal kept a clean sheet and beat Juventus 3-0 in Turin. You may have perhaps forgot that Aurier was still in the competition because that was actually his first appearance of the season, having joined The Yellow Submarine late.

Ross Barkley (Chelsea)

Once heralded as a future England superstar, Ross Barkley has gone from catalyst at Goodison Park, to comfortable with a cushy sinecure on the Stamford Bridge sidelines. Still only 28, the dynamic midfielder is now a peripheral figure in west London, but he’s actually featured thrice in the Champions League this term, enjoying an appearance each against Juventus, Malmo and Zenit in the groups. He was naturally nowhere to be seen against Lille, though.

Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

Lady Luck has not favoured Eden Hazard in Madrid, with various injury problems and inconsistencies with form hampering his progression at the Bernabeu. An archetypal Galactico in every sense, the once midfield genius has been more Faubert than Figo on that hallowed turf, and has now seemingly fallen out of Carlo Ancelotti’s thinking altogether. Hazard’s career will now forever carry an asterisk. A player who once skipped past defenders with blur-fast feet in the Premier League now looks all at sea on the stage that should have been his own.

Kenedy (Chelsea)

Kenedy, a bit like Aurier, probably wasn’t expecting to be playing for a Champions League quarter-finalist in April when he was dancing around full-backs for Flamengo back in October. The do-it-all winger was sent to the Maracana for a season-long loan at the start of the campaign, but following Chelsea’s left-back injury troubles during the winter window, he was ultimately recalled, and now he finds himself on the bench as a just-in-case option for the European champions.

Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid)

As Arsenal continue their search for Champions League football, one of their former players is currently strutting his stuff in the competition. Well, not quite strutting his stuff, as the best he’s managed so far is two appearances on the bench against PSG, but he may feel that at least he’s in the competition. Once a slick and often rhythmic tempo-setter in north London, Ceballos is naturally quite far down in the Real Madrid hierarchy, hence his lack of minutes.

Omar Richards (Bayern Munich)

From the Championship one season to the Champions League the next, Richards’ Cinderella story continues to move at full velocity and he will be crossing fingers and toes that Bayern go on to win the competition so his mantelpiece gets embellished with a shiny medal. The Lewisham-born full-back has, naturally, struggled for significant minutes this season, but he has made four cameo appearances in the Champions League and will be eyeing up further game time in these latter stages. People thought teammate Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s move from Stoke to PSG was unconventional. Reading to Bayern is certainly up there.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Bayern Munich)

Talking of whom. Choupo-Moting continues to be a bit-part operator in Bavaria, as he probably knew he would be when he signed the dotted line. His stint at the Allianz Arena is pretty well-documented, but you may not have realised that he’s still actually there. And the 33-year-old isn’t going anywhere in the summer, as he’s contracted until 2023. So enjoyed another season of the out-of-place Cameroonian in Europe’s premier tournament next term.

Valentino Lazaro (Benfica)

In the end, Valentino Lazaro couldn’t get in the Newcastle starting XI after a brief loan spell in 2020 from Inter. Still part of the Italian champions’ roster, Lazaro has actually progressed further in the competition than his parent club and he returns to play Liverpool, which ultimately proved his final game in a Newcastle shirt as Steve Bruce’s men fell to a 3-1 defeat on the final day of the 2019/20 season. For his part, Lazaro has started just one Champions League game for Benfica this season, so certainly an easy name to slip under your radar.

Luka Jovic (Real Madrid)

Unlike Real’s other lavish purchase, Hazard, time is very much on Jovic’s side to put his disastrous Los Blancos move to one side and rejuvenate his career, be it in Madrid or elsewhere. The 24-year-old has started just one Champions League game this season, a 2-0 group-stage win over Inter, but for the season-defining double-header against PSG, he had to watch on from the sidelines as his forward competition, Karim Benzema, bagged a second-leg hat-trick.

Scott Carson (Manchester City)

If you had forgotten about Scott Carson, he probably jogged your memory when he came on for a 17-minute cameo against Sporting in City’s final group-stage game. The 36-year-old actually has a Champions League winners’ medal after collecting one as part of Liverpool’s squad in 2005, and while he’s not likely to feature again for Pep Guardiola’s men this term, he will be hoping to bow out with one final moment in the sun.