Football Features

Every Champions League team’s nightmare player

By Ben Green

Every Champions League team’s nightmare player copy

Published: 15:22, 10 March 2023

Like Didier Drogba against Arsenal, Harry Kane against Leicester or Luis Suarez against Norwich, some players just love scoring against one club. And that pattern certainly applies to the Champions League as well.

Manchester City fans probably still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about Eric Cantona’s annoyingly-prolific exploits against them in the Premier League, or Chelsea fans about fox-in-the-box Chicharito, who just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time — but Europe hasn’t exactly been a safe haven for them either.

For the clubs still knocking about in Europe, we have requested Stats Perform data to find out each of their most feared opposition player. Ranging from the usual suspects like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski, there are also a few obscure names you probably weren’t expecting.

Benfica

Nightmare player: Robert Lewandowski

Goals against: 7

Benfica fans can certainly appreciate a good goalscorer; the Estadio da Luz has borne witness to Eusebio, Nuno Gomes and Oscar Cardozo after all. But, they probably can’t wait until the day Robert Lewandowski announces his retirement. The prolific Pole has faced the Portuguese club six times, and hit the onion bag on seven occasions, despite firing a blank in his first two appearances. They probably didn’t understand the hype in their 2015/16 quarter-final encounter with Bayern Munich. Leading them into a false sense of security, Lewandowski has wreaked havoc in Lisbon since, including a hat-trick in the group stage of last season’s Champions League.

Borussia Dortmund

Nightmare player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Goals against: 7

There was a moment in the summer where Cristiano Ronaldo was linked with a move to Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund fans would have been sweating on that transfer rumour — and breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Portuguese goal fiend relocated 4,000 miles away to Saudi Arabia in January. As the Champions League’s record goalscorer, Ronaldo naturally features a few times on this list, and BVB just happened to be one of the many scalps he claimed time and again (and again).

Chelsea

Nightmare player: Karim Benzema

Goals against: 5

Four games against the Blues, five goals. In the 2020/21 semi-finals, Karim Benzema found the back of the net once as Chelsea booked their ticket to the Porto showpiece. A year later, though, the Ballon d’Or winner would have his revenge. In one of the greatest-ever individual Champions League performances, Benzema tore Chelsea to ribbons in last season’s quarter-finals. A hat-trick at Stamford Bridge illuminated his indissoluble scoring talents, before netting a dramatic winner in the return leg.

Club Brugge 

Nightmare player: Riyad Mahrez

Goals against: 6

While Leicester were struggling to find a hangover cure in 2016/17, floundering in the Premier League, they were quietly doing the business in the Champions League groups. They actually topped Group G, beating a pointless Club Brugge twice, with Riyad Mahrez scoring twice away and once at home. He mirrored those exploits for City this season, again scoring twice away and once at home.



Eintracht Frankfurt

Nightmare player: Son Heung-min

Goals against: 2

As Champions League newcomers, Frankfurt’s ‘bogey’ player was always going to have a low tally. In fact, Son Heung-min was the only player to score more than once against them in the groups, bagging a brace in their 3-2 defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Bayern Munich

Nightmare player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Goals against: 9

What is it about German clubs and Ronaldo? Like their Bundesliga rivals, Bayern probably welcomed Ronaldo’s move to another continent with open arms. He had terrorised them for far too long. Not even the none-shall-pass heroics of Manuel Neuer could prevent Ronaldo raining blows on the Bavarian net. All of his strikes came for Real Madrid, including five in the 2016/17 quarter-finals: a brace in the first leg, and a hat-trick in the second as Los Blancos won 6-3 on aggregate.

Porto

Nightmare player: Sadio Mane/Roberto Firmino/Mohamed Salah

Goals against: 5

It was a front trio that epitomised the high-octane, free-scoring brilliance of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at its zenith. And Porto are probably counting their blessings that one of the Musketeers got itchy feet in the summer. In 2017/18, Liverpool beat Porto 5-0 at the Estadio do Dragao; in 2018/19 Liverpool beat Porto 4-1 at the Estadio do Dragao; and in 2021/22 Liverpool beat Porto 5-1 at the Estadio do Dragao. Spare a thought for the die-hard Porto fan who went to all three capitulations.


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Inter Milan

Nightmare player: Andriy Shevchenko/Claudio Pizarro

Goals against: 4

While doubt will continue to shroud Bayern and Dortmund about Ronaldo, knowing he could yet return at some point, Inter can relax knowing their two biggest enemies have bowed out. As if it wasn’t bad enough in Serie A, the Nerazzurri had to put up with Andriy Shevchenko’s cut-throat potency in Europe as well. In total, he scored 15 goals against Inter, 14 of which came in Derby della Madonninas and three in the Champions League for AC Milan, netting the other for Dynamo Kyiv in 2009/10. I bet they couldn’t believe it when a gone-to-seed Sheva came back to haunt them one last time. Claudio Pizarro also netted four against Inter, one for Bayern in 2006/07, and three for Werder Bremen, coming in 2008/09 and 2010/11.

Liverpool

Nightmare player: Karim Benzema

Goals against: 6

For many years, Didier Drogba was villain No. 1 before Benzema decided to take them apart in finals. As Arsene Wenger was all too aware, Drogba was simply unplayable on his day, and Liverpool found that out to their detriment in Europe. The Ivorian legend actually faced the Reds 10 times in the Champions League between 2005 and 2009. It was in the latter years of the noughties where he would unleash his full might, scoring twice in the 2007/08 semi-finals and twice in the 2008/09 quarters.

King Karim overtook the Ivorian as Liverpool’s newest arch-nemesis, with two fine finishes in the last-16 first leg at Anfield, to take his tally against Jürgen Klopp’s side to six, with teammate Vinicius Junior just behind on five after also scoring twice in the first-leg. 

Man City

Nightmare player: Lionel Messi

Goals against: 7

There is certainly no shame in saying you haven’t been able to muzzle and defang arguably the greatest footballer ever. But, that’s hardly a consolation prize when the pint-sized wizard is cutting through you like a hot knife through butter. Lionel Messi has an ethereal elegance that defies any sort of reason, a notion City fans can begrudgingly attest to. Pre-Pep, the Barca immortal nabbed twice against Manuel Pellegrini’s men, but since Guardiola has been in charge, the World Cup winner has scored five times, including a hat-trick at the Nou Camp in 2016/17 and once for PSG last season.



AC Milan

Nightmare player: Lionel Messi

Goals against: 8

If there’s a therapy room for those who have been battered, bloodied and bruised by Messi, then Man City would be putting a consoling arm around Milan. They had their laugh with Shevchenko and Inter, but the Ukrainian’s four against their eternal rivals pales in comparison to Messi’s eight against them. All have so far come post-Carlo Ancelotti, i.e. the 2010s, and they will bitterly regret never facing the diminutive genius in their pomp.

Napoli

Nightmare player: Erling Haaland/Mario Gomez

Goals against: 3

You just get the sense that in a decade, Erling Haaland’s name will be a bit more frequent on this list. During his time at Red Bull Salzburg, Napoli came to understand the burgeoning reputation of one of the continent’s emerging superstars. Thrice the precocious difference-maker scored against them, a number comparable with a certain Mario Gomez, who only faced them twice in Europe, but scored a hat-trick for Bayern Munich in one of those games.

PSG

Nightmare player: Karim Benzema

Goals against: 5

On 30 July 2006 Benzema scored against PSG in the Trophee des Champions as Lyon went on to win the pre-season gong. A few years later, he would be sold to Real Madrid and PSG probably thought that was that. Perhaps hoisted with their own petard, their emergence as a global super power in Europe has also left them exposed to the frictionless attacking brilliance of the game’s very best. Benzema has duly ensured that his goal in 2006 as a fledgling forward hasn’t been his last against the Parisians, scoring five times in the Champions League against them since.

RB Leipzig

Nightmare player: Irfan Can Kahveci/Marcus Rashford

Goals against: 3

If you’re not sure, one is a generational superstar of world-class talent, potential Ballon d’Or quality and a totemic symbol of his club’s progression. The other is Marcus Rashford. All jokes aside, Rashford has been in the form of his life recently, already bagging 24 goals for Man Utd this season, and seriously begging the question: why didn’t he start more at the World Cup? Of course, Rashford has been in fine scoring form for years, underlined by his three-goal haul against relative European greenhorns Leipzig. Irfan Can Kahveci has a similar tally, scoring a hat-trick for Istanbul Basaksehir in a 4-3 loss back in 2020/21 – his only goals in the Champions League.

Real Madrid

Nightmare player: Robert Lewandowski

Goals against: 6

It was always going to be a special player to make this list against Real Madrid. Now an El Clasico rival, Los Blancos knew all about the ferocity of Lewandowski before he moved to Catalonia. Of course, four of those goals famously came in that 4-1 win in the 2012/13 semi-finals for Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund in front of “The Yellow Wall”. A bit like Benzema against Chelsea, it remains one of the most significant individual performances in Champions League history.

Tottenham

Nightmare player: Cristiano Ronaldo/Serge Gnabry

Goals against: 4

This one probably stings a bit. There is no shame in Ronaldo having your number, but a former Gunner? Now that’s a step too far. From being snubbed by Tony Pulis to scoring four goals in a single game on the biggest stage against an old foe, Gnabry really has overcome early injury problems to become a world star. That 7-2 victory for Bayern in north London was simply brutal, and neutrals loved every second of it.

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